only the contemptible Karl Rove who says Delaware U.S. Senate primary victor and Sarah Palin endorsee Christine O’Donnell has zero chance in the general election. Lots of neutral sounding observers are saying the same. Why is she considered such a sure loser?
on her background and the numerous issues swirling around her.
Meet Christine O’Donnell …
By: Tim Grieve and Andy Barr
September 15, 2010 10:42 AM EDT
The Republican Party’s hopes for winning back the Senate rest on a perennial candidate with a sketchy employment history who has dissembled about her education, defaulted on her student loan and her mortgage, sued a former employer for mental anguish, railed against the evils of masturbation and questioned whether it would have been OK to lie to prevent Nazis from killing Jews during World War II.
Christine O’Donnell shocked the Republican establishment Tuesday night by blowing past Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware’s GOP Senate primary and she predicted on CNN Wednesday morning that she’ll win Vice President Joe Biden’s old Senate seat in November with or without the help of Republican leaders who’ve already left her for dead.
“I think right now maybe their pride is just hurt a little bit and they’re licking their wounds because the so-called experts were discredited this morning,” O’Donnell said.
But establishment Republicans may be doing more head-scratching than wound-licking; even in a year featuring Sharron Angle and Rand Paul, O’Donnell stands out as something very different.
She first made her mark in the 1990s as the founder of the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth. The group’s aim was to lobby Congress on issues important to the religious right, but its biggest impact may have come from landing O’Donnell a spot on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect.” It was during a 1998 discussion on the show—the subject was Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky—that O’Donnell said that lies and exaggeration are always acts of “disrespect.”
Asked whether it would be OK to lie if you were hiding Jews in your home and Nazis came to the door, O’Donnell dodged.
“If I were in that situation … God would provide a way to do the right thing,” she said.
As Maher mocked her and the audience hooted, O’Donnell insisted: “I believe that! You never have to have this deception.”
O’Donnell’s campaign did not respond to request for comment about the episode. But the “Politically Incorrect” clip is just one of several O’Donnell videos now circulating on the Web.
In one, a Fox News segment from 2008, O’Donnell calls Barack Obama “anti-American” because he voted against making English the official national language of the United States.
In another, during an MTV appearance, O’Donnell pushes her abstinence views to the point of even ruling out masturbation.
“The reason that you don’t tell [people] that masturbation is the answer to AIDS and all these other problems that come with sex outside of marriage is because again, it is not addressing the issue,” she said. “You’re just gonna create somebody who is, I was gonna say, ‘toying with his sexuality.’ Pardon the pun.”
O’Donnell and her supporters have dismissed questions about her past and her personal life as desperate attacks from entrenched politicians who are watching their power slip away.
When Slate’s David Weigel asked O’Donnell about the masturbation video, she said: “Oh, my goodness, [Castle] wants to make an issue out of that? That’s a good way of insulting his Christian base, don’t you think? And who’s going to get out his vote? The pro-cap-and-trade Republicans? The pro-big spending Republicans? The pro-human experimentation Republicans?”
O’Donnell rode that besieged, us-against-them approach to a six-point victory over Castle Tuesday night. Endorsements from Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint and the Tea Party Express didn’t hurt. But neither did endorsements from superstars of the Republican right answer the questions that will dog O’Donnell as she makes the long run toward November’s general election.
Already, O’Donnell’s opponents—inside and outside her party—have raised concerns about her education, her career, her financial dealings and legal troubles.
“She is a con artist who won by lying about Castle’s positions and her own life,” Kate Dickens, a Castle aide, told POLITICO’s David Catanese Wednesday.
Kristin Murray, a Republican who served two months as O’Donnell’s campaign manager in 2008, called the candidate a “complete fraud.” Murray said she quit working for O’Donnell in 2008 after discovering that she didn’t have a college degree, had failed to make payments on her mortgage and was using the campaign debit card for personal expenses.
“It just amounted to too much,” Murray said. “The reason she’s running is so she can pay her rent, pay her electricity bill. If it was popular to be really liberal now, maybe she’d do that.”
As the Associated Press put it Wednesday morning, O’Donnell “hasn’t had a steady job in years but has instead made an avocation of running for Senate.”
She finished third in a three-way Republican primary for Sen. Tom Carper’s seat in 2006 and then lost to then-Sen. Biden in 2008. She has claimed in the past that she won two out of the state’s three counties in the 2008 race but she didn’t—she lost all three, dropping the state at large by more than 100,000 votes.
