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2010 United States Senate special election in Delaware

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2010 United States Senate special election in Delaware

← 2008 November 2, 2010 2014 →
Chris Coons, official portrait, 112th Congress (cropped).jpg
Christine O'Donnell by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Nominee Chris Coons Christine O'Donnell
Party Democratic Republican
Popular vote 174,012 123,053
Percentage 56.6% 40.0%

Delaware Senate Election Results by County, 2010.svg
County Results

Coons:      60–70%

O'Donnell:      50–60%[1]

U.S. senator before election

Ted Kaufman

Elected U.S. Senator

Chris Coons

The 2010 United States Senate special election in Delaware took place on November 2, 2010 concurrently with elections to the United States Senate in other states as well as elections to the United States House of Representatives and various state and local elections. It was a special election to fill Delaware's Class II Senate seat, then held by Ted Kaufman, an appointee. The seat had been previously held by long-time Senator Joe Biden, who vacated it when he became Vice President of the United States in 2009.

The state primary election was September 14, 2010.[2] U.S. Representative and former Governor Mike Castle was seen as the front-runner for the Republican nomination but was upset by Christine O'Donnell in the primary in a contest that had national visibility. O'Donnell lost to the Democratic nominee Chris Coons by a vote of 57% to 40%.[3] Coons immediately took office after the results were certified, and completed the remainder of the term lasting to January 2015. He was subsequently reelected to a first full term in 2014.


In the seat's most recent election in 2008, longtime Democratic incumbent Joe Biden defeated Republican Christine O'Donnell.[4] However, Biden was also elected Vice President of the United States in 2008 and was required to resign from the Senate by Article I, Section 6 of the United States Constitution in order to assume the Vice Presidency. Although Biden was sworn in for a seventh term early in January 2009, he resigned from the Senate on January 15, 2009, and was succeeded by Kaufman the following day.[5]

Those discussed as possible appointees to replace Joe Biden included Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, a son of Joe Biden; outgoing Lt. Gov. John Carney, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, Delaware Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor, Delaware Correction Commissioner Carl C. Danberg, former Delaware House of Representatives member Robert L. Byrd, and New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.[6]

On November 24, 2008, after Biden's election to the vice presidency but before his resignation, outgoing Governor Ruth Ann Minner announced that she would appoint Biden's former chief of staff, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors named Ted Kaufman, as Biden's temporary successor.[7] Minner said, "I believe Ted Kaufman meets every test I set for this office. His political views are close to Sen. Biden's, and he has agreed to focus solely on doing the people's work, not seeking re-election."[6] Biden resigned in January 2009; Minner formally appointed Kaufman to the seat shortly thereafter. Sen. Kaufman was succeeded by Chris Coons, who won the special election to fill the remainder of Vice President Biden's Senate term. Coons was sworn in on November 15, 2010, and stepped down as New Castle County Executive.

Republican primary



In April 2009, Castle stated "there's probably a better chance I'll run for the Senate than the House. [But] I said there's a chance I won't run at all."[8] On October 6, 2009, Castle announced that he would in fact run for the Senate seat.[9] After the 2008 election loss to incumbent Democrat Joe Biden, O'Donnell had indicated she would strongly consider running for the seat again in 2010, asking supporters on her web site to "save your yard sign!!"[10] On February 12, 2009, O'Donnell had announced her candidacy.[11] She reiterated that she was in the race even after Michael Castle announced his candidacy in October 2009,[12] and formally launched her campaign on March 10, 2010.[13] In her remarks, O'Donnell criticized excessive government spending, said that Castle was the most liberal Republican in the House, and said that the Tea Party movement and grassroots anti-incumbent trends would be in her favor.[14][15]

When a report from The News Journal in March 2010 detailed O'Donnell's fiscal difficulties, she attributed the problems to misunderstandings and errors, and said, "I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic."[16][17][18] Nevertheless, her financial problems became a focal point of establishment Republican attacks against her.[19] A July 2010 Rasmussen Reports poll showed O'Donnell running ahead of Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons by a margin of 41 to 39 percent in a hypothetical matchup.[20] During this time she picked up the endorsements of the Susan B. Anthony List, the Tea Party Express, which called her a "strong voice for conservative constitutionalist principles",[21] and the Family Research Council.[22]

