Christine O'Donnell: Why she's no Sarah Palin

Christine O'Donnell, who faces allegations of improper use of campaign funds, seems to be cut from the same cloth as Sarah Palin. Where they may differ is the ability to withstand adversity.

Jason Reed/Reuters
Christine O' Donnell waits to go onstage to deliver her concession speech in Delaware's US Senate race at an election night rally in Dover, Del., Nov. 2.

From the moment Christine O’Donnell burst onto the political stage, she has drawn comparisons with Sarah Palin. The unsuccessful 2010 Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware, like the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, is a young, female, telegenic, tea party conservative, who knows how to connect with voters.

During the campaign, Ms. O’Donnell seemed to play up the physical similarities, with her Palin-esque clothes, hair styles, and glasses. In restaurants, O’Donnell even orders what Ms. Palin orders – or at least that’s the joke among some conservatives.

Palin duly endorsed O’Donnell, right before her primary upset of Republican establishment favorite Rep. Mike Castle, adding her to her den of “mama grizzlies.”

The postelection O’Donnell, who lost by 17 points to New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D), is following another Palin-like trajectory. She didn’t get a gig on Fox, but she got a book contract and she’s starting a political action committee – Christine PAC (to Palin’s Sarah PAC). Her goal is to support like-minded conservatives and stay in the political game.

Christine O'Donnell and Sarah Palin: Top 5 comedic comparisons

Now, O’Donnell is fighting back against a reported federal investigation into alleged improper use of campaign funds, and is claiming that her home-state “political establishment” is out to get her.

“We were informed that the Delaware political establishment was going to use every resource available to them to, you know – including launching phony investigations, making false accusations, and tying me up with lawsuits to make sure that I can't move forward politically – to try to stop this movement in its tracks,” O’Donnell said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

O’Donnell’s charge echoes one of Palin’s rationales when she resigned the Alaska governorship midway through her term – that she had had it with ethics probes that hindered her ability to govern.

But O’Donnell, in fact, is no Palin. The former Alaska governor had held other political posts in the state before winning its highest executive office. O’Donnell has run for office three times – each time for the US Senate – and never won. Her victory against Congressman Castle was indeed a stunning upset, but it took place in a low-turnout primary with a right-place, right-time anti-establishment wind at her back.

The unmarried O’Donnell also doesn’t have the life experience of Palin, who is married and has five children, including one with special needs. O’Donnell’s sketchy employment, educational, and financial histories may make her “relatable” to some voters, especially in tough economic times, but at a certain point, she’s just plain hard to pin down. That’s why the reported campaign finance probe may really hurt her political future – and perhaps why she’s fighting back so hard.

In discussions of the potential 2012 GOP presidential field, Palin’s name is always in the mix. Even if Republican voters are telling pollsters they’d prefer someone else as their nominee, the possibility of a Palin candidacy is taken seriously.

O’Donnell isn’t in the same league. Maybe her best bet is to follow in the footsteps of another failed 2010 Senate candidate, Alvin Greene of South Carolina, the unemployed Army veteran who inexplicably won the Democratic primary. Mr. Greene is now running for the state legislature.

For now, though, O’Donnell has clear staying power on cable news. Controversy around her campaign finances has no bearing on the future of the republic, but it’s news because the camera loves her, especially during the holidays, when the Obamas are on vacation and not much of anything else is going on.

O’Donnell now belongs in the same breath as Paris Hilton, Bristol Palin, and the Kardashians – a celebrity, famous for being famous.

Christine O'Donnell and Sarah Palin: Top 5 comedic comparisons

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