WILMINGTON, Del. -- In politics, one day you're in, and the other, you're out. After Labor Day, the people who write about politics are midway through the stories they've created about the 2010 cycle. But every new primary night adds an extra twist, because analysts are self-conscious about repeating themselves and appearing to follow the herd. In order of relative national importance, pay attention to the following races:
1. DE SEN primary: Last night, the spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee sends out an e-mail pointing to the electability differential between Republican candidates. Bold move. But the NRSC is desperate. Christine O'Donnell, in their minds, simply cannot win a general election. She might be able to motivate a majority of, say, 30,000 primary voters -- that's a football stadium full of people -- but as Rep. Mike Castle has ramped up his attacks, non-Republican Delaware voters don't seem to like what they see in O'Donnell. If she wins, Castle might not endorse her. He won't endorse Democrat Chris Coons, but he might not endorse, period.
The reason why O'Donnell has traction is ideological, pure and simple. Castle is not a conservative Republican. She is.
Then again, Delaware is not a conservative Republican state. Democrats are prepared to spend several million dollars to elect Coons if O'Donnell defeats Castle tonight, thereby depriving Republicans of a Senate seat they should have easily been able to steal. We've been told all along that Tea Party activists are pragmatic and willing to support candidates who can win when they need to, even if they're not exact avatars of Rick Santelli or Doug Hoffmann. But this race is about ideology. (It's also, potentially, another feather in the cap of the professionally run but grassroots-driven Tea Party Express.)
But Fenty has not negotiated the changing political demographics of Washington, D.C. very well. Succinctly, DC will soon be more white and less black and Hispanic. And income inequality remains significant. You can predict your lifespan based on how close you are to the whiter neighborhoods accessible by the Red Line.
A lot of people who endorsed Fenty as a reformer are sitting on the sidelines this year, or have swung their support to DC Council Chairman Vince Gray, a serious progressive whose main charge is that Fenty has lost the interests of his constituents. The popularity (or lack thereof) of Rhee's education reforms is a big issue, and her fate, and potentially her grand experiment in teacher accountability, is uncertain if Gray wins.
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