Republican Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell is dismissing comments she's made over the years on religious and social issues such as evolution, sexual abstinence and homosexuality, saying they're not relevant to the campaign.
Squaring off against Democrat Chris Coons in a nationally televised debate, O'Donnell said Delaware voters want to hear about job creation and spending, not comments she made as a television commentator long ago. She refused to say if she still believes evolution is a myth, as she has said in the past.
Coons, a county executive, argued that O'Donnell owes voters an explanation. He said her remarks are directly related to how she would serve in the Senate, citing Supreme Court nominations as an example of where they might come into play.
The 90-minute debate was held at the University of Delaware and moderated by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. The network carried the first hour of the debate. It pitted Coons, who excelled as a debater in college, againstO'Donnell, who has appeared as a conservative pundit for years on TV shows such as Bill Maher's program.
Coons opened the debate by calling O'Donnell an extremist who would promote partisanship instead of compromise. O'Donnell, a tea party favorite, shot back that Coons would be a "rubber stamp" for Democrats in Washington.
One light moment was provided by O'Donnell, who chided Coons: "You're just jealous you were not on Saturday Night Live."
The show has spoofed O'Donnell a couple of times, making light of some remarks she made as a television commentator over the years, including that she dabbled in witchcraft while in high school.
She challenged Coons' record as New Castle county executive, accusing him of making pledges and "breaking those promises as soon as he takes office."
"He will continue to rubber-stamp the spending policies coming from Washington," she added.
Coons accused O'Donnell of distorting his record and said he hoped the pair could have a conversation, rather than her launching into a "diatribe."
O'Donnell, who in the past has described homosexuality as a social disorder, said the decision on "don't ask, don't tell" should be left to the military and that "Congress should not be forcing a social agenda onto the military."
Coons said he would move swiftly to repeal it, calling the policy "discrimination, plain and simple."
O'Donnell also called for extending the Bush-era tax cuts.
Coons was more guarded, saying, "We should do those tax cuts that have the best chance of getting our economy going again."
The two candidates also sparred on health care, with O'Donnell assailing the Democratic health care overhaul that became law this year. "One out of four Democrats have gone on record saying they oppose Obamacare," she said.
But Coons said there are "significant advances" in the bill. When O'Donnell said it would put Uncle Sam in the examination room, Coons snapped, "That's a good slogan ... How does this bill actually put Uncle Sam in the examination room?"
O'Donnell trails Coons by double digits in some polls and has been dogged by questions about her background and past statements.