WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2010 -- Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin today added Delaware's Christine O'Donnell to her pack of "mama grizzlies," hoping to give the Tea Party-backed senate candidate a final push in her bid for the GOP nomination.
"Please support Christine O'Donnell in Delaware," Palin wrote in a post on her Facebook page Thursday afternoon. "She will support efforts for America's energy security, patient-centered health care reform, cutting government waste and letting the private sector thrive and prosper!"
O'Donnell, who faces the veteran Rep. Mike Castle, has appeared to struggle in the polls ahead of Tuesday's vote. But Palin's endorsement could give her a boost – just as it has for a number of candidates across the country so far this election season.
Castle, a nine-term congressman and former governor, is flush with campaign cash, enjoys support from state and national Republican groups and has been riding a tidal wave of national public opinion swinging in his favor.
The group has pledged $250,000 to help campaign for O'Donnell so far, airing its first ad last week that cast O'Donnell as the more conservative candidate and Castle as "one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress." But it's unclear whether they will ante up as much as $600,000 as they did in Alaska to help Joe Miller get across the finish line.
The race will be the last big primary test for the Tea Party movement, which has tried to knock off establishment Republicans who are trying to keep their jobs.
Castle voted against the Recovery Act and the Democrats' health care law, but he supported the 2008 bank bailout, cap-and-trade environmental legislation and a Democratic campaign-finance measure known as the Disclose Act. He also voted for the state fiscal aid bill last month.
A Tea Party Express poll of likely Republican voters last week showed O'Donnell and Castle in a dead heat.
But sources familiar with the Castle campaign say he has been prepared for the challenge in the wake of Murkowski's defeat, and adopted a strategy that can win.
"Tuesday's primary will be decided by grassroots Republican voters here in Delaware, not out-of-state interest groups who are working to control the outcome," Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens told The Associated Press.
"I hear that Congressman Castle is not ignoring his opponent and has paid a lot of attention to what has happened this spring and is modeling his primary campaign after John McCain's primary campaign," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told ABC News' "Top Line" last week. "And I anticipate people [who do that will] have a better result." With help from state and national Republican groups, the Castle campaign has gone on the offensive, raising allegations that O'Donnell faced home foreclosure, owed back taxes to the IRS and took 12 years to receive her college degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University because she didn't pay her tuition.
A Castle radio ad calls O'Donnell "a financial disaster."
O'Donnell has largely denied the claims and accused Castle of employing "goons" to play dirty politics.
Tea Party Looks to Delaware
"As the Castle Campaign continues to sink in the polls, he is desperately digging up issues to distract voters from the fact that he voted with President Obama on just about every major spending bill this summer," O'Donnell wrote on her blog.
"Sad but true, his tactics have dominated a whole news cycle distracting some reporters from the real issues, like how we're going to get private sector jobs back in Delaware or why he voted for Cap and Trade."
Still, it's clear that at least part of the challenge facing O'Donnell is in getting her message out in the final days of the campaign. With only $20,000 in her war chest -- and $10,000 of debt -- she'll be unable to compete with the same intensity as Castle, who has $2.6 million in his accounts, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.
And with recent independent polls showing Castle as having the greater chance of prevailing over Democratic county executive Chris Coons in the general election, Republican party leaders are eager to do whatever it takes to get Castle on the ballot.
"She is not a viable candidate for any office in the State of Delaware," state GOP party chairman Tom Ross told AP of O'Donnell. "She could not be elected dog catcher."
Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who now runs a conservative political advocacy group, said, "Mike Castle is going to win his race in Delaware. ... It's just a personal observation from someone who hopefully knows a little bit about what is going on out there.
"But in this day and age, right now, there are a lot of surprises."
The potential for a surprise in Delaware has political strategists and party operatives on both sides watching closely. It's also keeping O'Donnell optimistic.
"My opponent has a sense of entitlement and assumes Delaware voters are just going to hand him a U.S. Senate seat," she said last week, "but I prefer to hand him a pink slip."
The winner of Tuesday's primary contest will face Democrat Chris Coons in November in a race for the seat Vice President Joe Biden occupied for 36 years.