O'Donnell supporters were heartened by the late August primary victory in Alaska of little-known, Tea Party-backed insurgent Joe Miller over incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.[19] The Tea Party Express said it might spend as much as $600,000 backing O'Donnell.[19] The added 'buzz' about her campaign and the possibility that another establishment Republican figure might be defeated by an insurgent brought national attention to the race.[19][23] The same attention also brought additional scrutiny on her record and financial history, including a contentious interview on WGMD radio. She had claimed that she beat or tied Joe Biden in two of the state's three counties in their 2008 campaign. Later, she admitted this was inaccurate, and that she had lost all three counties.[24][25]

As September began, the nastiness of the tone of the race had increased, with Delaware Republican Party chair Tom Ross saying, "Is Christine O'Donnell actually this unhinged from reality? Or is she simply a liar, whose total lack of respect for Delaware voters leads her to deliberately and repeatedly deny the clear facts surrounding her many personal and professional failures?"[26] Ross also said, "She's not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware. She could not be elected dog catcher."[27] The O'Donnell campaign generated some controversy in early September when a political consulting firm hired by O'Donnell released a Web video insinuating that her opponent, Mike Castle, was having a gay affair.[28] O'Donnell quickly distanced herself from the claims, pointing out that the firm in question was no longer working for her campaign, though the manner in which she denied involvement in the rumor led some to suspect that she was intentionally engaging in a whisper campaign by deliberately repeating the rumor while denying it.[29] O'Donnell later appeared on Mark Levin's radio show, where she blasted Castle's "unmanly tactics" during the campaign, saying, "this is not a bake-off, put your man-pants on."[30] Kristen Murray, O'Donnell's 2008 campaign manager, starred in a Delaware Republican Party-funded robocall in which she accused O'Donnell of misusing campaign funds.[31] Says Murray, "This is her third senate race in five years. As O'Donnell's manager, I found out she was living on campaign donations - using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt. She wasn't concerned about conservative causes. O'Donnell just wanted to make a buck."[31] O'Donnell denied most of what Murray said and stated that she had fired Murray.[32]

With days to go before the primary, O'Donnell was bolstered by an endorsement from former Governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.[33] A few days later, The Weekly Standard broke new details of O'Donnell's 2005 $6.95 million gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against her former employer, the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute.[34]


Poll source Date(s)
of error
Other Undecided
Public Policy Polling September 11–12, 2010 668 ± 3.8% 44% 47% –– 8%

In the year preceding the primary, polls that considered the hypothetical match of Castle against Coons indicated that Castle would defeat Coons by a wide margin.[35] Only one of those nine polls (a Rasmussen poll held two months before the primary) showed O'Donnell defeating Coons, and even then by less than the margin of error.[35]


Republican primary results
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Christine O'Donnell 30,561 53.1%
Republican Mike Castle 27,021 46.9%
Total votes 57,582 100.0%

General election



Incumbent Senator Ted Kaufman of Greenville, who served as Biden's chief of staff and as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors before being appointed to this seat, announced from the time of his appointment that he did not intend to be a candidate in the special election.[36] Former Lieutenant Governor John Carney of Wilmington[37] let his name be considered during the appointment process,[6] but then announced his candidacy for the House seat held by Castle.[38] State Attorney General Beau Biden of Wilmington[6] was reportedly considered for the appointment to his father's Senate seat, but the Vice President's son was in the process of deploying to the Iraq War with the Delaware National Guard and said he would not accept any appointment.[6] In October 2009, after his deployment concluded, Biden stated that he was considering a run for the Senate seat.[39] Most polls showed Biden and likely Republican opponent Castle neck-and-neck in a potential matchup.[40] On January 25, 2010, Beau Biden confirmed that he would not run for the Senate seat.[41] Shortly after the Attorney General's statement, Chris Coons announced his candidacy.

