Poised for Gains, GOP Tries to Contain Gaffes

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell at a Sussex County Republican Committee Picnic at Dave Wilson's Auction, Sep. 19, 2010, in Lincoln, Delaware.
AP Photo
Just 13 days remain until voters go to the polls in what could be a power-shifting election. Republicans are poised to make big gains, but some GOP candidates have been giving their party a new batch of worries with bizarre and controversial comments, reports CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes.

Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell actually drew gasps from her audience with a recent remark - asking "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?"

O'Donnell and her opponent Chris Coons were debating the teaching of creationism in schools when O'Donnell, who calls herself a strict constitutionalist, appeared unaware of one of the constitution's most basic tenets.

"You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the first amendment?" she asked.

"'Government shall make no establishment of religion,'" Coons quoted.

O'Donnell's reply: "That's in the first amendment?"

With Election Day approaching some candidates who rode to Republican nominations on Tea Party energy, are now sounding more moderate

Interactive Map: CBS News Election 2010 Race Ratings
CBSNews.com Special Report: Campaign 2010

In Florida's senate debate Tuesday, front runner Marco Rubio pledged his support to protect Social Security benefits, including his own mother's.

"She depends on it," Rubio said. "I would never support any changes to social security that would adversely impact her."

In Tuesday night's Illinois senate debate, where the contest for President Obama's old senate seat is neck-and-neck, both candidates were in attack mode. Republican Mark Kirk questioned his opponents business history and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias challenged Kirk's accounts of his military service.

Despite the mudslinging and gaffes, Republicans remain poised for big gains.

"I still think, regardless of the comments by Christine O'Donnell … I still think that net-net, the Tea Party movement activism, the intensity will help, particularly in the House of Representatives," Republican strategist Dan Bartlett told CBS' "The Early Show" Wednesday.

But as a Democrat, "I think you'd rather run against a Tea Party candidate," said Democratic strategist Jamal Brown. "We can see the places where the Tea Party has hurt the Republicans. It's yet to be seen whether or not having these tea party candidates is going to help the Republicans yet because we don't know what will happen if they had a regular, normal establishment conservative on the ballot."