Karl Rove, political mastermind for former President George W. Bush, said Sunday that Christine O'Donnell, the Tea Party insurgent who won an upset victory in Delaware for the GOP Senate nomination, "can't simply ignore" the controversy stirred over the disclosure that she "dabbled in witchcraft" and has to find a way to "explain it and put it in its most sympathetic light and move on."
"In southern Delaware, where there are a lot of church-going people, they're probably going to want to know what was that all about," Rove said on "Fox News Sunday." "And again, she said it on television when she went on the ... the Bill Maher show."
O'Donnell made on Maher's "Politically Incorrect" show where she said," I dabbled into witchcraft -- I never joined a coven. ... One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn't know it." O'Donnell had been on Maher's show frequently in the 1990s, and Maher has said he is going to show an O'Donnell clip each week until she agrees to appear again.
Rove said that in whatever way O'Donnell deals with the quote from her past, she can't say, "These are unfactual and not true and ... go to my website and ignore them."
"I don't think the people of Delaware have or are accepting that as a reasonable explanation," Rove said. "And until they do, they're going to be resistant to hearing the bigger, broader, more important message."
Speaking at a Republican picnic in southern Delaware on Sunday, O'Donnell responded to Rove's comments. "How many of you didn't hang out with questionable folks in high school?" she said, according to The Associated Press. "There's been no witchcraft since. If there was, Karl Rove would be a supporter now."
O'Donnell has attracted scrutiny for other things in her background, including her anti-masturbation campaign and her personal finances.
Rove said that O'Donnell and other political newcomers who rode Tea Party support to upset victories in the primaries need to be sure that focus on the issue of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the Democrats doesn't get obscured by controversies over their own past statements and backgrounds.
"You can either say, 'We're going to ignore those questions and plan on people's dissatisfaction with Barack Obama and his policies, with all the spending, deficits and debt and the Obama health care plan, and just ignore the personal questions and count on people's animosity towards those -- towards those Obama actions in order to win the election," Rove said.
"I, frankly, think a winning strategy requires coming to grips with these questions and explaining them in the most sympathetic way possible so that people unblock their ears in Delaware and begin hearing the broader message," he said.
Ed Rollins, former political director in the Reagan White House and a GOP consultant, said on CBS' "Face the Nation": "Right now, this campaign's about her. And unless she gets her ship righted, no matter how strong the Tea Party is or how much they're in the mood for change, at the end of the day, people in Delaware, which is a small state, are going to focus on her, her past statements, what she's saying now. And this is not a good start."
Asked by host Bob Schieffer if he had ever engaged in witchcraft, Rollins said, "I have had a voodoo doll or two of some of my candidates that I've wanted to strangle to stick needles in, in the course of a very long career ... but never witchcraft."
O'Donnell backed out of Sunday talk show appearances that had been scheduled on Fox and CBS. Fox moderator Chris Wallace said her campaign cited "exhaustion" as a reason. Schieffer said CBS News had been told that O'Donnell had a scheduling conflict. Diana Banister, an O'Donnell spokeswoman, told the Wilmington News Journal
that the decision was a scheduling issue and not because O'Donnell wasn't prepared to face questions.
Daniel McElhatton, spokesman for O'Donnell's Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, told the newspaper, "Ms. O'Donnell has not yet provided a single solution or idea on how to get our economy back on track, and I suspect she didn't want her lack of real plans highlighted on national TV."
At times lately, O'Donnell and Rove, now a commentator and author, have appeared to be running against each other.
In an appearance on Fox's Sean Hannity show
, Rove said he had met O'Donnell and wasn't impressed by her. He added that O'Donnell "is now going to have to answer in the general election that she didn't in the primary is her own checkered background. There were a lot of nutty things she has been saying that don't add up."
For her part, O'Donnell said: "Everything that (Rove's) saying is unfactual. And it's a shame because he is the same so-called political guru that predicted I wasn't going to win. And we won and we won big."