NEWARK, Del. – Entering Kildare’s Irish Pub to boisterous chants of “Chris- tine! Chris- tine!” Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, fresh from her testy televised debate with Democrat Chris Coons, slapped high fives and posed for cell phone pictures with jubilant supporters.
Moments later, after conducting an interview with this reporter, she stood on a bar chair, again to raucous applause, and declared: “What I just said on Fox News was that we shattered the glass jaw of my opponent!”
In fact, what she had just told Fox News was: “And whether it’s the NRSC, or anyone else, I hope that what we’ve done has served to shatter my opponent’s glass jaw…” Far from the triumphalism of her declaration to her supporters, what O’Donnell had said to Fox News was, in fact, an expression of her frustration with the leaders of her own Republican Party, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, or NRSC.
O’Donnell’s comments in her exclusive interview with Fox News followed an offhanded remark she had made in her ninety-minute exchange with Coons: “I've had to fight my party to be here on this stage to win the nomination, and to some extent I am still fighting my party.”
The first part, about having to fight her own party to secure the nomination, was clear enough: O’Donnell rocketed to nationwide fame by staging a stunning primary upset over Rep. Mike Castle, who had been the preferred candidate of the Republican Party’s top officials.
But what O’Donnell meant in the second part of her statement – “and to some extent I am still fighting my party” – was more mysterious. After the debate, O’Donnell press aide Dave Yonkman was pressed for an explanation in “Spin Alley,” the anteroom at the University of Delaware where campaign operatives declared victory and fielded reporters’ questions. Yonkman downplayed the notion of a rift between his candidate and the national GOP leadership, noting that Cornyn and O’Donnell had met just last week “and those talks are underway.”
But when this reporter asked O’Donnell herself how she is fighting her own party, the Republican nominee was ready to cite chapter and verse. Tthe Democratic senatorial committee is running ads against me. The Democratic Party is running ads against me,” she said. “The Republican Party on the state level, or on the national level, neither have come in to help me close the gap in the polls. And my opponent, there’s so much to attack him on, yet the NRSC refuses to play, and that, that baffles me. Because he’s a – he’s a sitting duck. There’s a lot to go after him [on].”
Polls in the race show Coons enjoying a commanding lead over O’Donnell among likely voters. A Fox News/POR-Rasmussen survey conducted October 9 found O’Donnell trailing the Democratic nominee by sixteen percentage points. The website RealClearPolitics.com, in compiling all reliable polls, found Coons to have an average lead of 17.2 points.
Asked how she could possibly eliminate such a large polling gap with so little time left before Election Day, O’Donnell agreed that the polls “are accurate,” but contended they do not account for some segments of the population where she claimed to enjoy broad support. “Keep in mind that in the primary race, I was about this far down in the polls as well. We didn’t close that gap until the day before the primary, where then I was still at 47 percent,” she said. :Yet the next day I won by a very good margin. And I attribute that win to the same thing that I am going to attribute this win to: There’s a lot of first-time voters coming out, a lot of people who never engaged in the process before….And over these next three weeks, I believe you’ll see an increase in the polls.”
Perhaps the most damaging moment in her televised showdown with Coons, the New Castle County Executive, was when a moderator asked O’Donnell to name a recent Supreme Court ruling with which she disagreed, and O’Donnell could not do so. ““I'm very sorry,” she apologized. “Right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I'll put it up on my website, I promise you.”
Yonkman, facing reporters in “Spin Alley,” brandished a handwritten list of such rulings and said his candidate had simply been “caught off guard.” Later, however, in the interview with Fox News, O’Donnell disputed her aide’s characterization. “It wasn’t that I was caught off guard,” she said; rather the “trip-up” was the moderator’s insistence on her naming a recent Supreme Court decision. “Under [the late Chief Justice William] Rehnquist and under [current Chief Justice John] Roberts,” O’Donnell said in the interview, “we’ve had some good decisions handed down from the Supreme Court. So if you go back to recent years, back in 2005 and 2004, there was Kelo [v. City of New London (2005)], which I’m absolutely opposed to that eminent domain. The government should not have the right to confiscate someone’s private property. I’m opposed to the Ten Commandments ruling. But…there haven’t been a lot of recent decisions under this current Court, and then Rehnquist before that, that, frankly, I disagree with. And that proves what happens when you get a good constitutionalist up there.”
With her strong conservative stances on the issues, coquettish looks, and feisty one-liners, O’Donnell can sometimes appear like the “Mini-Me” version of her most famous booster, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whose endorsement of O’Donnell helped propel her past Rep. Castle during the primary, and into the general election. Asked if Palin is her role model, O’Donnell demurred. “I don’t think that it would be accurate to say that she’s my role model. But she is a leader of all women,” O’Donnell told Fox News. “[Palin] pioneered, blazing a trail in going up against the party. She went up against the party before it was cool! She was one of the first women to step up and really challenge the party bosses and the lords of the back room and their obnoxious sense of entitlement. And she was very successful. And she paved the way for many female politicians, as did a lot of women on the Democratic side.”
O’Donnell also confided one trade secret: She guzzles Diet Rockstar, an energy drink, to stay invigorated on the campaign trail. But she also expressed amazement at “how little I’ve had to drink it.”
James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole." His latest book is "A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century" (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016).