Mike Castle might have been a wonderful general election candidate in the Delaware Senate race. But he ran a terrible campaign in the Republican primary, which is why he lost to Christine O’Donnell, a Tea Party favorite.
Castle, Delaware’s lone congressman, came up short in four separate ways. He acted like a candidate who hasn’t paid an iota of attention to what’s been going in the primaries across the country this year.
One, he didn’t run as a conservative or at least as someone who’d taken a conservative stand on important issues. He’d voted against ObamaCare and is a co-sponsor of repeal legislation. He voted against the stimulus. He’s for extending all the Bush tax cuts. But in Delaware, who knew?
It drove Castle’s supporters in Washington crazy that he wouldn’t emphasize these positions. He was urged to do so by the folks at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but he ignored their advice.
Two, he stressed something that rarely works in primaries: vote for me because I can win the general election and my opponent can’t. This is called strategic voting. But primary voters tend not to be strategic. They usually vote for the candidate they like the best and agree with the most. That turned out to be O’Donnell.
Three, Castle didn’t respect a Tea Party-backed rival. Rather, he felt “insulted,” I’m told, that he had to face O’Donnell, backed by both Sarah Palin and Republican Senator Jim Demint, in the primary.
Hadn’t he noticed what has happened in other states earlier in the primary seasion -- in Alaska, Utah, Colorado, among others -- when candidates like himself were knocked off? The Tea Party candidates haven’t always won, but they’ve proved to be a formidable threat to more credentialed and establishment-oriented candidates.
And four, personal attacks don’t work as well this year when issues like the deficit, debt, taxes, and the size and scope of the federal government loom so large, blotting out other concerns. O’Donnell’s flaws are too numerous to count, but Delaware Republicans were inclined to overlook them because she was the more conservative candidate of the two.
Castle should have benefitted from the lessons from the earlier primaries. They were hardly a secret. But he appeared to have learned nothing. Which is why he lost.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.