Public Policy Polling shows what many have suspected in Delaware — that Christine O’Donnell has pulled into a virtual tie in Delaware on the strength of Tea Party activism and Sarah Palin’s endorsement.  PPP says it’s “too close to call,” but that Mike Castle has now fallen three points back of O’Donnell, which is within the margin of error but a significant shift from prior polls:

It looks like there’s a real possibility of a major upset in the Delaware Senate primary on Tuesday night, with insurgent conservative Christine O’Donnell leading longtime Congressman and Governor Mike Castle 47-44. That 3 point lead is well within the poll’s margin of error. …

It’s clear that Castle’s popularity has taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction over the last month. An August PPP poll found his favorability with Delaware Republicans at a 60/25 spread. Now his favorables within the party are negative at 43/47. That’s largely a product of 55% of voters in his party saying they think he’s too liberal compared to 37% who think he’s about right.

GOP voters are pretty sharply divided about O’Donnell as well. 45% have a favorable opinion of her with 41% seeing her unfavorably. Only 50% of primary voters think she’s fit to hold public office but she does much better than Castle on the ideology front- 53% think she’s about right.

The internal numbers give a snapshot of why this race got close.  Only 50% of Republicans in Delaware believe O’Donnell “fit” to serve in public office, but only 54% think the same of Castle, who has been serving in Congress for years.  Neither of them get out of the 40s for favorability, with Castle slightly underwater at 43/47 and O’Donnell struggling at 45/41.  The major difference comes in the perception of ideology, where a 55% majority consider Castle too liberal and only 37% “just right” (and a 3% fringe who consider Castle too conservative), while 53% consider O’Donnell “just right.”

This primary hasn’t been terribly kind to either candidate.  Of course, that’s what primaries are for, especially for open seats.  It allows a party to test their candidates and discover which would be most suitable for office and likeliest to win an election.  Unfortunately, in this case, those are two different answers.  Mike Castle would almost certainly win a general election against Chris Coons, while O’Donnell would be very likely to lose.  Polling last week from Rasmussen showed Coons behind Castle by eleven and leading by the same amount against O’Donnell, and with seven weeks left to go, changing those numbers will be almost impossible.

As for suitability, both candidates have problems with their public records.  While some people (notably talk show hosts who should know better) attempt to vilify those who look at the public record, it’s an important part of the vetting process, something we should know by now.  John McCormack’s review of a lawsuit filed by O’Donnell and the questionable accuracy of some of its claims should be considered by those who rightly protest about lack of trust and honesty in public officials.  Reviewing such records doesn’t make McCormack or the Weekly Standard a member of a RINO ruling class.  By the same token, reviewing the sweetheart lobbying deals and relationships Castle has enjoyed over the years doesn’t make one an ideological nutcase, either.  Those of us in New Media and the talk-show circuit should be supporting those who scour the public record and air out the backgrounds and past of candidates.

Or would we prefer that these background issues didn’t get mentioned until they got used in a general-election campaign?

Unfortunately, all candidates are flawed, and perhaps none so much as Castle, with his vote for cap-and-trade being the most egregious part of his record.  It still comes down to the question of electability, though, although perhaps at this point neither candidate could survive this primary.  If control of the Senate comes down to this race, and it very well might, would it be better to have a Republican squish holding the seat and give the GOP control of the Senate floor and all the committees, or to hand it to either Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer for the next two-year period in which we’ll see at least one Supreme Court retirement and Obama still attempting to push through his radical agenda?  It’s a tough decision for Delaware Republicans, and not an easy choice at all.

Update: Corrected “too liberal” in the parenthetical about Castle to “too conservative”, and changed “peruse” to “scour”.