Following her upset win over Castle, O'Donnell continued to face a split reaction from the leaders in the local, state, and national Republican Party. Castle said he would not support O'Donnell.[42] The National Republican Senatorial Committee similarly released a statement almost immediately following O'Donnell's primary win, stating that they would not spend money to support her or her campaign.[31][43] However, Texas Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the NRSC, released a statement later stating he did not know where the release from within his organization originated. He then offered the maximum $42,000 donation to her campaign; Cornyn acknowledged, however, that he was not sure if she could win.[44] Former Governor of Massachusetts and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney also contributed to O'Donnell's general election funds.[42] However, former White House adviser and Republican strategist Karl Rove said following O'Donnell's victory, "This is not a race we're going to be able to win."[42] His remark triggered a fusillade of criticism from conservative talk radio.

The morning following the primary, Public Policy Polling released a tweet indicating that their polling found that primary voters who voted for Mike Castle supported Coons, the Democratic opponent, over O'Donnell 44 percent to 28 percent in a general election.[45] Also that day, this primary was the lead story on KYW news-radio (1060 AM, Philadelphia).

An October 19, 2010, debate between Coons and O'Donnell at Widener University School of Law featured an exchange about separation of church and state in the United States and whether it is explicitly in the U.S. constitution. O'Donnell said it was not;[46] afterward her campaign manager said, "Christine O'Donnell was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution." (That phrase was "substantively" read into the First Amendment in the U.S. Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale in 1962 and does not appear verbatim in the Constitution.[47])


Candidate (Party) Receipts Disbursements Cash On Hand Debt Date
Chris Coons (D) $4,207,479 $3,479,819 $727,660 $250,000 through 11/22/10
Christine O'Donnell (R) $7,340,167 $6,406,246 $924,745 $2,692 through 11/22/10
Source: Federal Election Commission[48]


Source Ranking As of
Cook Political Report[49] Likely D October 30, 2010
Rothenberg[50] Likely D October 28, 2010
RealClearPolitics[51] Likely D October 30, 2010
Sabato's Crystal Ball[52] Likely D October 28, 2010
CQ Politics[53] Likely D October 30, 2010
Rasmussen Reports[54] Safe D October 27, 2010


Poll source Date(s)
of error
Coons (D)
O'Donnell (R)
Miller (I)
Other Undecided Refused
Research 2000 February 22–24, 2010 600 ± 4.0% 47% 31% –– 22% ––
Rasmussen Reports July 14, 2010 500 ± 4.5% 39% 41% –– 7% 12%
Rasmussen Reports August 5, 2010 500 ± 4.5% 46% 36% –– 10% 8%
Public Policy Polling August 7–8, 2010 600 ± 4.0% 44% 37% –– –– 19%
Rasmussen Reports September 2, 2010 500 ± 4.5% 47% 36% –– 8% 9%
Public Policy Polling September 11–12, 2010 958 ± 3.2% 50% 34% –– –– 16%
Rasmussen Reports September 16, 2010 500 ± 4.5% 53% 42% –– 1% 4%
CNN September 17–21, 2010 703 ± 3.5% 55% 39% –– –– ––
Rasmussen Reports September 26, 2010 500 ± 4.5% 49% 40% 5% 0% 5%
Fairleigh Dickinson University's Public Mind September 27 – October 3, 2010 801 ± 3.5% 53% 36% –– –– 8% 3%
FOX News/Pulse Opinion Research October 9, 2010 1,000 ± 3.0% 54% 38% –– 3% 5%
Magellan October 10, 2010 928 ± 3.3% 54% 36% –– 3% 7%
Monmouth October 8–11, 2010 790 ± 3.5% 57% 38% –– 5% ––
Survey USA/University of Delaware October 11–12, 2010 2,355 ± 2.1% 54% 33% –– 5% 9%
Rasmussen Reports October 14, 2010 500 ± 4.5% 51% 40% –– 5% 4%
Fairleigh Dickinson University October 20–26, 2010 797 ± 3.5% 57% 36% –– –– ––
Monmouth University October 25–27, 2010 1,171 ± 2.9% 51% 41% –– 4% 4%


United States Senate special election in Delaware, 2010[1]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Chris Coons 174,012 56.61% -8.07%
Republican Christine O'Donnell 123,053 40.03% +4.72%
Delaware Independent Glenn Miller 8,201 2.67%
Libertarian James Rash 2,101 0.69%
Majority 50,959 16.58% -12.79%
Total votes 307,367 100.00%
Democratic hold Swing


