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Christine O'Donnell Calls Chris Coons a Marxist in Delaware Senate Debate

4 years ago
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Delaware Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons tangled with each other over taxes, Afghanistan, whether he's a Marxist and whether she's a deadbeat in a combative 90-minute debate that also veered into evolution, abortion, religion and gay rights.

Democrat Coons, the New Castle County executive, and Republican O'Donnell, a conservative activist and national celebrity since her Tea Party-powered primary victory over veteran Rep. Mike Castle, started right off trading insults. He said she supports failed economic policies and extreme education positions, and prefers "partisan bickering" over compromise and solutions. She said voters should choose him if they think their government is too small, their taxes are too low and they want a rubber stamp for President Obama's failing economic policies.

The moderators – CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Delaware public television anchor Nancy Karibjanian – did their part to make sure no sore subject went unmentioned. In the case of O'Donnell, that meant her personal finances and past TV appearances in which she has talked about subjects like masturbation (equivalent to adultery) and witchcraft (she dabbled in it long ago).

Karibjanian noted an IRS tax lien against O'Donnell for about $12,000 in taxes and penalties from 2005, a 2008 mortgage default judgment on her home, and the bachelor's degree the 41-year-old candidate received this year "because it took a decade to pay off the tuition. The question, then, is how can voters rely upon your thoughts on how to manage the deficit if you're having such personal financial issues of your own?"

O'Donnell said the lien was an IRS mistake. As for the rest, "I don't have a trust fund. I didn't come from a privileged, sheltered background as my opponent says he did . . . When I fell upon difficult times, I made the sacrifices needed to set things right. I sold my house. And I sold a lot of my possessions in order to pay off my personal debt and to become in a stronger position."

Karibjanian quoted a local writer who said O'Donnell's many comments on videotape, including some from appearances on Bill Maher's show in the late 1990s, "seemed to be making Delawareans cringe." O'Donnell said the election should not be about her long-ago comments on a comedy show. "You know, as, Wolf, you can attest, I have not welcomed this media attention. You've been asking for an interview for quite a long time," she added.

Coons said he wanted to talk about national issues – not O'Donnell's personal issues, which he said have been all over the national media. "You're just jealous you weren't on 'Saturday Night Live,' she teased him, referring to a skit about her "I am not a witch" TV ad. "I'm dying to see who's going to play me, Christine," he replied with a smile.

It was a rare light moment in a testy session. O'Donnell, trailing Coons by double digits in nine polls since the Sept. 14 primary, tried to bait him as much as possible, including mentioning that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had described Coons as "my pet." "I don't know why Harry Reid said that. I'm nobody's pet. I'm going to be a bulldog for Delaware," Coons said, seeming annoyed.

See also: Matt Lewis on O'Donnell's stumble over Supreme Court question.

The other pesky issue for Coons, 47, was an article he wrote in 1985 for his college newspaper, headlined "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist." He wrote that he had been a "proud founding member of the Amherst College Republicans," but became a Democrat after a visit to Kenya. "My friends now joke that something about Kenya, maybe the strange diet, or the tropical sun, changed my personality; Africa to them seems a catalytic converter that takes in clean-shaven, clear-thinking Americans and sends back bearded Marxists," he wrote in the piece.

Coons, who throughout the debate stressed his work with business groups such as the local chamber of commerce, said the article was clearly a joke. "I am not now, nor have I ever been, anything but a clean-shaven capitalist," he declared.

O'Donnell had turned the talk to Marxism after dodging a question about whether she believes, as she told Maher in 1998, that evolution is a myth. She said her beliefs are irrelevant because it should be up to local schools to decide how to teach evolution and creationism. "I would argue that there are more people who support my Catholic faith than his Marxist beliefs," she added.

Coons believes in "tenets of Marxism" such as raising taxes, O'Donnell said, and wrote in the 1985 article that he learned his beliefs "from an articulate intelligent Marxist professor." She said "that should send chills up the spine of every Delaware voter."

"If it were accurate, if it were true, I'd agree. But it's not accurate. It's not true," Coons said.

Coons did get a chance to talk a little about his record as New Castle County executive, where he said he inherited a deficit, turned it into a surplus and kept the county's triple-A bond rating – one he said only 30 of 3,000 counties have. O'Donnell scoffed that he had balanced the budget by raising taxes and cutting police salaries, and that he had inherited that bond rating. "Ms. O'Donnell is not familiar with how bond ratings work," Coons said, explaining they have to be re-earned on a continual basis.

