NEWARK, Delaware (AFP) – Little shocks Americans raised in the colorful world of US politics, but when an upstart conservative candidate launched her Senate campaign declaring “I’m not a witch,” eyebrows were raised.
The fresh-faced Christine O’Donnell, who is 41 but looks a decade younger, has leaped into the national spotlight since she scored an upset victory over the official Republican candidate to win the Delaware nomination for Senate.
She is running against Democratic Party candidate Chris Coons aiming to win the seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden in the November 2 elections.
Last month’s surprise primary win by the Tea Party-backed O’Donnell over the establishment Republican candidate thrust her into the media glare.
And political pundits were soon feasting on a host of videos dragged up from the archives dating back to the 1990s and filmed during the years of O’Donnell’s conservative, Christian-based political activism.
In one video, O’Donnell advises young people against masturbation as part of a crusade by a group called Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT) against pornography and abortion.
“The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. You can’t masturbate without lust!” she says in the MTV documentary from 1996 advocating sexual abstinence.
In another interview she admits to having tried witchcraft when she was young. “I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven,” she says.
Then came allegations that she had misrepresented her academic credentials, claiming she had studied at Oxford University, England, when in fact she had joined a course whose organizers rented rooms at the prestigious college.
There were other eye-browing raising images such as when O’Donnell explained the “myth” of the theory of evolution, or claimed that “American scientific companies are crossbreeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.”
O’Donnell, who survived charges of past financial improprieties, has a history of rightwing activism and is well-known to Delaware voters.
This time around though she managed to harness a groundswell of anti-establishment anger, and backed by an endorsement from former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, won a stunning victory in Delaware.
The ensuing barrage of bizarre videos and statements forced her underground for several weeks to regroup her forces and reshape her strategy.
And she came out fighting in her first campaign ad last week.
“I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you,’ she says.
“None of us are perfect, but none of us can be happy with what we see all around us: politicians who think spending, trading favors and back-room deals are the ways to stay in office. I’ll go to Washington, and do what you?d do.”
She seeks to draw the difference with her Democratic rival Coons, stressing she has never been to Yale university, and insisting she is as ordinary as the next person.
“It is these career politicians who’ve been groomed for office from day one, who have gotten our country in the shape that it’s in,” she told a small campaign meeting of about 70 people in Newark recently.
“I, like many people here, know how hard it is to earn a dollar and that’s why I want to go to Washington, to protect and keep that dollar.”
According to the polls on the specialist website RealClearPolitics, O’Donnell is running 16 points behind Coons.
Traditional Republican voters remain wary of her more extreme views and worry that come November 2 she will scare off moderate Republicans.
But her supporters remain dedicated and loyal. “She’s a new breed of Republican,” said her communications director Dave Yonkman.
“She’s a breath of fresh air,” agreed supporter Kevin Thomas, 31, though he confessed on the issue of masturbation “that’s one thing where I think our view point isn’t necessarily the same, but that’s OK.”
O’Donnell is using what magical powers she has to hit back against what she says is an orchestrated campaign to discredit her.
“I’m not the person they’re painting in the liberal media. I’ve put my name on the line. And I’ve taken a lot of hits … a lot of character assassination,” she insists.
And supporters remain undeterred. “I’m voting for the witch,” said Barbara Kalinka with a laugh as she demonstrated outside a meeting hosted by the Democratic candidate Coons.
“I think they forgot their brooms,” cackled one of Coons’s supporters back.