DOVER, Del. — Some members of a GOP establishment that once shunned tea party favorite Christine O'Donnell are getting behind her now that she has won the Republican Senate primary, offering help in the form of cash and experienced staffers.
A young spokeswoman who has been thinking of going back to college is no longer handling media calls. Instead, reporters are referred to a public relations firm run by longtime GOP operative Craig Shirley, who has done communications work for the Republican National Committee and a political action committee that spent $14 million to help re-elect Ronald Reagan.
O'Donnell is also getting help from Tom Sullivan, a health care industry executive who worked for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee in 1990 and later as a political consultant, with clients such as former Republican congressman Dick Armey.
What she doesn't have is an endorsement from her vanquished rival, longtime moderate GOP Rep. Mike Castle nor from Delaware Republican Party Chairman Tom Ross, who said during the primary campaign that she couldn't be elected dogcatcher. Ross has since pledged the party's support for all of its candidates, but has not recommended O'Donnell to voters by name.
But some experienced hands with Washington ties are pitching in, and contributors have poured in more than $2 million to fund her November contest against Democratic county executive Chris Coons. Sullivan said Monday that the campaign recently brought some big guns on board to help with fundraising, though he declined to identify them.
"We will be adding organization, but will stay lean and mean to avoid overstaffing," said Sullivan, who was introduced to O'Donnell by Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and has enlisted Texas attorney Victor Smith to go to Delaware and help with her campaign.
Campaign spokeswoman Michelle Lauren described Sullivan and Smith on Monday as volunteers who signed on to the campaign to help with the final push heading into last week's primary. Campaign manager Matt Moran said Sullivan is serving as an unpaid adviser, but that Smith, who has no official title, will be paid for his work.
O'Donnell was running a shoestring operation — much as she did in two previous losing Senate bids — before an injection of tea party support and cash propelled her to a Sept. 14 primary upset over Castle.
Now Russ Murphy, whose 9-12 Delaware Patriots played a role in O'Donnell's primary win, expects opponents to waste little time accusing her of being a sellout as she tries to enlist outside help.
But he believes O'Donnell's supporters are pragmatic and he noted with approval her cancellation of two national Sunday talk show appearances in favor of spending time with them in Delaware.
"I think that said a lot to the people," Murphy said.
Extra help can't come soon enough for Moran, who sounded weary Sunday as O'Donnell worked the crowd at a Sussex County GOP picnic.
"It's myself, Christine, and a handful of people who have never been political before," said Moran, who worked in 2009 for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who lost a closely watched race for New York's 23rd Congressional district. He said he got involved with O'Donnell because he believes in what she is doing.
"I hate politics; I swear to God," he said. "I only get involved when I know I can make a difference. This thing's a lot bigger than all of us."
Moran hopes for a deputy campaign manager to ease his workload, which includes trying to respond to incessant questions from the media, which skyrocketed after her primary victory. The campaign, which now has about 10 paid staffers, also is looking to hire a media buyer, a full-time communications director and a field director, who Moran said will have "all sorts of deputies."
"It's all evolving into a top-tier Senate campaign," he said. "We're interviewing a lot of people. It's a very rapid ramp-up."
The campaign already has taken on a different profile. O'Donnell arrived at candidate forum Monday night in a vehicle driven by a security aide who had not been seen by reporters at previous campaign events. The aide stood guard outside the site of the forum before leaving and returning with O'Donnell.
The campaign could use the help. It has not put out an official schedule for the candidate since the Friday before the primary, and it raised eyebrows with the last-minute weekend talk show cancellations, which were blamed on scheduling conflicts. O'Donnell has been using her rented town house as both a home and her campaign headquarters, and her road crew typically has consisted of Moran, one of her sisters and Lauren.