New darling of Bible and gun brigade hit by witchcraft link

Baggage: US State primary winner also accused of embezzling funds

David Usborne

THEY wanted unorthodox, and Republican voters in Delaware surely got it in their newly anointed candidate for the US Senate, Christine O'Donnell.

The Tea Party candidate came out of nowhere to win a Senate primary in Delaware and send the Sarah Palin-loving guns-babies-Jesus brigade wild.

But the road for O'Donnell since her selection has not been smooth.

Her supporters would have known that their candidate held some fringe views on subjects like masturbation and abortion.

Some might have been aware that she had some tricky financial baggage to deal with.

But that she would be associated with cauldrons and broomsticks and would draw a declaration of war from one of the country's top talk show hosts would almost certainly have come as a surprise.

As a poll was released showing her fully 15 points behind her Democratic rival, Chris Coons, Ms O'Donnell was embroiled in efforts to brush off a formal complaint that she has misused campaign funds to pay personal expenses, including the rent on her home.


Meanwhile, she was struggling to deflect whirling controversy about remarks she made about "dabbling into witchcraft" in the late 1990s on Politically Incorrect, a talk show hosted by political comedian Bill Maher.

"One of my first dates was with a witch on an altar and I didn't know it and there was a little blood and stuff right there," she says on the tape.

"We went to a movie and then had a little midnight picnic on a satanic altar."

Comedian Maher opened a new season of his show by claiming he had "created" Ms O'Donnell by having her on his old programme no fewer than 22 times more than a decade ago.

He then said that if she didn't agree to come on Real Time sometime in the next two weeks he would begin releasing clips of her old appearances, few of which are apparently flattering.

"It's like a hostage crisis," he said gleefully. "Every week you don't show up, I'm going to throw a body out."

The storm has already caused Ms O'Donnell to pull out of two TV appearances that she was tipped to do over the weekend, presumably aware that past associations with witchcraft may not be the best thing for a US Senate candidate.

So far Ms O'Donnell has tried to attribute her Wiccan past to youthful foolishness.

She is taking the same approach to downplaying her past comments on masturbation, a practice she equated to adultery.

"I'm in my forties now. I've matured in a lot of my positions," she commented last week.

"This campaign is about getting our country back on track."


Harder to shake off are the allegations of financial misdeeds.

An interest group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which calls itself a bipartisan watchdog, filed a complaint with the DA's office in Delaware and with the Federal Election Commission, that the candidate used spending campaign money to cover personal expenses.

"Like any crook she should be prosecuted," Melanie Sloan, the director of the group said.

"Ms O'Donnell has spent years embezzling money from her campaign to cover her personal expenses," she alleged.

But the popular politician was swift to deny the claims, which link to money that was for previous, failed attempts to gain elected office in Delaware.

"I am positive we have been ethical," she told reporters.

"I personally have not misused campaign funds."