Tea Party star Christine O'Donnell in witchcraft row

media captionChristine O'Donnell played down her witchcraft comments from 1999

A controversial Republican candidate for the US Senate is trying to play down revelations that she dabbled with witchcraft in high school.

"How many of you didn't hang out with questionable folks?" said Christine O'Donnell, a day after a clip of her discussing the occult was rebroadcast.

Ms O'Donnell is backed by the right-wing, grassroots Tea Party and known for her conservative Christian views.

Last week she beat a veteran politician for the Senate nomination in Delaware.

The BBC's Paul Adams, in Washington, says the candidate's eccentricities are causing anxiety within the ranks of the Republican Party, which fears that its chances of taking Delaware from the Democratic Party in November's mid-term elections are disappearing fast.

'Satanic altar'

Ms O'Donnell's comments about witchcraft were made during a 1999 taping of comedian Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect show.

"I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven," she said on the show.

"I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do.

"One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn't know it. I mean, there's little blood there and stuff like that," she said.

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

After cancelling a couple of television appearances over the weekend, Ms O'Donnell tried to make light of the comments, asking reporters if they hadn't also spent time with what she called "questionable folks in high school".

On Monday, one of the leading Republicans in the House of Representatives, Mike Pence, dismissed the controversy as part of pre-election "silly season".

Ms O'Donnell's victory in the primary poll - to pick party candidates for the mid-term congressional elections in November - came after a bruising campaign battle with nine-term Republican congressman Mike Castle.

In clips previously released by Mr Maher in the wake of Ms O'Donnell's victory last week, Ms O'Donnell's views on sexuality have already been scrutinised.

Mr Maher says he has more embarrassing clips and will continue to air them until the candidate appears on his show.

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