Chris Coons defeats ‘tea party’-backed Christine O’Donnell in Delaware Senate race

Tribune Washington Bureau

After a campaign that became a political spectacle, Chris Coons has defeated “tea party” favorite Christine O’Donnell, retaining for Democrats the Delaware Senate seat once held for more than 36 years by Vice President Joe Biden.

Christine O’Donnell’s 15 minutes of political fame actually lasted roughly 50 days. It was seven weeks ago that she shocked the political world by defeating nine-term Rep. Michael N. Castle, also the state’s former governor, in the Republican primary.

That race was influenced, like several others this year, by outside groups such as the Tea Party Express and a late endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. O’Donnell argued that Castle was “King RINO,” a Republican in name only, particularly after he voted to support President Obama’s so-called cap-and-trade plan.


Though her victory electrified the conservative activists who’d backed her long-shot bid, the party establishment rued what it saw as a potentially wasted chance to win one of several “trophy seats” -- among them, the Senate seats once held by President Obama and Biden.

Their fears were justified as a political circus unfolded around O’Donnell. Long-forgotten clips of television appearances found new light, including one in which she confessed to having once “dabbled in witchcraft.” Her grasp of the issues was also under constant scrutiny.

Democrats had initially girded for a loss in Delaware when the moderate and generally popular Castle announced his candidacy. Those fears grew when Beau Biden, the state attorney general, unexpectedly announced he’d seek reelection instead of following in his father’s footsteps.

Coons, elected leader of New Castle County, the state’s most populous, emerged quickly as Democrats’ replacement candidate, and now their new senator. He will be sworn in when Congress reconvenes for a post-election session later this month and will serve the remaining four years of Biden’s unexpired term. Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden aide, had been appointed to serve in the interim when Biden was elected vice president.