It was one of several cutting remarks he directed at her. "Ms. O'Donnell, we're going to try to have a conversation here this evening, rather than just a diatribe if we possibly could," he said, then went on to accuse her of telling "flat-out lies" about him on her Web site.

The pair presented clear contrasts on abortion (Coons said he supports legal abortion, O'Donnell opposes it even in cases of rape or incest); the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gay soldiers (Coons called it "discrimination, plain and simple," while O'Donnell said the policy falls within the military's right to regulate personal behavior such as adultery); and on Afghanistan.

O'Donnell said Obama's plan to start drawing down troops in June 2011 will embolden terrorists. Coons said he would support a negotiated settlement to end the war. "I don't know how long is too long, but 10 years strikes me as awfully long," he said, and "we are not succeeding in building a nation."

O'Donnell also attacked Democratic economic policies, saying food stamps and welfare spending are higher than ever despite promises of recovery and 8 percent unemployment. "This is not a move towards real economic recovery. This is a move towards creating a culture of dependency," she said. To which Coons replied that "to simply denounce people as being dependent because they're applying for and receiving food stamps in the worst recession in modern times is frankly slandering people who are in incredibly difficult times." She called that unfair.

He then went on to fudge whose taxes should remain at lower Bush-era levels ("I don't think we should draw an arbitrary line at $250,000") and she fudged what she would cut to reduce the deficit (Blitzer: "Don't just say waste, fraud and abuse." O'Donnell: Spending freezes and "waste, fraud and abuse.")

O'Donnell also was asked about her 2006 assertion that she was "privy" to information that China had a plan to take over America. "Well, they misquoted me at the time, I believe," she said.

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If the polls show this race to be such a cake walk for Chris C. Then why is it Obama's Plane landed an hour ago in Phila to support this man and Sestak here in Pa. Obama was just here on Sunday at a pep rally for the same thing. Why do these politicians feel the Obama's presents is a help it has worked in reverse during previous campaigns. Look what happened in Mass with Scott Brown for the Seat Kennedy held for years. The more he keeps coming here causing traffic back ups due to closing roads for his motorcade the madder the people become especially on a Friday. I know every time he lands at Phila airport I95 is closed for almost an hour for his team to get were they are going.

October 15 2010 at 1:57 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kenneth's comment

For someone so concerned about "climate change" he sure hops on Air Force One daily to campaign. Don't we pay him to work? He needs to stay in his office, get some work done, and earn some credibility back!

October 16 2010 at 12:38 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

O'Donnell and Palin both suffer from "pretty girl syndrome" where their words have been treated with undue respect because they are so attractive, so they never really learned how to think on their feet and crack wise under pressure. I prefer they had better Ron Paul style libertarian ideals, but their photogenicity has prevailed over ideas. They are what we have. Both should have been ready with that eminent domain property seizure Supreme Court decision for their answer, it would have won lot of votes. Too bad campaign promises cannot be enforced. Also, the diatribe comment was an opening. O'Donnell made a perfectly reasonable example of an ordinary small business everyone is familiar with, and was being very specific until interrupted. It was no diatribe, and ***** probably did not really know the word. O'Donnel might have done well to play it up, i.e. "I am not familiar with that word.. could youdefineit for me? (Putting Coones on the spot and taking a bit more control.)

October 15 2010 at 8:30 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Can someone please tell me how anything outside the realm of economics, for the most part, is any business of these two people? Topics like Gay Rights, What can and cannot be taught in the Classroom, and Abortion are NOT under the jurisdiction of the Legislature - The JUDICIAL BRANCH ALREADY DECIDED ALL OF THESE. Note the evidence that NO republican since Roe v. Wade, the Scopes trial, or ruling against Prop 8 (and the recent injunction against 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell') - ALL OF WHICH THE JUDICIARY DECIDED - has done anything. You know why? BECAUSE THEY CAN'T! When the Supreme Court says the "Constitution means this" well then the "Constitution means this"! Done and Done. End of story. Move on. Its high time we drop this facade of caring about the "issues" when none of these people have any say and when all the Court decisions come from a primarily Religious Right-wing Supreme Court (Sure, not everyone on the bench is as conservative as Thomas, nor Scalia, but thats two votes out of Nine, not to meantion that even Obama's candidates are highly conservative themselves if you take the time to LOOK UP THEIR RULINGS in LOWER COURTS!). G_d(dess), people can be so stupid sometimes... Furthermore, does O'Donnell even know what a Marxist is and or has she read any Marx's works? I know Chris ***** hasn't, which should be obvious in his own economic views.

