On August 24th in Alaska, pundits like me witnessed a large political upset. Everyone expected Lisa Murkowski (R) to beat back the primary challenge from lawyer Joe Miller (R) but instead he won by 51%-49%. Miller was not a high profile candidate challenging Murkowski but this is the year of the political upsets. In Utah, incumbent Bob Bennett (R) lost the primary for Senate and so did establishment candidate Trey Grayson (R) in Kentucky for Senate. Still, Murkowksi did not lose merely because she was a member of the establishment. Six years ago, Murkowski was not considered moderate but by today's standards, she is due to her pro choice views. This definitely affected her standing among voters. Then Palin came along and endorsed Miller. In past primaries, once Palin gives her endrosement, the candidate surges in the Republican primary. A classic example is when Palin endorsed Nikki Haley (R) who is running for South Carolina's Governorship. After that primary, Palin's endorsement seemed to not be the magic touch. In Georgia, her endorsed Gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel (R) lost to Nathan Deal (R). Still, her endorsement is powerful in Alaska, her home state. Also, the tea party pumped money into Alaska with a relatively cheap media market. The Palin factor, the tea party factor, the anti incumbent year and Murkowski's moderate views all together caused her to lose.
Some Republicans are hoping they can pull off another upset in Delaware. Ted Kaufman (D) is vacating his Senate seat so moderate and longtime U.S House member Michael Castle (R) is running for it. Castle is also a former Governor. Most polls show him beating Chris Coons (D) from New Castle County. Castle though is facing an obstacle that can potentially become big. Christine O'Donnell (R) is running far to the right of Castle in the primary. A Rasmussen poll shows Coons beating O'Donnell by 11 points so if she wins the primary, the Republicans lose a pickup chance. Recently, O'Donnell has been grabbing momentum. About a week ago, the tea party express decided to shift to Delaware to bring down Castle. Last Friday, O'Donnell picked up Palin's endorsement, tea party king Jim De Mint's endorsement and the NRA. Castle fits every definition of an incumbent and most pundits have said this is an anti incumbent year. Still, I think Castle will win for three important reasons:
This is strong momentum for O'Donnell but is coming too late for her. In Alaska, Joe Miller had received Palin's endorsment much earlier than four days before the primary. In political races, momentum can change quickly but it takes time for it to change into actual votes. Most voters do not change their minds every time they see one positive news story about the opponent. If the endorsements had happened a week earlier, it will have given more voters time to change their minds and help O' Donnell. Many voters though have already made up their minds.
Michael Castle and Lisa Murkowski were both incumbents but different kinds. Michael Castle has served in statewide office since 1981 when he became Lieutenant Governor. He has been reelected easily as a U.S House member. In 2008, he won 61% of the vote even as Delaware trends toward the left and voted 62% for Obama. Lisa Murkowski though served in statewide office since 2002 and her father Frank Murkowski (R) appointed her to the Senate seat. Many voters viewed this as nepotism and Murkowski won by only three points in 2004. She never truly connected with Alaska voters while Castle has never lost an election in Delaware. Yes Castle is a true incumbent but since he is so well known and liked, it may be too difficult for enough voters to say no to him.
The final and most important reason is that Delaware's Republicans are different from Alaska's. Alaska is a state with many rural conservative Republicans who like teabaggers like Jim De Mint and Sarah Palin. Hunting is very prominent in Alaska too. Delaware though is a very different state. It is divided into New Castle County with Wilmington and Philadelphia suburbs. Sussex County which is rural and conservative and Kent County which is a mix of the two. Most of the state's votes are cast in New Castle County. Delaware is a state where the teabaggers are unpopular and Palin definitely made McCain lose some votes here in 2008. Delaware is not a big hunting state either. Republicans in Delaware are moderate and more urban, not like extremist conservatives. If O' Donnell wanted to win, she should have received Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie's (R) endorsement. He is popular in northeastern suburbs. Christie already endorsed Castle though. The endorsements may help O' Donnell in Sussex County but may hurt more in the Wilmington area where she needs votes.
Overall, the Delaware race does have some similarities to the Alaska primary because of the anti establishment candidate getting the endorsements from the teabaggers. The differences though are that the endorsements came too late, Castle is more popular and Delaware is a state where the teabaggers are just too extreme for most voters. Remember that even with the momentum in Alaska, Miller won by only two points.