Blitzer, Karibjanian Tougher on O'Donnell Than Coons in Senate Debate

CNN's Wolf Blitzer and former public television anchor Nancy Karibjanian pressed Republican candidate Christine O'Donnell during Wednesday's Delaware Senate debate. While the two pressed O'Donnell on her personal finances, her past comments on evolution, and SNL poking fun of her, Karibjanian went out of her way to note Democratic candidate Chris Coons's past as a "student pastor at Yale."

The first hour of the debate, which was held at the University of Delaware, aired on CNN starting at 7:30 pm Eastern. In her very first question to O'Donnell, the former WHYY personality raised the Republican's past financial difficulties:

KARIBJANIAN: Let's open the discussion on correcting some of the financial issues here by talk about some of your own personal financial problems, and most people know about it by now, including an IRS lien that was for about $12,000 in taxes and penalties from '05. There was the '08 mortgage default judgment on your home. You just received your bachelors degree, as you said, because it took a decade to pay off the tuition. The question, then, is, how can voters rely upon your thoughts on how to manage the deficit if you're having such personal financial issues of your own?

In the middle of her answer, the Republican candidate stated that Karibjanian "mentioned education. I don't have a trust fund. I didn't come from a privileged, sheltered background as my opponent says he did." The local co-moderator interrupted sharply: "Let's stay to the issue of paying bills."

Later, after the two Delaware candidates debated the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy, Karibjanian's next question directed solely to O'Donnell raised the conservative's past comments on social issues and how Saturday Night Live has poked fun of her. She thinly disguised her attack on the Republican by citing a local Delaware writer:

KARIBJANIAN: I know that we've said that the statements out in the national media, the Saturday Night Live skits are distractions. I appreciate that, but to the voter in Delaware, it is the message that they are receiving. So we would be remiss if we did not address this issue. So the comments that you've made in the past, which are in your own words because they're on the videotape, have become the fodder for the late night TV shows. You even released an ad that opened up by saying 'I am not a witch' and a local newspaper columnist said that the comments that you've been- seemed to be making make Delawareans cringe. So what do you say to voters who want the change but are uncomfortable by these remarks?

The former public television host followed up with a direct question to Coons. She tossed more of a softball to the Democrat:

KARIBJANIAN: All right, but let's go to the issue of faith and politics, because you were a student pastor at Yale. You also said in an interview once that you thought you would either end up a preacher, a professor or a politician. You've occasionally been a guest speaker at some of the churches here in our community- Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches to name a few. So how much of an influence does this faith in your life have on your politics?

Blitzer joined Karibjanian in questioning O'Donnell about her past comments on television. While the CNN anchor did put Coons on the spot for his record on taxes ("Explain your record on taxes. Did you increase taxes as the county executive?"), he picked up where his co-moderator left off with a question on one of O'Donnell's past appearances on Bill Maher's old Politically Incorrect program: "Let's give you a chance to respond to some of the things she said because in a television appearance back in 1998 on Bill Maher's show you said evolution is a myth. Do you believe evolution is a myth?" Unlike Karibjanian, however, Blitzer followed up by asking Coons about his past "bearded Marxist" comment ("Because a lot of people remember, because they've learned in last few weeks you did once describe yourself when you were in college a long time ago as a 'bearded Marxist.'").

Near the end of the hour, the CNN personality pressed the Republican on the health care issue. Karibjanian contributed to the interrogation. Near the end of the exchange, O'Donnell did turn the tables a bit on the two moderators. One might wonder at this point whether the candidate was debating her Democratic opponents or the two members of the media:

BLITZER: Let's say someone decides not to purchase health insurance- makes that conscientious decision, even though this person can afford to buy health insurance- but decided he doesn't want to. This person gets critically ill, is rushed to an emergency room. Should we- people who pay for health insurance- provide him or her with that kind of treatment, or should we kick them out of the emergency room- said, you made a decision- you're not going to get this kind of treatment?

O'DONNELL: If we do the things that I've said that will help to address- that I'm proposing- that will help to address the issue of health care, then that person can afford to buy a catastrophic-only policy from across state lines. They'll be able-

BLITZER: Well, what if the person doesn't want to buy it?

O'DONNELL: Well, then we have to address that.

BLITZER: Who should take care of that person in an emergency?

O'DONNELL: We have to address that.

BLITZER: Would we, all of us tax-payers-

O'DONNELL: We have to- no, we have to-

BLITZER: Have to pay for that person?

O'DONNELL: Anything that they do when they have another bill that they can't pay, make them pay it- hold them accountable for that.

KARIBJANIAN: Before or after they get care?

O'DONNELL: But right now, right now- well, that's up to the hospital- but right now, we're forcing them to. We're forcing them, that they have to give care to illegal aliens. So this is something that we're already doing. What I'm proposing- you're also talking about a very small hypothetical, using scare tactics to make people support this health care bill- what I'm proposing in the health care reforms that I'm proposing will help address those situation and help alleviate those situations.

BLITZER: It's not just a small number-

COONS: It's not a small hypothetical-

O'DONNELL: Well, nobody should be forced to pay for anyone else's health care, and that's what Obamacare is doing.

When he moderated the June 5, 2007 Republican presidential candidates' debate, Blitzer lobbied then-California Representative Duncan Hunter to adopt the liberal policies of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center