Ultraconservative Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell won the Republican nomination for the US Senate in Delaware by promoting extreme conservative and small government views, but since grabbing a spot on the ballot things she said years ago have begun to haunt her, and with her the Republican party.
Most recently come to light: A statement she made in a 2006 debate claiming that China was plotting to take over the US. She said that was based on classified information about China that she could not divulge.
The Republican-aligned Tea Party movement has proved a double-edged sword. It has created a wealth of excitement among Republicans, particularly the extreme right wing of the party. At the same time, Tea Party -candidates like O’Donnell have denied places on the ballot to mainstream Republicans who might have been more able to win the general election.
With US unemployment stuck at an unacceptably high rate of nearly 10 percent and millions of Americans’ dreams turned to nightmares in a wave of home mortgage foreclosures, Republicans have been widely forecast to win back control of the US House of Representatives, perhaps even the Senate, on a wave of voter anger over the still-dismal economic outlook.
Even though the worst economic downturn since the 1930s Great Depression began under former Republican US president George W. Bush, voters are blaming US President Barack Obama and his Democratic majorities in the US Congress for failing to fix things fast enough. Democrats have been widely seen as in deep trouble come election day on Nov. 2.
Still, the realities of the US political system may diminish a Republican landslide. Candidates for office are granted a place on a party’s ballot, in most states, by winning a primary election in their states. Historically, the party base, particularly party hard-liners and extremists, have undue influence in the primaries.
That system often means the candidate of either the Republican or Democratic party ends up representing the extremes of that party’s beliefs, making them unelectable in the general election when more moderate voters go to the polls.
In the case of O’Donnell, she defeated Representative Mike Castle, a popular and highly electable Republican former two-term governor of Delaware, who had been widely expected to take the Senate seat vacated by US Vice President Joe Biden. That would have been a huge embarrassment for Democrats in an already bad year.
Now, polls show O’Donnell is badly trailing Democrat Chris Coons.
O’Donnell issued her comments about China as she and two other Republican candidates debated US policy during Delaware’s 2006 Senate primary, which O’Donnell ultimately lost. That was her second unsuccessful bid for the office.
“There’s much I want to say. I wish I wasn’t privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to,” she said.
“A country that forces women to have abortions and mandates that you can only have one child and will not allow you the freedom to read the Bible, you think they can be our friend?” she asked.
In the debate, one opponent challenged O’Donnell’s claim about having secret information. O’Donnell did not answer specifically, but suggested she had received it through nonprofit groups she worked with that frequently sent missionaries there.
O’Donnell’s campaign did not immediately respond on Monday to questions about the comments.
In television appearances in the 1990s, O’Donnell had said she had “dabbled into witchcraft” in high school.
She has since made light of the comment. On her first TV ad since winning the primary, which started airing yesterday, O’Donnell smiles at the camera and tries to assure Delaware voters: “I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you.”
On another old television appearance, she declared “evolution is myth.”
On a clip from July 1999, she said with a laugh that she tried several religions, but skipped becoming a Hare Krishna because she did not want to be a vegetarian.
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