ABC News' Steven Portnoy reports:
Politics here in the First State is so warm, they apparently call it “The Delaware Way.” Or, so a strident, young member of the Rotary Club of Wilmington asserted when he asked the final question of the two senate candidates at their second debate in as many days.
“I’d like to know what qualities do you most respect and admire in your opponent?” the 20-something Rotarian named Matt asked, as the packed hotel ballroom began to fill with laughter.
“My opponent, Christine O’Donnell, is someone who has shown remarkable persistence,” Democrat Chris Coons began. “She’s run for the United States Senate three times in the last five years.”
Jaws began to clinch, because it started to sound like something of a backhanded compliment, as Coons has suggested in the past 24 hours that the only experience the Republican in the race can claim is running for office – and not running anything in particular. But he continued.
“Her passionate commitment – her passionate commitment – to the conservative social causes that she’s championed for her adult life, I respect. I think that combination of passion and persistence has served her well,” he said, as heads nodded around the room.
Coons also noted how a David Broder column earlier in the year had spoken of how uniquely respectful the then-expected race between Coons and Rep. Mike Castle would have been. Rotarians nodded again.
O’Donnell, who called the young man’s question “really kind” when it was first asked, then stopped the show, suggesting her opponent could’ve gone further.
“You didn’t use your whole two minutes!” she said to laughter.
O’Donnell offered that she respected Coons’s ability to debate and “answer a question.” (A release from her campaign before their first tussle yesterday noted how Coons is a “two-time national debate champion.”)
“So, I respect him for standing up on the issues,” O’Donnell said. “But … I do want to point out that we haven’t yet taken out a negative ad. So, I would ask you to stand on that pledge and ask that the negative ads – the slanderous ads – against me be stopped.”
There was no mention in this debate of witchcraft, masturbation or inability to pay ones tuition bill or mortgage. But Coons did say O’Donnell “values partisan bickering over bridging the bipartisan divide.” O’Donnell repeated her charge that Coons would merely “rubber stamp” Democratic spending policies that are “not sustainable.”
O’Donnell made a new allegation today – that Coons’s family business, W.L. Gore, would stand to benefit from the tighter air quality restrictions Coons pledged in the debate to implement, since, O’Donnell said, the company produces the filters that new regulations would require for monitoring air quality.
A vote for Coons, O’Donnell said, would “instantly” cost the average family in Delaware $10,000 in higher taxes, especially if he votes for the Democrats’ cap-and-trade energy bill.
She called his support for the president’s “random time withdrawl” from Afghanistan “irresponsible.” Coons countered, as he did last night, with a lengthy explanation of why he believes the war is no longer worth fighting, saying an Iraq-style success “will elude us for years.”
O’Donnell used a question from Coons, about where she “really stands” on abortion, to turn to last night’s Supreme Court flub.
“Under Roberts and Rehnquist, we’ve had some great [decisions]. I immediately thought of the 2nd Amendment and Citizen United (sic),” O’Donnell said, again not naming any decisions with which she disagreed, before delivering a bold defense of her anti-abortion views, which she said she did “not always” hold.
“But as I began to look at the devastation and the many women who are left in the wake suffering and hurting from what abortion has done, I realized I may be on the wrong side of this issue,” O’Donnell said.
“There’s a beating heart at 18 days,” she said. “And I would challenge everyone in this room – there’s probably not a single person, and even watching in the media – who has not been affected by the issue of abortion.”
“The reality is that life begins at conception,” O’Donnell said. “There’s been a profound loss of respect for the dignity of all human beings, whether unborn, whether disabled or whether elderly.”
Asked whether she would cut spending on Medicare or the military, or cut taxes, to attack the deficit and keep the nation solvent, O’Donnell said, “I would do neither of those.”
“I would ask each department to tackle waste, fraud and abuse,” O’Donnell said.
Cameras surrounded both candidates as they made their way through the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel Dupont, where the Rotary Club of Wilmington has been meeting – every week – since 1915.
While Coons stopped to answer reporters’ questions, O’Donnell did not take a single one.
As her hired security guards – with earpieces – held cameramen and reporters at bay under the hotel’s awning outside the lobby, O’Donnell ignored queries lobbed by newsmen and women about her views on tax policy and deficit reduction.
“We can’t do it like this, I apologize,” she said as she waited for her van to arrive.
“I would ask you to respect our policies and contact Doug,” her spokesman, O’Donnell said, before dashing into the rain to load into the waiting van.