United States Senate special election in Delaware, 2010
The 2010 United States Senate special election in Delaware took place on November 2, 2010 concurrently with elections to the United States Senate in other states as well as elections to the United States House of Representatives and various state and local elections. It was a special election to fill Delaware's Class II Senate seat, then held by Ted Kaufman, an appointee. The seat had been previously held by long-time Senator Joe Biden, who vacated it when he became Vice President of the United States in 2009.
The state primary election was September 14, 2010. U.S. Representative and former Governor Mike Castle was seen as the front-runner for the Republican nomination but was upset by Christine O'Donnell in the primary in a contest that had national visibility. O'Donnell lost to the Democratic nominee Chris Coons by a vote of 57% to 40%. Coons immediately took office after the results were certified, and completed the remainder of the term lasting to January 2015. He was subsequently reelected to a first full term in 2014.
In the seat's most recent election in 2008, longtime Democratic incumbent Joe Biden defeated Republican Christine O'Donnell. However, Biden was also elected Vice President of the United States in 2008 and was required to resign from the Senate by Article I, Section 6 of the United States Constitution in order to assume the Vice Presidency. Although Biden was sworn in for a seventh term early in January 2009, he resigned from the Senate on January 15, 2009, and was succeeded by Kaufman the following day.
Those discussed as possible appointees to replace Joe Biden included Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, a son of Joe Biden; outgoing Lt. Gov. John Carney, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, Delaware Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor, Delaware Correction Commissioner Carl C. Danberg, former Delaware House of Representatives member Robert L. Byrd, and New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.
On November 24, 2008, after Biden's election to the vice presidency but before his resignation, outgoing Governor Ruth Ann Minner announced that she would appoint Biden's former chief of staff, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors named Ted Kaufman, as Biden's temporary successor. Minner said, "I believe Ted Kaufman meets every test I set for this office. His political views are close to Sen. Biden's, and he has agreed to focus solely on doing the people's work, not seeking re-election." Biden resigned in January 2009; Minner formally appointed Kaufman to the seat shortly thereafter. Sen. Kaufman was succeeded by Chris Coons, who won the special election to fill the remainder of Vice President Biden's Senate term. Coons was sworn in November 15, 2010, and stepped down as New Castle County Executive.
- Mike Castle, U.S. Representative, former Governor of Delaware and former Lieutenant Governor of Delaware
- Christine O'Donnell, political commentator and perennial candidate
In April 2009, Castle stated "there's probably a better chance I'll run for the Senate than the House. [But] I said there's a chance I won't run at all." On October 6, 2009, Castle announced that he would in fact run for the Senate seat. After the 2008 election loss to incumbent Democrat Joe Biden, O'Donnell had indicated she would strongly consider running for the seat again in 2010, asking supporters on her web site to "save your yard sign!!" On February 12, 2009, O'Donnell had announced her candidacy. She reiterated that she was in the race even after Michael Castle announced his candidacy in October 2009, and formally launched her campaign on March 10, 2010. In her remarks, O'Donnell criticized excessive government spending, said that Castle was the most liberal Republican in the House, and said that the Tea Party movement and grassroots anti-incumbent trends would be in her favor.
When a report from The News Journal in March 2010 detailed O'Donnell's fiscal difficulties, she attributed the problems to misunderstandings and errors, and said, "I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic." Nevertheless, her financial problems became a focal point of establishment Republican attacks against her. A July 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll showed O'Donnell running ahead of Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons by a margin of 41 to 39 percent in a hypothetical matchup, while a similar poll in August had her trailing Coons 46 to 36 percent. During this time she picked up the endorsements of the Susan B. Anthony List, the Tea Party Express, which called her a "strong voice for conservative constitutionalist principles", and the Family Research Council.
O'Donnell supporters were heartened by the late August primary victory in Alaska of little-known, Tea Party-backed insurgent Joe Miller over incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. The Tea Party Express said it might spend as much as $600,000 backing O'Donnell. The added 'buzz' about her campaign and the possibility that another establishment Republican figure might be defeated by an insurgent brought national attention to the race. The same attention also brought additional scrutiny on her record and financial history, including a contentious interview on WGMD radio. She had claimed that she beat or tied Joe Biden in two of the state's three counties in their 2008 campaign. Later, she admitted this was inaccurate, and that she had lost all three counties.
