Republican senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell, a “tea party” movement favorite who has become a political pincushion for Democrats, found herself precariously perched on a new limb Tuesday when she seemed unsure whether the Constitution guaranteed that church and state be kept separate.
O’Donnell, who wrested the GOP nomination from Delaware’s Republican establishment, met her Democratic opponent Chris Coons in their third debate for the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden. Fueled by conservative anger, O’Donnell came from behind to win a fierce primary, but most polls show that the momentum has cooled and that Coons leads by double digits.
Part of the reason for her decline is that she became a favorite target for Democrats who see her as too shallow, too conservative and too inexperienced to be a senator. Video clips of her past statements have become the butt of cable and late night television talk shows and she was forced to begin one campaign ad with a denial that she was a witch.
The latest debate was before an audience at Widener University Law School in Wilmington, Del. In an exchange over whether creationism should be taught the same way that the theory of evolution is presented, Coons said that “religious doctrine doesn’t belong in our public schools.”
“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked Coons as the audience laughed.
He said it was in the 1st Amendment.
“Let me clarify,” O’Donnell continued. “You’re telling me that separation of church and state is in 1st Amendment?”
“Government shall make no establishment of religion,” came the reply.
“That’s in the 1st Amendment,” she asked.
Later when questioned about other constitutional points, O’Donnell said: “I’m sorry I didn’t bring my Constitution with me. Fortunately senators don’t have to memorize the Constitution.”