Sarah Palin backs Delaware candidate, but 'tea party' group doesn't

FreedomWorks, a major tea-party organization, is declining to back Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who has been endorsed by Sarah Palin. Delaware's GOP primary is Tuesday.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe (c.) and chairman Dick Armey explain why their organization is declining to back Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell – despite her support from Sarah Palin.

FreedomWorks, a major "tea party" organization that sponsored a Washington march this past weekend, is declining to back Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell – despite her support from Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, and the Tea Party Express, another group active in this year’s congressional races.

At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters on Monday, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe said, “We stayed out of that race because we are not convinced that Christine O’Donnell can win.”

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In Tuesday’s Republican primary in Delaware, Ms. O’Donnell squares off against Rep. Michael Castle, who has been active in politics for 44 years. He has served in the state legislature, as governor, and for nine terms in Congress.

O’Donnell lost two bids for a Senate seat against Joe Biden, when he held the seat before being elected vice president. The Wilmington News Journal has reported on O'Donnell's financial difficulties, including an Internal Revenue Service lien and the fact her mortgage company secured a default judgment against her.

With Ms. Palin’s potent endorsement and the Tea Party Express saying it would spend up to $250,000 on the race, O’Donnell is giving Representative Castle stiff competition. But in a general election, she would probably lose to Democratic candidate Chris Coons, while Castle currently outpolls Mr. Coons by double digits, according to a September Rasmussen poll.

At the Monitor breakfast, FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey responded “no” when asked if it was better for Republicans to lose with a tea-party-backed candidate than to win with a more mainstream Republican. Mr. Kibbe added, “The question for Mike Castle is, if he can’t win his primary, does he deserve to win the general? And we will see what happens.”

What tea-party activists have sought "is an open primary where their candidates get a chance to run and compete,” Kibbe says.

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