As September began, the nastiness of the tone of the race had increased, with Delaware Republican Party chair Tom Ross saying, "Is Christine O'Donnell actually this unhinged from reality? Or is she simply a liar, whose total lack of respect for Delaware voters leads her to deliberately and repeatedly deny the clear facts surrounding her many personal and professional failures?" Ross also said, "She's not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware. She could not be elected dog catcher." The O'Donnell campaign generated some controversy in early September when a political consulting firm hired by O'Donnell released a Web video insinuating that her opponent, Mike Castle, was having a gay affair. O'Donnell quickly distanced herself from the claims, pointing out that the firm in question was no longer working for her campaign, though the manner in which she denied involvement in the rumor led some to suspect that she was intentionally engaging in a whisper campaign by deliberately repeating the rumor while denying it. O'Donnell later appeared on Mark Levin's radio show, where she blasted Castle's "unmanly tactics" during the campaign, saying, "this is not a bake-off, put your man-pants on." Kristen Murray, O'Donnell's 2008 campaign manager, starred in a Delaware Republican Party-funded robocall in which she accused O'Donnell of misusing campaign funds. Says Murray, "This is her third senate race in five years. As O'Donnell's manager, I found out she was living on campaign donations - using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt. She wasn't concerned about conservative causes. O'Donnell just wanted to make a buck." O'Donnell denied most of what Murray said and stated that she had fired Murray.
With days to go before the primary, O'Donnell was bolstered by an endorsement from former Governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. A few days later, The Weekly Standard broke new details of O'Donnell's 2005 $6.95 million gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against her former employer, the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
|Public Policy Polling||September 11–12, 2010||668||± 3.8%||44%||47%||––||8%|
In the year preceding the primary, polls that considered the hypothetical match of Castle against Coons indicated that Castle would defeat Coons by a wide margin. Only one of those nine polls (a Rasmussen poll held two months before the primary) showed O'Donnell defeating Coons, and even then by less than the margin of error.
|Republican||Michael N. Castle||27,021||46.9%|
Incumbent Senator Ted Kaufman of Greenville, who served as Biden's chief of staff and as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors before being appointed to this seat, announced from the time of his appointment that he did not intend to be a candidate in the special election. Former Lieutenant Governor John Carney of Wilmington let his name be considered during the appointment process, but then announced his candidacy for the House seat held by Castle.State Attorney General Beau Biden of Wilmington was reportedly considered for the appointment to his father's Senate seat, but the Vice President's son was in the process of deploying to the Iraq War with the Delaware National Guard and said he would not accept any appointment. In October 2009, after his deployment concluded, Biden stated that he was considering a run for the Senate seat. Most polls showed Biden and likely Republican opponent Castle neck-and-neck in a potential matchup. On January 25, 2010, Beau Biden confirmed that he would not run for the Senate seat. Shortly after the Attorney General's statement, Chris Coons announced his candidacy.
Following her upset win over Castle, O'Donnell continued to face a split reaction from the leaders in the local, state, and national Republican Party. Castle said he would not support O'Donnell. The National Republican Senatorial Committee similarly released a statement almost immediately following O'Donnell's primary win, stating that they would not spend money to support her or her campaign. However, Texas Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the NRSC, released a statement later stating he did not know where the release from within his organization originated. He then offered the maximum $42,000 donation to her campaign; Cornyn acknowledged, however, that he was not sure if she could win. Former Massachusetts Governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney also contributed to O'Donnell's general election funds. However, former White House adviser and Republican strategist Karl Rove said following O'Donnell's victory, "This is not a race we're going to be able to win." His remark triggered a fusillade of criticism from conservative talk radio.
The morning following the primary, Public Policy Polling released a tweet indicating that their polling found that primary voters who voted for Mike Castle supported Coons, the Democratic opponent, over O'Donnell 44 percent to 28 percent in a general election. Also that day, this primary was the lead story on KYW news-radio (1060 AM, Philadelphia).
