- Associated Press - Thursday, October 28, 2010

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Despite a spate of television ads aimed at reintroducing her to voters, Republican Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell of Delaware has failed to chip away at Democratic nominee Chris Coons’ strong lead, according to a new poll. She even may be going backward.

The survey released Thursday from Fairleigh Dickinson University-PublicMind shows Mr. Coons holding a commanding 21-point lead, with 57 percent of likely voters saying they will vote for him compared with just 36 percent for Ms. O’Donnell. She trailed by 17 points in a similar Fairleigh Dickinson poll released earlier this month.

“It would be an historic comeback for her to win on Tuesday,” said Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson political scientist.

Mr. Cassino said Ms. O’Donnell, a “tea party” favorite who spent years as a conservative evangelical commentator on cable television, probably would win in other states that have more social conservatives and a larger tea party presence.

“But there just aren’t enough in Delaware,” he said.

Ms. O’Donnell, who has raised more money than Mr. Coons, has been dogged by past television appearances in which she spoke out against masturbation, characterized homosexuality as a disorder, and acknowledged dabbling in various religions, including witchcraft as a teenager. She also has drawn criticism for her thin resume and spotty financial history.

Her first television ad sought to remake her image, showing her calm and soft-spoken while declaring: “I’m not a witch … I’m you.” The ad has become something of a rallying cry among critics such as Josh Schmidt, 26, who was spotted in a truck in Wilmington this week with a sign reading, “O’Donnell is not me.”

“She does not represent Delaware,” said Mr. Schmidt, who runs a shipping business.

The latest survey of 797 likely voters was conducted Oct. 20-26 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Mr. Coons and Ms. O’Donnell are running for the Senate seat long held by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The race has been particularly frustrating for Republicans because it was heavily favored as a GOP victory until Ms. O’Donnell upset Rep. Michael N. Castle, a former governor, in the party primary.