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Delaware debate pits Christine O'Donnell against Coons

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Media captionChristine O'Donnell tries to deflect criticism of her past comments on witchcraft

Delaware Republican Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell has sought to play down past controversial comments as she faced her Democratic rival in a debate.

She and Chris Coons are competing for the former seat of Vice-President Joe Biden in November's mid-term elections.

Ms O'Donnell said remarks she had made about witchcraft, sexual abstinence and evolution were not relevant to the race - a position Mr Coons contested.

She is seen as a rising star of the conservative Tea Party movement.

Known for her conservative Christian views, Ms O'Donnell became the subject of intense media interest after winning the Republican Senate nomination in last month's primary vote.

Fuel was added to the fire when revelations that she had dabbled with witchcraft in high school were broadcast soon afterwards.

In response, she released a campaign advert in which she says: "I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you."

Sparring with Mr Coons during the 90-minute debate, held at the University of Delaware, Ms O'Donnell said voters were more concerned with job creation and spending than with comments she made years ago.

"We're moving past that, we're talking about the issues," Ms O'Donnell said when questioned by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, who chaired the debate, about the "I'm not a witch" advertisement.

But Mr Coons argued that her remarks on religious and social issues could play into decisions made in the Senate.

He sought to characterise her as an extremist who would seek division rather than bipartisanship.

Meanwhile, Ms O'Donnell tried to paint her rival, a local official, as a big-spending Democrat, saying he would "rubber-stamp" the spending policies decided in Washington.

"A vote for my opponent will cost the average Delaware family $10,000," she said.

She also accused him of holding Marxist beliefs, a claim Mr Coons laughed off.

Mr Coons said Ms O'Donnell had misrepresented his record.

"I don't have any classified information about China or its plans," he said, mocking Ms O'Donnell for her claim in 2006 that she had been privy to intelligence reports, while working with a humanitarian group.

Recent opinion polls suggest Mr Coons holds a double-digit lead over Ms O'Donnell.

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