October 14 2010 at 10:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After a brief pre-debate pow-wow with her mentor Sarah, O'Donnell felt comfortable calling ***** a Marxist...even though she'll admit to only having seen one of Groucho's old movies.

October 14 2010 at 9:48 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Does Christine O'Donnell even know what Marxism is? She's really good at throwing hateful, untrue names at her opponents. Kind of like that kid in everyone's school yard that can't come up with something contructive to say so they call the other kid a boogerhead.

October 14 2010 at 9:42 PM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to debij's comment

How can it be hateful and untrue when he openly admits it!

October 14 2010 at 9:47 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply

Do you understand what sarcasm is? When he wrote that article, he wrote the Marxist stuff as a sarcastic statement to his Republican roommate. Did you read the article? I did. I can see his sarcasm. Incidentally, he never admitted he was a Marxist. If Chris is going to be a Marxist, then Christine is going to be a Witch.

October 14 2010 at 9:56 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply

All this talk about Socialism, Marxism, and Communism make's me wonder if the American public really knows what they are. We take everything we've been taught so literally and a shame that people will vote based one what a candidate calls their opponent rather then look up the candidate to see what he/she is about. I watched the debate until it was interrupted by the miner story, and O'Donnell used those words so often it was apparent they were meant for subliminal use and scaring the public at large. We are so far removed from a socialist government that it amazes me that people would even consider a candidate that used such tactics. I don't want to be scared and I can determine the political leanings of the candidate myself. I want to know where they stand not all the scary terms that one can think of calling the other. Leave the name calling on the playground and let me know what your going to do if elected and get to business protecting my jobs, updating my roads, educating my young, ensuring a livable wage, and regulating the financial and health care industries so they are no longer able to take advantage of me. Oh and please don't tell me you are going to cut the taxes of the super wealthy because they have made extraordinary amounts of money over the past decade and not one thin dime trickled into my pocket that I didn't more then earn. We have a better chance of finding $20 bucks in the street then to have the wealthy=business worry about our well being, these are the people that most of us need protection from. I give him the upper hand because he did not once call her a witch or ask her if she weighed more than a duck.

October 14 2010 at 9:19 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to worldinmieyes's comment

I agree. My mom today started in on me about Socialist health care - I don't think she even realized that Medicare IS Socialist health care.

October 14 2010 at 9:53 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply

worldinmieyes- Though I completely disagree with your view that you want the government to run every aspect of your life, socialism, at least you laid it out in a thoughtful way. You forgot the part where our hard earned tax dollars are paying for all the "freebies" you yearn for. Nothing government does is efficient or reasonable. I prefer making my own choices, smaller government, less taxes and choosing who I help with my money. Yes MY money. I worked hard for it, I earned it, and the government has no right to half of what I worked so hard for! Reasonable taxes, a fair tax or flat tax is fine. Why should I pay a higher percentage than you? When MY tax dollars are being used for a turtle underpass instead of a needy, homeless family, I am outraged!

October 16 2010 at 12:34 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

It's always interesting to see the conservatives whine about the big bad liberal media when their candidate does poorly. It's never the fault of their poor candidate, it's the fault of the "gotcha media." So the conservatives play the victim saying that they'd never ask that question to a Democrat, but only ask Republicans and Conservatives the difficult questions. This is absurd. They ask candidates to explain their positions or elaborate on issues rather than use catch phrases and bumper sticker slogans without specifics on what they are going to do. When a candidate can explain his position clearly, he won't look incompetent.

October 14 2010 at 8:43 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to copperkettle3's comment


October 15 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I think Chrisitne O'Donnell is a threat to the Democratic party or they would not be using so many personal attacks against her..Look what they did and still do to Sarah Palin..If dabbeling in witch craft in her younger years is so threatening..I would vote for her over the current administraion any day..I see the lying, pushing the health care bill along with out even reading what it says more harm for our country than her past record alone..Keep your chin up Christine and see this thing thru.. the State of Delaware voters will know you are the best canidate..

October 14 2010 at 7:44 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to ope3581117's comment

I've come to the conclusion there is no unbiased media in this country. Having CNN hold this debate O'Donnell was at a disadvantage, the moderators only wanted to throw out questions about the things that could hurt her. If held on Fox it would have been the other way around. Where do we go to get fair and balanced reporting surely not Fox or CNN, MSNBC, CNBC or even PBS.

October 14 2010 at 6:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to racings12a's comment

she is just telling the truth

October 14 2010 at 6:03 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply


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