After O'Donnell's poor performance, there was considerable discussion within Republican circles regarding whether the party had lost a sure Senate seat by nominating her instead of Castle.[55] Party pragmatists said that this had happened, and pointed to other races in Nevada and Colorado where Tea Party-favored candidates had lost races against Democratic rivals.[56] Party purists dismissed this concern, and said that running candidates who supported fundamentally conservative values was always worthwhile. For her own part, O'Donnell criticized divisions within the state Republican Party following her primary win and said the consequent lack of support had led to her defeat.[57][58]


  1. ^ a b "Official Election Results - General Elections - 11/02/10 - Statewide Offices By County". State Of Delaware Elections System. November 5, 2010. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  2. ^ 2010 Delaware Election Calendar Archived March 17, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Delaware Commissioner of Elections
  3. ^ Evans, Ben; Chase, Randall (November 2, 2010). "Coons Beats O'Donnell in Delaware Senate Race". ABC News. Retrieved November 3, 2010.
  4. ^ Nuckols, Ben (November 6, 2008). "Biden wins 7th Senate term but may not serve". Associated Press. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  5. ^ J. Taylor, Rushing (January 15, 2009). "Biden bids farewell to Senate". The Hill. Washington, D.C. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e Montgomery, Jeff (November 24, 2008). "Minner taps Kaufman for Biden's seat". Delaware News-Journal. Retrieved November 24, 2008.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Kornreich, Lauren (November 24, 2008). "Former Biden advisor picked as Senate replacement". CNN.
  8. ^ McArdle, John (April 23, 2009). "Castle More Likely to Run for Senate Than Re-Election". Roll Call.
  9. ^ "Delaware GOP Congressman to Run for Biden's Former Senate Seat". Fox News Channel. October 6, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  10. ^ O'Donnell, Christine. "Dear Supporters". Christine O'Donnell for U.S. Senate. Retrieved December 17, 2008.
  11. ^ "The Delaware Business Ledger - Newark, DE". Retrieved June 14, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "O'Donnell: Won't drop out for Castle". Archived from the original on October 11, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  13. ^ "Delaware politics: Christine O'Donnell to announce primary bid against Rep. Mike Castle for Senate seat". The News Journal. March 9, 2010. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved March 9, 2010.
  14. ^ Tucker, Jeremy (March 11, 2010). "O'Donnell Announces Run Against Castle". WBOC-TV. Archived from the original on September 18, 2010. Retrieved March 15, 2010.
  15. ^ Eichmann, Mark (March 10, 2010). "O'Donnell takes aim at Castle in Senate campaign kick-off". WHYY-TV. Archived from the original on November 14, 2010. Retrieved March 15, 2010.
  16. ^ Gibson, Ginger (March 20, 2010). "Delaware politics: O'Donnell faces campaign debt, back-tax issues". The News Journal. Wilmington. Retrieved March 25, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Been There, Vote For Me". CQ Politics. March 22, 2010. Archived from the original on March 27, 2010. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
  18. ^ "GOP Senate Candidate Admits Financial Woes". WJZ-TV. Associated Press. March 20, 2010. Retrieved March 26, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ a b c d Weisman, Jonathan (August 30, 2010). "Tea Party Backs O'Donnell in Delaware". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  20. ^ "Election 2010: Delaware Senate". Rasmussen Reports. July 15, 2010.
  21. ^ Catanese, David (July 27, 2010). "O'Donnell gets Tea Party backing". The Politico. Retrieved August 1, 2010.
  22. ^ "FRC Action PAC Endorses Christine O'Donnell for Senate" (Press release). Family Research Council Action PAC. July 27, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  23. ^ Mascaro, Lisa (September 12, 2010). "'Tea party' candidate in Delaware rattles the Republican Party". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 12, 2010.
  24. ^ "Dan Gaffney Audio: Christine O'Donnell for Senate Interview". Wgmd.Com. September 2, 2010. Archived from the original on September 6, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  25. ^ Catanese, Dan (September 2, 2010). "Christine O'Donnell plays defense on radio". Politico. Retrieved September 2, 2010.
  26. ^ "Delaware GOP Suggests Tea Party Senate Challenger Is a 'Liar'". Fox News Channel. September 3, 2010. Retrieved September 4, 2010.
