Delaware: The First and Most Important State

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April 24 2012 9:24 AM

Delaware: The First and Most Important State

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Two years ago my home state became a national political giggle-maker. Christine O'Donnell, a frequent candidate with great ambition and a short resume, managed to edge past long-time Rep. Mike Castle and win the GOP's U.S. Senate nomination. No poll ever gave her a chance at victory. She became the most-covered candidate of 2010 anyway.

Tonight, Delaware gets another chance at punchline status. Robert Costa:

A source close to the Gingrich campaign tells National Review Online that the former House speaker will leave the GOP presidential primary if he does not “win or come in a close second in Delaware,” which holds its primary today. “A big loss in Delaware would cause Newt and the campaign to reassess,” the source says. “We need momentum in order to survive and compete in the May primaries.”

Delaware? The second-smallest state, the one with 17 delegates? Will Gingrich tell a national TV audience that his win in Delaware augers for his fifth or sixth great comeback? Oh, the hilarity! Think of the jokes -- screen door factories, Wayne's World, probably something about hens.

It could happen. Nobody's polled Delaware in this cycle. Gingrich has stumped in the state seven times; Romney has stumped there once. As Ginger Gibson (a vet of the Wilmington, Del. News Journal) reports, the only TV ads Delaware voters have seen since the start of the primary have been rote Romney commercials in Philadelphia. The Romney campaign tells me that it has not sent any mail to Delaware Republican voters. This is a closed primary, where a couple hundred suburbanites in New Castle County could decide the election. Only 57,812 votes were cast in that Castle-O'Donnell primary.

Thus: Newtmentum. You can see it in the home-made yard signs in New Castle and Lewes. You can see it in the endorsements from the longest-serving RNC committeewoman, Priscilla Rakestraw, and support from the chairs of the Kent County and Northern New Castle County regions of the local GOP. (Delaware has three counties, with around 2/3 of voters in New Castle. Kent is the rural central county; Sussex is where the beaches are.) The local chairs say they're rewarding Gingrich for campaigning in their sandbox. Rakestraw, as Gibson points out, might have another motivation -- she is a few days away from a state convention fight that she's expected to lose. Endorsing the "last conservative standing" will prove... something or other about her bona fides, just in time.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.