Newark: Trailing by double-digits in most polls, Republican Senate candidate Christine O`Donnell went on the offensive Wednesday, attacking Democrat Chris Coons as a career politician with Marxist views who would raise taxes and rubber-stamp Democratic policies.
Coons, meanwhile, during a nationally televised debate portrayed O`Donnell as an extremist more interested in clever sound bites than offering solutions to the problems confronting the nation.
O`Donnell, a tea party favorite, has drawn attention for her comments years ago that she dabbled in witchcraft as a teenager and opposed masturbation in a crusade against remarital sex. She frequently sought Wednesday to distance herself from her past views, softening her rhetoric on issues such as homosexuality and evolution.
"We`re moving past that; were talking about the issues," O`Donnell said when asked by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer why she had opened a recent television ad by declaring "I`m not a witch."
O`Donnell said the ad was meant to put to rest the controversy surrounding her past statements as a television commentator. She asked for a full minute to talk about a college newspaper column Coons wrote titled "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist," that discussed his political transformation after seeing widespread poverty during a trip to Kenya.
"My opponent has recently said that it was studying under a Marxist professor that made him become a Democrat. So when you look at his position on things like raising taxes, which is one of the tenets of Marxism; not supporting eliminating death tax, which is a tenet of Marxism — I would argue that there are more people who support my Catholic faith than his Marxist beliefs," O`Donnell said.
Coons said the headline was intended to be humorous and that he`s never been anything but a "clean-shaven capitalist." In its simplest terms, Marxism philosophy is based on the idea that class struggle drives history and that capitalism will be replaced by socialism and eventually a classless society that governs itself.
The Republican also tried to shift the conversation to Coons` record of presiding over three property tax increases as chief executive of Delaware`s largest county. "My opponent has a history of promising not to raise taxes on the campaign trail and then breaking those promises as soon as he takes office," she said.
Coons, meanwhile, took several digs at O`Donnell, saying she had misrepresented his record while offering confusing answers to questions that were posed to her. "I don`t have any classified information about China or its plans," he said, referring to O`Donnell`s assertion in a 2006 debate that China is planning to take over the U.S. and that she had received classified intelligence while working with a humanitarian group.
The debate at the University of Delaware pitted Coons, who excelled as a debater in Amherst College, against O`Donnell, who has appeared as a conservative pundit for years on TV talks shows such as Bill Maher`s "Politically Incorrect."
O`Donnell has been in the spotlight since she stunned the state by beating Mike Castle, a congressman and former governor, in the GOP primary last month. She has been relentlessly parodied by comedians and others for some of her past statements.
O`Donnell provided a light moment when she chided Coons: "You`re just jealous you were not on Saturday Night Live."
Coons quipped that he couldn`t wait to see who would play him. In their first debate in the closely watched race, Coons and O`Donnell discussed their views on economic issues and health care reform but also offered sharply different positions on a wide variety of social topics.
The two disagreed on the military`s "don`t ask, don`t tell" policy on gays serving in the military. Coons said he would move swiftly to repeal it, calling the policy "discrimination, plain and simple."
O`Donnell, who in the past has described homosexuality as a social disorder, avoided a firm position but said the decision should be left to military leaders.
"Congress should not be forcing a social agenda onto the military," she said.
O`Donnell also refused to say whether she believes evolution is a myth, as she has said previously.
O`Donnell said Obama and other Democrats are putting their weight behind Coons because "they see him as a rubber stamp for their agenda." She noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called Coons his "pet."
"I don`t know why Harry Reid said that," Coons said. "I`m nobody`s pet. I`m going to be a bulldog for Delaware."