Forty-three days to go before the election and a week before her “surprise” victory in the Delaware primary, Christine O’Donnell continues to be in the hot seat. The poster child for the Tea Party is now the contagious fuel that is enflaming the nightmarish state of both Sarah Palin and GOP leaders in Washington. The Democrats are having a field day, even though this mere distraction is just another footnote in a story yet to be written ahead of the November showdown. The Tea Party “euphoria” and its pitfalls are far from being enough to empower the Democrats with the right tools they need to energize their bases. As the D-day draws near, both sides are sharpening their tools.
During a town hall meeting hosted by CNBC last week, Obama claimed that the Tea Partiers misunderstand the “culprits” and that it’s not just enough to say “cut the spending,” one also has to have the gut to say “cut veteran social benefits.” The strategy is designed to regain the initiative by portraying the Tea Party and their Republican allies in the nation’s capital as populist demagogues totally out of touch with mainstream America.
All appears to be moving along well for the Democrats to go into the offensive. That is, if they have the muscles to do it. Sarah Palin went into hiding tonight as her daughter, Bristol Palin, took the stage in ABC’s reality TV show, Dancing with the Star. As Bristol wagged her buttocks and showed off her sexy legs, dancing the Cha Cha Cha hit Mama Told me not Come, sending ultra conservatives to their closets, one wonders where are the compassionate conservatism values that former Alaska governor claimed to have championed?
O’Donnell: back against the wall
The party wasn’t even over in Delaware when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government (CREW), a Washington-based ethics group, filed a pair of complaints against Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. The allegations seemed quite strong, claiming she embezzled her campaign funds to cover personal expenses. The CREW is now asking the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s office to open a criminal investigation and the Federal Election Commission to direct a complete audit of O’Donnell’s campaign expenditures. This is a two-pronged assault on O’Donnell and the Tea Party.
The attack appears well coordinated and backed by a series of factual evidences as CREW executive director Melanie Sloan ushered with clinched teeth. “Christine O’Donnell is clearly a criminal, and like any crook she should be prosecuted…..Ms. O’Donnell has spent years embezzling money from her campaign to cover her personal expenses. Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days, but both sides should agree on one point: Thieves belong in jail, not the United States Senate.”
At the heart of CREW’s evidence is an affidavit submitted by former O’Donnell aide David Keegan, who served as the candidate’s chief financial adviser during her 2008 Senatorial campaign. In the complaint, Keegan claimed he became aware that O’Donnell used thousands of dollars in campaign contributions for “gas, meals, and even an outing to a bowling alley” – referring to the items as “expense reimbursements.”
O’Donnell’s political malpractice seems to have been under scrutiny for some time. Last March, the News Journal reported O’Donnell was using campaign contributions to pay her rent at her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.
The CREW claimed last year O’Donnell used more than $16,000 from her war chest to pay Mid-Atlantic Realty Co. and spent more than $1,000 each on power, cable and Internet services. According to her last filing with the FEC, O’Donnell spent $549 at Mattress Giant. In a letter to U.S. Attorney David Weiss, Melanie Sloan was emphatic. “Ms. O’Donnell’s blatant misappropriation of campaign funds undermines the integrity of our electoral system and it is incumbent upon the Department of Justice to deal with such crimes quickly and severely,” she wrote.
While O’Donnell’s statements about “dabbling in witchcraft” were just as bad for the Tea Partiers and continue to swamp news organizations and the blogosphere, the Democrats ideologues seem to have preferred to zero in where they think Christine O’Donnell is more vulnerable: her personal financial hardships. That was precisely what the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did over the weekend, airing an ad castigating the GOP nominee for spending money “she doesn’t have” and hiring employees “she didn’t pay.”
All this was happening while the Tea Party Express cruised the Delaware heartland. And it was in one of those express rides, back on September 8 in Dover, that O’Donnell spoke a POLITICO.com reporter. “In this economy, the non-profits are the first that are hit. It was hard. I sold every single asset that I had and I didn’t have to report a lot of that. I didn’t get paid for four months. So I realized that I could sell my house and make things right and that’s exactly what I did, and these are things Delaware voters can relate to.”
Many GOP leaders in Washington now wish they never had to deal with Christine O’Donnell. The question remains: Can the Democrats seize the spotlight and reverse the trend?