In their nationally-televised debate Wednesday, Delaware U.S. Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons each displayed polarizing views of government and contempt for the way each has been characterized in this campaign.
O'Donnell, a former marketing consultant and Tea Party favorite who has made two failed bids for the Senate since 2006, attacked her opponent as a "rubber stamp" for the Obama administration. While Coons, her Democratic opponent and a county executive, warned O'Donnell would be a partisan legislator with "extreme" views.
"Ms. O'Donnell has experience running for office but no experience running anything," Coons said. "She's focused too much on the issues that make good sound bites."
O'Donnell called Coons a politician who "promises to support the Reid-Obama-Pelosi agenda lock, step and barrel. That's not bipartisanship," she said.
While the candidates sparred over the stimulus and the health care law, the war in Afghanistan and campaign finance reform, some of the most heated exchanges during the 90-minute forum at the University of Delaware surrounded O'Donnell's past statements on hot-button social issues.
O'Donnell, who made several appearances on TV talk shows in the 1990s, tried to dismiss attention on her remarks about homosexuality, abortion, premarital sex, masturbation and evolution as irrelevant to her candidacy.
Coons avoided bringing up O'Donnell's problems with personal finance, allowing the debate moderators to raise the issue. When he suggested that such talk was a distraction to the real issues in the campaign, O'Donnell interjected with a joke.
"You're just jealous that you weren't on 'Saturday Night Live,'" O'Donnell laughed.
When asked, repeatedly and directly, O'Donnell refused to say whether she still believes evolution is a "myth" and she made light of her comments on witchcraft, to which one of her own campaign ads alludes. She previously said she "dabbled in witchcraft" years ago.
When pressed about a college newspaper article entitled "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist," Coons said it had been written in jest. "I am not now nor have I ever been anything but a clean-shaven capitalist," he said to laughs, invoking the tone of a witness before a congressional panel investigating communism in the 1950s.
On the issue of taxes, O'Donnell called for wholly extending the Bush tax cuts set to expire in January, while Coons said he wanted to extend only "those tax cuts that have the best chance of getting our economy going again."
O'Donnell warned the new health care law would put Uncle Sam in the examination room and should be repealed -- a line Coons quipped was a "good slogan ... [but] how does this bill actually put Uncle Sam in the examination room?"
On Afghanistan, Coons said he was concerned that after 10 years of war "it's a conflict that doesn't have a reasonable end in sight," suggesting he favored a timetable for withdrawal. O'Donnell pounced, saying such a policy would "simply embolden the terrorists."
O'Donnell struggled to name a recent Supreme Court case with which she disagreed, promising to post a list later on her website. Coons cited the Citizens United decision, which has significantly weakened campaign finance laws passed by Congress.