In a surprise move, Christine O'Donnell will make her Washington debut as the new Republican Senate candidate from Delaware at this weekend's Values Voter Summit, the nation's biggest annual gathering of religious and social conservatives.
The nominee who stunned her party and the political world by upsetting longtime Rep. Michael N. Castle in the Tuesday primary joins a long list of GOP stars, including a slew of potential 2012 GOP presidential-nomination hopefuls, at an event that drew nearly 2,000 people last year.
Vilified by leading establishment Republicans in Delaware and Washington, Ms. O'Donnell benefited from the backing of tea party activists and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to fashion the upset. After the bitter primary battle, Mr. Castle's campaign has said he will not endorse her in the general election.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and its chairman, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, at first greeted the result with barely disguised disappointment. But Mr. Cornyn quickly reversed course, promising to give the O'Donnell campaign the maximum legal donation of $42,000 in the general election race against the Democratic nominee, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.
Two high-profile Republicans on nearly everyone's list as possible 2012 presidential hopefuls will be conspicuous by their absence from the two-day Values Voter Summit at a Washington hotel that ends on Saturday.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels will not be addressing the thousands of Christian evangelicals and conservative Catholics and Jews at the summit, organized by the Family Research Council.
Mr. Daniels and Mr. Barbour, who is also chairman of the Republican Governors Association, earlier had tangled with FRC President Tony Perkins over whether social conservatives should mute their concerns this fall in favor of economic, tax and pocketbook issues, with polls showing Republicans poised to make big gains in the November midterm elections.
Citing schedule conflicts, Mr. Barbour and Mr. Daniels declined Mr. Perkins' invitations to speak.
Leading GOP conservatives scheduled to address the summit include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina; Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma; Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia; former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas; former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts; Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana; Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; and Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly.
Mr. Barbour recently warned that Republican candidates who stray from economic issues "are using up valuable time and resources that can be used to talk to people about what they care about."
Mr. Perkins responded that GOP candidates cannot afford to ignore issues vital to social conservatives, arguing that "just because issues are not important to a candidate does not make them unimportant to voters."
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