Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell wasted no time Wednesday night trying to prove she is a contender for the U.S. Senate.
She outlined her plan during a nationally televised debate to create jobs and reduce the national debt while attacking her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, as a "Marxist" and a "rubber stamp" for his party's failed economic policies.
"I'm running because I'm concerned about the direction of our country," said Miss O'Donnell during the 90-minute forum. "Yet my opponent wants to rubber stamp" those policies. "I would argue there are more people who support my Catholic faith than his Marxist belief."
Mr. Coons made no apologies for missteps made at the White House and on Capitol Hill, saying, "All of us agree that Washington is broke."
He also said he would extend Bush-era tax cuts beyond the middle class to the "overwhelming majority of Americans."
Miss O'Donnell said jobs must come from small businesses, not economic-stimulus tax dollars, and that she would support freezing federal, non-discretionary spending to cut the national debt.
Within minutes of their opening remarks, both candidates had to defend statements made in years past that have been spotlighted by the media.
Miss O'Donnell defended comments about having "dabbled into witchcraft" as a teen, saying she should not be judged on "comments made on a comedy show" 11 years ago.
Mr. Coons, regarding his writing in college that he was a "bearded Marxist," said it was "clearly a joke" in response to roommates saying he switched from Republican to Democrat after a trip to Kenya.
The candidates have at least one other scheduled debate, but Monday's nationally televised event likely was one of Miss O'Donnell's final opportunities before the Nov. 2 election to convince Delaware voters and the rest of the nation that she is qualified for the Senate.
Miss O'Donnell arrived Wednesday night for the debate at the University of Delaware in Newark regarded as one of the most improbable winner in the 2010 primaries.
Trailing GOP favorite Michael N. Castle in almost every poll, the Sarah Palin-backed Miss O'Donnell received an estimated $200,000 in last-minute ad money from the Tea Party Express to help her pull off the upset.
Mr. Coons, a Yale Law School graduate and county executive, became the Democratic nominee after Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., decided not to seek the Senate seat.
Mr. Coons led Miss O'Donnell in polls even before the GOP primary in September. And a poll earlier this week by Monmouth University put him up by 19 percentage points.
The Senate primary was among the most acrimonious this election cycle, with attacks on Miss O'Donnell's about her personal finances and allegations that she misrepresented her academic qualifications and political history. She also ran in 2006 for a Senate seat in Delaware, but lost in the GOP primary.
Tom Ross, chairman of Republican Party of Delaware, called Miss O'Donnell a liar who "couldn't get elected dog catcher."
Mr. Ross since has apologized and given his support.
However, Mr. Castle, a widely popular Delaware politician who has held public office in the heavily Democratic state since the mid-1960s, told debate sponsor CNN on Wednesday afternoon he would not endorse either candidate.
"Not because of the competence of any of the candidates, but because the primary I went through was very nasty in a variety of ways, both politically and personally, and I've just declined to get involved in that," he said.
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