The false claim about the 2008 race also isn’t O’Donnell’s first tussle with the facts.
Four years ago, O’Donnell’s campaign website identified her as a “graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University.” In fact, O’Donnell officially earned her college degree from the Madison N.J., university just two weeks ago.
Contacted by POLITICO, a spokesman for Fairleigh Dickinson said privacy reasons prevented him from explaining why O’Donnell was getting a degree 17 years after attending the school.
O’Donnell campaign manager Matt Moran said O’Donnell “fulfilled the last course requirement this summer. It was just a general elective course.”
But earlier this year, O’Donnell told the Delaware News Journal that she had already finished her coursework at FDU. The university, she said then, was withholding her diploma because she still had student loans to pay. History was apparently repeating itself: As the News Journal has reported, the school sued her in 1994 for around $4,000 in unpaid tuition. The paper said O’Donnell satisfied that debt in 2003.
There are other questions about O’Donnell’s finances—questions Castle tried to use to call into doubt her bona fides as a fiscal conservative.
According tothe News Journal, O’Donnell’s mortgage company sued her during her 2008 Senate run, alleging that she’d stopped making payments on her home loan. “It received a judgment and the home was set to go to sheriff’s sale, according to court documents,” the paper reported. “She sold it days before to her then-boyfriend, who was acting as her campaign legal counsel, she said.”
“O’Donnell said she sold the house to fund her campaign. She has denied that she was ever sued by her mortgage company or that a foreclosure sale date had been set,” the article said.
The paper also reported that the IRS filed a lien against O’Donnell earlier this year over “more than $11,000 in unpaid income taxes and fees.” The paper said the lien was lifted shortly after it was filed—and that O’Donnell has dismissed the issue as a computer glitch that was fixed after she paid “an amount that she did not disclose.”
The paper said that public records show O’Donnell having “no steady income,” no savings, no investments and no property. “She rents a room out of her campaign office, which is a town home in a residential community. Last year, she reported making $5,800 in income divided between two sources.”
After founding Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth, O’Donnell went to work for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative organization that fired her in 2004.
O’Donnell sued ISI in federal court, alleging that she’d been fired in retaliation for going to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with complaints of gender discrimination. As the Weekly Standard has reported, she claimed that she suffered “mental anguish” at the hands of ISI—and sought $6.95 million in damages.
From the complaint:
“Miss O’Donnell was and is profoundly humiliated by this demotion of being asked to perform clerical and administrative tasks, after appearing on national television as a media and public relations expert and spokeswoman, for a man who was hired straight out of college as ISI’s receptionist and clerical assistant, and whom she had been asked to train previously … .
“For at least six months after being fired, Miss O’Donnell suffered enormous pain, cried frequently at the sense of personal loss and failure caused by ISI, and at the sense of injustice, and could not sleep at night, often wide-awake, replaying the whole scene in her mind, until 5:30 am, and has suffered from understandable and resulting depression.”
O’Donnell dropped the suit in 2008, saying she could not afford to pay a lawyer.
For O’Donnell’s opponents, the suit is still paying dividends: The Weekly Standard and others have suggested that a $6.9 million gender discrimination/mental anguish suit doesn’t fit well in a party that rails against lawsuit abuse, and O’Donnell’s complaint has raised another round of questions about her truthfulness when it comes to her educational record.
In the complaint, O’Donnell’s lawyers claimed that ISI’s actions had denied her “the increased earning power that a Master’s degree from Princeton would have created.” But O’Donnell had not received her bachelor’s degree at the time of the lawsuit. And while she had audited an undergraduate class at Princeton, she had not been accepted into a master’s program there.
When CNN asked O’Donnell about the Princeton issue, she said: “I never claimed that. And it is again, this is one of these false accusations that they are trying to throw out there at the last minute. I was taking an undergraduate course at Princeton University and that has nothing to do with this campaign.”
In the CNN interview, O’Donnell said she had been inspired by Palin and Hillary Clinton. Asked whether she thought she was taking fire because she’s a woman, she said: “Well, whenever a strong pioneering woman comes onto the scene there’s some backlash.”
Although Palin called on conservatives to come together Wednesday morning, Dickens, the Castle aide, told POLITICO that Castle won’t be endorsing O’Donnell in the general election. And on Fox News Tuesday night, a despondent Karl Rove said the race was already lost for the GOP.