Christine O’Donnell’s Senate candidacy in Delaware poses a classic dilemma for conservatives and Republicans in general.
On the one hand, if elected, the 41-year-old O’Donnell will enhance Republican power in the Senate. She can be expected to vote to support conservative principles and fiscal responsibility.
On the other hand, O’Donnell’s own fiscal house has been a mess. Most troubling, she has displayed a penchant for telling stories about opponents that are beyond belief. Often, she relates the stories to conservative listeners, as if to please them by saying what she thinks they want to hear.
For example, an official of a conservative group met with her when deciding whether his organization should support her. She told him a bizarre story about a Democrat in Congress that was so outlandish he knew it could not be true. His organization did not support her.
O’Donnell told the Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, that opponents’ operatives were following her.
“They’re following me,” the magazine quoted her as saying. “They follow me home at night. I make sure that I come back to the townhouse, and then we have our team come out and check all the bushes and check all the cars.”
Yet she admits she never filed a police report.
O’Donnell went on to imply that GOP Chairman Tom Ross and U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, her opponent in the Republican primary, might have been behind the stalkers and a break-in at her campaign office in 2008.
Ross called O’Donnell “delusional.”
O’Donnell’s finances are as messy as the federal government’s. Public records show she has no steady income. She rents a room out of her campaign office, a town home, raising questions about whether she is using campaign funds improperly. In a disclosure form filed last year, she listed about $6,000 in income from two conservative groups. She did not list any assets or bank accounts.
In 1994, Fairleigh Dickinson University sued her for more than $4,000 in unpaid tuition.
In 2003, O’Donnell moved to Delaware to work for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative publishing firm, and she purchased a house in Wilmington. The publisher fired her in 2004, alleging she was using company resources to run a side business. O’Donnell sued the company, claiming $7 million in damages and alleging she was the victim of gender discrimination and wrongful termination. She then dropped the suit, saying she no longer could afford the legal fees.
During her 2008 Senate run, her mortgage company sued her, claiming she had stopped making payments in October 2007. The home was about to go to sheriff’s sale, but she sold it days before to her then-boyfriend.
Taking issue with public records, she has denied that her mortgage company sued her or that a foreclosure sale date had been set.
In March, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien against her for nearly $12,000 in unpaid income taxes and fees from 2005. The lien was withdrawn in May. O’Donnell has attributed the lien to a computer glitch that was resolved once she paid an amount that she would not disclose.
Although Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express supported her in the final weeks of her campaign, other tea party entities and affiliates such as Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks have not. On Fox News, Karl Rove has come out swinging against her, questioning her character and truthfulness. Bill Kristol has called her a “bit of a flake.”
"Will they attack us?" O'Donnell said at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, where she was a featured speaker during the weekend. "Will they smear our backgrounds and distort our records? Undoubtedly . . . But is it worth it? I say yes, yes, a thousand times, yes."
Understandably, many conservatives see the claim that she is wacky as more of the same from opponents.
“I hate to jump on the bandwagon when people say a conservative is crazy, because that’s what they always say,” one of the top conservative leaders in Washington says. But he allows, “She is terribly flawed and goofy.” He notes that suing the Intercollegiate Studies Institute on a claim of gender discrimination is out of line with conservative principles.
“That’s a hanging offense,” he says. “Our team doesn’t sue people like that.”
At the same time, these and other leaders point to the fact that Congress has had its share of flawed candidates: Ted Kennedy shamefully failed to call the police or fire department to try to save the life of Mary Jo Kopechne when he drunkenly drove with her into Poucha Pond at Chappaquiddick. More recently, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., engaged in a series of ethical violations.
“There are plenty of weird people in Congress,” says a leading conservative. “Hopefully, O’Donnell shuts up and votes correctly, but she will probably be an embarrassment over time.”
Indeed, voters who have overlooked signs of poor character or lack of an admirable track record later regretted it. Richard Nixon engaged in ethical violations that he addressed in his so-called Checkers Speech. That he would later become involved in the Watergate coverup should have come as no surprise. Voters ignored Barack Obama’s lack of experience and the fact that he listened to the anti-white hate speech of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. for 20 years. Now the country has a massive case of buyer’s remorse.
At this point, most conservatives are willing to roll the dice and support O’Donnell because they believe she will further their cause to the benefit of the country. Republican leaders in Congress have closed ranks around her.
But the extent of that support is another matter. As one conservative leader points out, “I am against supporting her because her wackiness means she will not win in Delaware.”
So far, as Rove has warned, the polls bear that out. A poll of Delaware voters by ccAdvertising on Monday found that 34 percent say they will vote for O’Donnell, compared with 49 percent for Democrat Chris Coons.
The question remains: Having spent the past two years apologizing for lowering their own standards and vowing that they have learned their lesson, should Republicans now overlook disturbing signs that O’Donnell spells trouble for the GOP and its brand?
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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