September 14, 2010 should go down as an important date in Republican Party history. That was the day Republican primary voters in Delaware elected Christine O’Donnell to be their nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held for decades by Joe Biden. Democrats expected to lose the seat to proven winner Mike Castle, but instead those GOP voters rejected Castle and went with Tea Party and social conservative favorite O’Donnell. Two months later, O’Donnell lost the special election by 17 points to New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.

Choosing O’Donnell represents the extreme case of Republican primary voters seeking ideological purity over electability. Odds are neither party will ever again nominate a candidate who, among other explanations, had to say she was not a witch. But O’Donnell’s win over former governor and nine-term Congressman Castle demonstrated that conservative voters will choose even someone like her over a moderate like Castle.

No, Rick Santorum is not the equivalent of O’Donnell (even though he also lost his last Senate race in Pennsylvania by 18 points), but her primary win in Delaware shows why no one should be surprised that Santorum looks like the last man standing against Mr. Inevitable, Mitt Romney. Some experts (prematurely I think) believe that should Santorum win Tuesday in Romney’s birth state of Michigan, Santorum will be the nominee.

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