Times Leads Off Front-Page Christine O'Donnell Story With Sex Talk

Thursday's front-page was full of dark forebodings for Republicans in the wake of the success of Tea Party candidates. Reporters Jennifer Steinhauer and Jim Rutenberg filed a dispatch from Delaware, emphasizing past controversies involving Tea Party conservative and surprise Senate GOP primary winner Christine O'Donnell, "A G.O.P. Rebel Marches on, the Past in Her Way."

The Times couldn't wait one paragraph to get to the anti-O'Donnell details it clearly considered embarrassing to her campaign.

In the bright light of Wednesday morning, Christine O'Donnell, whose Republican primary victory upended the calculus for future control of the United State Senate, became quickly known to Americans as the woman who once made dire warnings about the negative impact of masturbation.

But Ms. O'Donnell's decisive victory over one of the state's most popular and longest-serving Republicans was also the latest and perhaps most stark example of the chasm between the standard-bearers of the party, whose calling card over a decade of elections has been discipline and unity, and the disenchanted and highly motivated Tea Party movement on the right.

Ms. O'Donnell, 41, who grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Delaware for roughly a half-dozen years, spent the 1990s helping run a sexual morality movement aimed at fellow Gen Xers. But she is largely unknown statewide, in spite of other runs for the Senate.

Even in this woolly primary season, Ms. O'Donnell emerges as a striking departure from the typical Senate candidate. She has struggled for years with personal finance problems - she has reported earnings of only $5,800 between most of this year and last and she has defaulted on her mortgage - and fudged her educational background and past campaign achievement, much of which was dredged up and disseminated by her own party.

She was also attacked by Republicans and Democrats both for her right-of-center positions - including her role in an abstinence organization in the 1990s that denounced masturbation as a form of adultery and her characterization of President Obama in 2008 as "anti-American" - in a state that has been traditionally proudly centrist.

So is Delaware centrist or liberal? The Times can't decide.

But in a general election a concern among seasoned Republican political operatives is Ms. O'Donnell's policy positions, which, while generally in keeping with fellow conservatives, could make her a tough sell in a generally liberal state like Delaware.

The Times was much more positive about an upstart politician defeating the party establishment when it came to liberal anti-war Democrat Joe Sestak, who beat White House preference Arlen Specter in the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania to face Republican Pat Toomey, as my colleague Tim Graham remembered.

Now Mr. Sestak - despite an initially rambling and occasionally bewildering speaking style - appears to be one of the Democrats' best hopes for keeping control of the Senate. How a relatively obscure member of Congress, with a consistently liberal voting record, made it this far says a great deal about who he is.