An October 19, 2010, debate between Coons and O'Donnell at Widener University School of Law featured an exchange about separation of church and state in the United States and whether it is explicitly in the U.S. constitution. O'Donnell said it was not; afterward her campaign manager said, "Christine O'Donnell was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution." (That phrase was "substantively" read into the First Amendment in the U.S. Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale in 1962 and does not appear in the Constitution.)
|Cook Political Report||Likely D||October 30, 2010|
|Rothenberg||D favored||October 28, 2010|
|Swing State Project||Likely D|
|RealClearPolitics||Likely D||October 30, 2010|
|Sabato's Crystal Ball||Likely D||October 28, 2010|
|CQ Politics||Likely D||October 30, 2010|
|Rasmussen Reports||Solid D||October 27, 2010|
|Research 2000||February 22–24, 2010||600||± 4.0%||47%||31%||––||22%||––|
|Rasmussen Reports||July 14, 2010||500||± 4.5%||39%||41%||––||7%||12%|
|Rasmussen Reports||August 5, 2010||500||± 4.5%||46%||36%||––||10%||8%|
|Public Policy Polling||August 7–8, 2010||600||± 4.0%||44%||37%||––||––||19%|
|Rasmussen Reports||September 2, 2010||500||± 4.5%||47%||36%||––||8%||9%|
|Public Policy Polling||September 11–12, 2010||958||± 3.2%||50%||34%||––||––||16%|
|Rasmussen Reports||September 16, 2010||500||± 4.5%||53%||42%||––||1%||4%|
|CNN||September 17–21, 2010||703||± 3.5%||55%||39%||––||––||––|
|Rasmussen Reports||September 26, 2010||500||± 4.5%||49%||40%||5%||0%||5%|
|Fairleigh Dickinson University's Public Mind||Sept. 27 – October 3, 2010||801||± 3.5%||53%||36%||––||––||8%||3%|
|FOX News/Pulse Opinion Research||October 9, 2010||1,000||± 3.0%||54%||38%||––||3%||5%|
|Magellan||October 10, 2010||928||± 3.3%||54%||36%||––||3%||7%|
|Monmouth||October 8–11, 2010||790||± 3.5%||57%||38%||––||5%||––|
|Survey USA/University of Delaware||October 11–12, 2010||2,355||± 2.1%||54%||33%||––||5%||9%|
|Rasmussen Reports||October 14, 2010||500||± 4.5%||51%||40%||––||5%||4%|
|Fairleigh Dickinson University||October 20–26, 2010||797||± 3.5%||57%||36%||––||––||––|
|Monmouth University||October 25–27, 2010||1,171||± 2.9%||51%||41%||––||4%||4%|
|Candidate (Party)||Receipts||Disbursements||Cash On Hand||Debt||Date|
|Chris Coons (D)||$4,207,479||$3,479,819||$727,660||$250,000||through 11/22/10|
|Christine O'Donnell (R)||$7,340,167||$6,406,246||$924,745||$2,692||through 11/22/10|
|Source: Federal Election Commission|
|Delaware Independent||Glenn Miller||8,201||2.67%|
After O'Donnell's poor performance, there was considerable discussion within Republican circles regarding whether the party had lost a sure Senate seat by nominating her instead of Castle. Party pragmatists said that this had happened, and pointed to other races in Nevada and Colorado where Tea Party-favored candidates had lost races against Democratic rivals. Party purists dismissed this concern, and said that running candidates who supported fundamentally conservative values was always worthwhile. For her own part, O'Donnell criticized divisions within the state Republican Party following her primary win and said the consequent lack of support had led to her defeat.
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- 2010 Delaware Election Calendar Archived March 17, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Delaware Commissioner of Elections
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- Citing "Mental Anguish," Christine O'Donnell Sought $6.9 Million in Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Conservative Group, John McCormack, The National Standard, September 12, 2010
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- See Public Policy Polling for November 30 – December 2, 2009; Susquehanna for November 16, 2009; Daily Kos for October 14, 2009; Rasmussen Reports for September 30, 2009; Susquehanna[permanent dead link] for April 27–30, 2009; Public Policy Polling for March 5–8, 2009.
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- Chicago Tribune, October 20, 2010, Section 1, page 3, "It's really not debatable." by Tribune Newspapers
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- Delaware Commissioner of Elections
- U.S. Congress candidates for Delaware at Project Vote Smart
- Delaware U.S. Senate - Special Election from OurCampaigns.com
- Campaign contributions from Open Secrets
- 2010 Delaware Senate General Election: Christine O'Donnell (R) vs. Chris Coons (D) graph of multiple polls from Pollster.com
- Election 2010: Delaware Senate from Rasmussen Reports
- Delaware Senate - Castle vs. Biden from Real Clear Politics
- 2010 Delaware Senate Race from CQ Politics
- Race profile from The New York Times
- Election 2010 at The News Journal
- Official candidate websites (Archived)