Christine O'Donnell Defends Herself During First Face Off with Chris Coons

U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell
At a forum on Wednesday night, U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell faced off with Democratic opponent Chris Coons

Delaware Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell fended off accusations of inexperience and addressed some of her more controversial ideological positions last night, in the first public meeting between herself and Chris Coons, O'Donnell's Democratic challenger in the Delaware Senate race.

The two candidates, who have attracted increasing national attention since the Tea Party-backed O'Donnell clinched a surprising defeat over nine-term congressman Mike Castle for the Republican nomination on Tuesday, dominated an eight-person candidate forum sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Delaware, addressing a broad range of issues and avoiding any hint of the acrimony that has largely defined the conversation on a national level so far.

"It's no secret that there's been a rather unflattering portrait of me painted these days," O'Donnell said, according to the Associated Press, before thanking Coons for his "gentlemanly" approach.

But the ideological divisions were clear in the packed house, according to The Hill, audience members alternately booed and cheered when O'Donnell called for the "full repeal" of the health care reform law passed by Congress earlier this year.

Coons voiced his support for implementing the legislation "responsibly," adding that "while we implement health care, we have to contain costs without squelching innovation."

O'Donnell also spoke to her beliefs regarding the question of the "regulation of private sexual behavior," referencing recent attention to statements she has made in the past that would indicate views espousing celibacy and condemning homosexuality, masturbation and condom usage.

The topic "is personal," O'Donnell said, before downplaying - though not denying - the beliefs as having "come from statements I made over 15 years ago."

"My faith has matured," O'Donnell said, adding that if elected, her decisions would be guided by the Constitution, not her own preferences.

Coons emphasized his disinterest in dredging up damning personal history for purposes of the debate, arguing that "I don't think [voters are] particularly interested in statements that either of us made 20 or 30 years ago. And I don't think they're particularly interested in social issues, either." (Coons, incidentally, has been dodging Republican criticism for having penned a 1985 college newspaper article in which he referred to himself as "Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.")

And despite initially mixed reactions from even Republican leadership upon O'Donnell's win, conservative leaders are belatedly rallying around the candidate, in some cases flipping from postures of outright disdain for the candidate, to positions of (albeit tepid) support.

Karl Rove, who questioned O'Donnell's "checkered" past and "nutty" personal views, has since tried to temper his statements, and even Delaware state Republican Party chairman Tom Ross - who before the primaries claimed O'Donnell "couldn't get elected dog catcher" - has since released a statement calling for party unity, saying "it is time to come together."

But not everyone has agreed to tow the party line on O'Donnell; a handful of former aides have spoken out against the candidate, citing financially "irresponsible ideas," potentially paranoid tendencies, and priorities that were "out of whack," according to Politico .

"She told me that she thought Joe Biden tapped her phone line," Kristin Murray, a former aide, told Politico.

David Keegan, who worked as a financial officer to O'Donnell, cited repeated disagreements about how she managed campaign resources, saying that the candidate's strategy for paying someone when money was in low supply was "to stop paying somebody else."

Alan Moore, who worked on communications for O'Donnell in her unsuccessful 2008 Senate bid, told Politico that the candidate's priorities were "out of whack," after she expressed interest in a lucrative job in television. "I informed her that most media organizations prohibit their employees from running for office. She didn't seem to understand and was more interested in getting a contract," Moore said. "She was more concerned about getting a TV deal than winning office."

Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.