  27. ^ Elliott, Philip (September 12, 2010). "GOP tries to take out tea party-backed candidate". NBC News. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  28. ^ Smith, Ben (September 1, 2010). "O'Donnell backer makes sex charge in Delaware race". Politico. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  29. ^ "Rachel Maddow Show". MSNBC. Archived from the original on May 26, 2009. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  30. ^ Kleefeld, Eric (September 10, 2010). "O'Donnell Blasts Castle's 'Un-Manly' Tactics (AUDIO)". Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  31. ^ a b c "Can O'Donnell Pivot to the Center?". The Rachel Maddow Show. MSNBC Live. September 14, 2010. Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  32. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer; Rutenberg, Jim (September 15, 2010). "Rebel Republican Marching on, With Baggage". The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  33. ^ Weigel, David (September 9, 2010). "Palin Endorses O'Donnell in Delaware". Slate. Archived from the original on September 10, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  34. ^ Citing "Mental Anguish," Christine O'Donnell Sought $6.9 Million in Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against Conservative Group, John McCormack, The Weekly Standard, September 12, 2010
  35. ^ a b "Coons Leads, First State Could Decide Senate Control" (PDF). September 13, 2010.
  36. ^ Brumfield, Susan (November 24, 2008). "Longtime Biden aide picked to fill his Senate seat". Associated Press. Retrieved November 25, 2008.
  37. ^ Volturo, Drew (December 1, 2008). "Who will run for Senate in 2010?". Delaware State News.
  38. ^ "John Carney". April 15, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  39. ^ Burns, Alexander (October 15, 2009). "VP's son considering Senate run". Politico.
  40. ^ See Public Policy Polling for November 30 – December 2, 2009; Susquehanna for November 16, 2009; Daily Kos for October 14, 2009; Rasmussen Reports for September 30, 2009; Susquehanna for April 27–30, 2009; Public Policy Polling for March 5–8, 2009.
  41. ^ Silva, Mark (January 25, 2010). "Beau Biden takes a pass on a Senate run". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  42. ^ a b c Chase, Randal (September 16, 2010). "Christine O'Donnell in spotlight after primary victory". 3 News (New Zealand). Archived from the original on September 29, 2012. Retrieved September 16, 2010.
  43. ^ Wallsten, Peter & King Jr., Neil (September 15, 2010). "Tea Party Claims Big Win". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  44. ^ Turner, Trish (September 15, 2010). "Cornyn: NRSC Aides Don't Speak For Me - O'Donnell is GOP Nominee; Not Sure She Can Win". Fox News Channel. Archived from the original on September 21, 2010. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  45. ^ "Twitter PublicPolicyPolling: Castle primary voters supp". Twitter. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  46. ^ Chicago Tribune, October 20, 2010, Section 1, page 3, "It's really not debatable." by Tribune Newspapers
  47. ^ Shear, Michael D. (October 19, 2010). "O'Donnell Questions Church-State Separation". Retrieved November 3, 2010.
  48. ^ "2010 House and Senate Campaign Finance for Delaware". Archived from the original on August 9, 2010. Retrieved October 31, 2010.
  49. ^ "Senate". Cook Political Report. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  50. ^ "Senate Ratings". Rothenberg Political Report. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  51. ^ "Battle for the Senate". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  52. ^ "2010 Senate Ratings". Sabato's Crystal Ball. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  53. ^ "Race Ratings Chart: Senate". CQ Politics. Archived from the original on October 28, 2010. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  54. ^ "Election 2010: Senate Balance Of Power". Rasmussen Reports. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  55. ^ "Castle: If O'Donnell's nominated, Republicans lose 'automatically'". MSNBC. September 13, 2009. Archived from the original on September 15, 2010. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  56. ^ "Tea Party win hurts Republicans' Senate chances". International Business Times. September 15, 2010. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  57. ^ Siegel, Elyse (November 4, 2010). "Christine O'Donnell Bashes GOP 'Cannibalism' For Killing Her Campaign". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  58. ^ "O'Donnell says 'Republican cannibalism' one reason for loss". CNN. November 3, 2010. Retrieved August 20, 2011.

External links

Official candidate websites (Archived)
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