Wary of tea party, GOP attacks Senate candidate

WASHINGTON – Delaware Republicans call Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell a liar who “could not be elected dog catcher” in a fierce attack that underscores GOP fears of the tea party-backed candidate knocking off top recruit Rep. Mike Castle and winning the nomination.

Stunned by tea partier Joe Miller’s upset of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republicans are taking no chances in Delaware, which holds its primary Sept. 14. The party sees Castle, the state’s lone congressman since 1993, as the best candidate for the seat long held by Vice President Joe Biden.

Republicans circulated audio of a testy, 22-minute interview that O’Donnell had with radio station WGMD on Thursday. Party officials also have said she inflated her resume and made flat-out untrue statements while being dogged by questions about tax liens and foreclosures. Castle says she has misrepresented his record.

“She’s not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware,” state party chairman Tom Ross, who is backing Castle, said in a telephone interview. “She could not be elected dog catcher.”

Republicans said Castle’s campaign is preparing negative television ads against O’Donnell. The commercials would air in the week leading up to the primary. The campaign also has created a website, RealChristine.com, a clearinghouse of negative O’Donnell stories.

“Unfortunately, the truth always seems to be an issue,” said Ross. “Her version of reality doesn’t jibe with any of the facts.”

O’Donnell’s campaign did not return messages seeking comment.

The Tea Party Express has announced a six-figure commitment to back O’Donnell. A spokesman, Levi Russell, said the organization hopes to begin airing radio and television ads by the end of this week or early next week, and put the anticipated cost at about $250,000.

In the radio interview Thursday, O’Donnell refused to back down from claims that she won two of Delaware’s three counties in her 2008 Senate bid against Biden, despite numbers that show she didn’t.

“I was the 2008 endorsed candidate against Joe Biden and I won in two counties,” O’Donnell had told a group in Pennsylvania.

WGMD’s Dan Gaffney, a conservative radio host who backed O’Donnell’s Senate bid, asked her to explain the claim.

“Look at the results,” O’Donnell said. “What do they say? 49 (percent), 49. I call that a tie.”

She lost that county by 272 votes.

Commenting on Kent County, home to state capital Dover, O’Donnell said: “I said I nearly tied.”

The host played the audio again that shows she didn’t couch it that way. Flustered by the questioning, O’Donnell asked Gaffney whether he was being paid off by Castle, who has refused to debate her.

She then blamed her schedule for the missteps. “You’re on the campaign trail, starting at 5 a.m., you go to 12 … you go until midnight,” she said. “Sometimes you slip up on those things.”

Although private polling shows Castle with a comfortable lead, they want to avoid a surprise like Miller upending Murkowski.

Ross argued that the two candidates — O’Donnell and Miller — are far different.

“When you look at Joe Miller, he’s an Ivy League graduate, a war hero and an attorney who is prominent in the community,” he said. “We could go across the street from the apartment Christine O’Donnell rents and we probably couldn’t find anyone who knows her.”

Although O’Donnell has appeared on the ballot in the past, she faces an uphill race against Castle, Delaware’s sole representative in the U.S. House who won in 2008 with 61 percent of the vote.

Republicans also take some comfort in the calendar. The deadline to register in the Republican primary has passed; tea party activists energized by the upset in Alaska missed their chance to vote in the closed primary. The Republican winner will face Democrat Chris Coons.

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