Hey, who’s up for another vicious 800-comment Delaware thread?

“We stay out of that race because we’re not convinced O’Donnell can win,” FreedomWorks president and CEO Matt Kibbe said at the Christian Science Monitor-sponsored event.

FreedomWorks chair Dick Armey shared the ambivalence toward O’Donnell, who’s sparked a kind of GOP breakdown with her fast-rising candidacy against party stalwart Mike Castle, who most view as a shoo-in for Vice President Biden’s old Senate seat should he win the nomination. Presented with polling data showing likely Democratic nominee Chris Coons beating O’Donnell in a general election, Armey was asked “if it’s better for Republicans to lose with a tea party-backed candidate than to win with a mainstream Republican candidate.”

“I’m going to give a quick answer,” Armey said. “No.”

The bon mots about Armey being a (shiver) Beltway Republican who loves those David Frum D.C. cocktail parties will commence immediately below, I’m sure, but what he and Kibbe are actually doing here is trying to preserve the tea-party brand. If this race plays out as most people now expect it to, with O’Donnell upsetting Castle tomorrow and then losing handily to Coons in November, the tea party’s epic fail in Delaware will be a major storyline on election night — partly because the media will be looking for a silver lining in the dark red cloud and partly because righties sympathetic to the tea party who supported Castle on electability grounds will be angry that a winnable seat was tossed away. (I know, I know: Chris Christie, Jim Geraghty, John McCormack, Patterico, Jay Cost, Guy Benson, Dan McLaughlin, the Powerline guys, Ace and his co-bloggers, me, and every other righty who’s grudgingly supporting Castle were only pretending to be sympathetic to the tea party before.) Armey and Kibbe see this trainwreck coming from a mile awhile, so they’re laying down a marker here: When the press comes to them the day after the election demanding to know why “the tea party” would hand a rubber-stamp Senate seat to Barack Obama, they can point back to this and say that “the tea party” did no such thing. The Tea Party Express did it, but the TPE isn’t the extent of the tea-party universe. That’ll be a weak dodge since it’s surely tea partiers in Delaware who’ll push her over the top tomorrow if she wins, but FreedomWorks is doing what little it can.

Castle, of course, is still predicting victory, but have a look at these new numbers from PPP; Delaware Republicans hold him in lower esteem than Alaska Republicans held Murkowski. (Interesting footnote: More Delawareans than Alaskans say they were influenced by Palin’s endorsement.) Maybe PPP is badly, badly off — which they have been before — or maybe the fact that O’Donnell’s not nearly as strong a candidate as Joe Miller will lead voters to hold their noses and vote Castle anyway, but if I had to bet right now, I know who I’d put my money on. If you’re worried about Castle trying an independent run if he loses, don’t be: Larry Sabato noted this morning that the deadline for that passed back on September 1. He could still try a write-in, of course, but in a deep blue state, realistically there’s no way for either of two Republicans to defeat a Democrat. All he’d be doing is making Coons’s victory 100 percent assured instead of the 95 percent assured it’ll be if O’Donnell wins.

Two other thoughts on all this. One: If Coons does end up beating O’Donnell, arguably it’ll make RINOs more viable in the next election cycle, not less. Just as the words “Nader 2000” are capable of sending chills down the spine of any liberal who’s considering voting for a third party over the Democratic nominee, the words “Delaware 2010” will be whispered any time a wild-card tea partier starts positioning him or herself to challenge a more moderate nominee in 2012, especially in bluish states. At the very least, tea partiers will be under much greater pressure to find nominees as impressive as Joe Miller if they’re going to mount primary challenges. (Which reminds me of a question Ace asked the other day: If Mike Castle is the RINO antichrist, how come there was no effort in Delaware to guarantee his defeat in the primary by recruiting a solid-gold challenger? Is there not a single man or woman of Miller-esque caliber in the entire state?) Two: The NRSC’s going to face a hard choice, and sooner than you think, about how much money to devote to O’Donnell’s campaign against Coons. She’ll probably get a bump and be within single digits after winning the primary, but once the Democrats’ negative ads roll out and the local press really goes to work, it may settle at an eight to 10 point lead. Add in the fact that the Biden boys, both Joe and Beau, are surely still popular in their home state and will no doubt end up hitting the trail for Coons and suddenly the NRSC has a dilemma: If she’s 10 points down on, say, October 15, do they abandon ship and use the money earmarked for Delaware on, say, running ads against Harry Reid in Nevada instead? There’ll be plenty of huffing and puffing from “true conservatives” about the darned RINOs in D.C. stabbing poor Christine in the back, but from Cornyn’s position, it’s better to have a great shot at winning Nevada and no shot at winning Delaware than only a fair to poor shot at winning both.

Exit question: As of July, there was only one state in the union where Obama’s approval rating had actually risen from last year to this year. Guess which.

Update: Needless to say, Democrats love this Republican punch-up. So nasty has it gotten, in fact, that I wonder if the core argument in favor of Castle — electability — really applies anymore. Are O’Donnell supporters going to turn out for the RINO in November if he wins tomorrow? Isn’t the whole point of DeMint “true conservatism” that in a contest between a real Democrat and a fake Republican, it’s better for conservatism long-term for the Democrat to win? In which case, why turn out?