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Christine O'Donnell debate: Did anybody win?

She was poised and articulate. Her opponent showed mastery of policy. Here are three questions voters might ask after the Christine O'Donnell debate against Chris Coons in Delaware.

By Staff writer / October 14, 2010

Democratic candidate Chris Coons and Republican candidate Christine O' Donnell shake hands after a televised Delaware Senate debate at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del., Wednesday, Oct. 13.

Rob Carr/AP Photo/Pool

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Delaware GOP Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell faced off against her opponent, Democrat Chris Coons, in a nationally televised debate Wednesday night. It was a big moment on a big stage for someone whose first general election television ad opened with her saying, “I am not a witch.”

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So, how did she do?

Well, Ms. O’Donnell definitely did not turn into a pumpkin, if you’ll allow a little mixing of metaphors. She was poised, articulate, and rattled off her talking points like a pro. In that sense, she surpassed expectations.

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But Mr. Coons was no slouch either. Coons, New Castle County executive, at times delved so deeply into policy detail that he sounded as if he was on stage at a Brookings Institution seminar. If nothing else, the Delaware Senate debate will probably be the only time CNN has ever broadcast live a discussion of Delaware county bond ratings.

That said, the debate featured lots of fire and brimstone. Coons went after O’Donnell in his opening statement, saying some of her policy positions are “extreme” for Delaware. O’Donnell returned the sentiment, saying of her opponent, “if you’ve ever questioned whether America is a beacon of freedom and justice, then he’s your guy.”

Delaware voters will be the ones to determine the debate’s outcome. Polls have shown Coons about 20 percentage points ahead, so O’Donnell must shake things up if she's to make the race more competitive. That said, here are three questions the debate as a whole raised:

Was it too harsh? Conventional wisdom holds that the candidate who comes across as more likeable wins point in a first debate. Both tried to smile – and O’Donnell in particular, a former talk-show regular, appeared comfortable in the setting. But smiles soon faded, and both candidates had moments when they seemed querulous. Nobody won the congeniality contest.

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