Watch ’em together for some early insight into the race. The first clip comes from DeMint’s PAC, which is set to spend at least $250,000 putting it on the air; the second, from the DSCC, received $95,000 worth of TV time today. Two common threads worth noting. One: Both spots are mainly about O’Donnell, which sort of makes sense. Coons has nothing to run on except The One’s agenda, a risky proposition this year even in a state as liberal as Delaware, so the Dems are better off using their airtime to try to define her. All they have to do to win with a blue electorate is generate enough doubt about the Republican that undecideds will vote the way they’re used to voting, i.e. for an uninspiring party-hack Democrat. Or so the theory goes; I actually wonder if that’ll work as well as they think given O’Donnell’s newfound national celebrity. If voters go into the booth thinking it’s a choice between “O’Donnell and not-O’Donnell” rather than “Democrat and shady Republican,” then suddenly Coons is the one who looks like an unknown quantity that it might be risky to gamble on.
Two: In neither ad is the word “Republican” uttered. That makes sense in DeMint’s spot — better to push the little-guy-against-the-machine theme rather than remind a Democratic state that your nominee’s of the “wrong” party — but it’s a curious omission from the DSCC ad. Instead, surreally, the Coons spot actually tries to frame O’Donnell as the, um, big-spending Washington insider. From the Politico piece linked above:
“By her own admission, Christine O’Donnell has been in politics for 20 years and worked in Washington for 12. She is exactly what is wrong with Washington. In contrast to Ms. O’Donnell, Chris Coons has balanced budgets, reformed government and is the independent and moderate voice Delaware voters are looking to get the nation back on track,” said Coons spokesman Daniel McElhatton.
This is a case study, I guess, in the wisdom of attacking your opponent’s big strength rather than their big weakness. Her greatest appeal is that she’s a grassroots everyman who believes in smaller government; if the Dems can puncture that image, they’re home free. But this brings us back to O’Donnell’s newfound celebrity: Since she’s now a national symbol of tea-party power, having slayed one of Delaware’s ultimate entrenched incumbents in the primary, isn’t her image as the blue-collar “little guy” already pretty well cemented? Or is this whole dopey “Washington insider” attack line really just an excuse to bring up her financial troubles and try to generate the sort of doubt I mentioned earlier?
Nothing about witchcraft here either, unsurprisingly. If Coons resorts to trivial attacks when independents are roiling over big issues like spending and debt, this race will tighten quickly, I think. For now, it looks like they’re going to stick with her finances and related ethical complaints. Her campaign is already answering, insisting it’s much ado about nothing.