Speaking on September 19 on Fox News Sunday, Karl Rove – who was the top political advisor to President George W. Bush – gave advice to a Tea Party candidate in Delaware to allay a nagging controversy. Christine O’Donnell won an upset victory in the Republican primary election for the GOP Senate nomination.
Rove said that O’Donnell ‘can't simply ignore" the controversy stirred over the disclosures she made on the Bill Maher television show in 1999 that she "dabbled in witchcraft." According to Rove, she must find a way to "explain it and put it in its most sympathetic light and move on."
"In southern Delaware, where there are a lot of church-going people, they're probably going to want to know what was that all about," Rove said. "And again, she said it on television when she went on the ... the Bill Maher show." O’Donnell, while she was raised as a Catholic, now professes Evangelical Christianity.
O'Donnell did not make her scheduled talk show appearances for September 19 that had been scheduled on Fox and CBS. On Fox, newsman Chris Wallace said O’Donnel’s campaign cited "exhaustion." A spokesperson for O'Donnell told the Wilmington News Journal that the candidate’s failure to appear was a scheduling issue and not because she was not prepared to face the inevitable grilling.
O’Donnell made an appearance in 1999 on Maher's "Politically Incorrect" show where she stated in a roundtable discussion," I dabbled into witchcraft -- I never joined a coven... One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn't know it." A frequent guest on Maher’s show in the 1990s, O'Donnell also said that there was blood on the altar she referenced. Maher has said will continue to show clips of her appearances until she agrees to appear again.
Rove said that O’Donnell cannot say, "These are unfactual and not true and ... go to my Web site and ignore them." He added, "I don't think the people of Delaware have or are accepting that as a reasonable explanation…And until they do, they're going to be resistant to hearing the bigger, broader, more important message."
O'Donnell has attracted scrutiny for her background, including her former drug use and promiscuity, her anti-masturbation campaign, personal finances. It is not clear whether the national GOP will release funds for her campaign.
Rove expressed the hope that Republican and Tea Party candidates will not get bogged down on the campaign trail with such controversies. "You can either say, 'We're going to ignore those questions and plan on people's dissatisfaction with Barack Obama and his policies, with all the spending, deficits and debt and the Obama health care plan, and just ignore the personal questions and count on people's animosity towards those -- towards those Obama actions in order to win the election."
"I, frankly, think a winning strategy requires coming to grips with these questions and explaining them in the most sympathetic way possible so that people unblock their ears in Delaware and begin hearing the broader message," Rove said.
Another Republican stalwart, Ed Rollins, former political director in the Reagan White House, said on CBS' Face the Nation, "Right now, this campaign's about her. And unless she gets her ship righted, no matter how strong the Tea Party is or how much they're in the mood for change, at the end of the day, people in Delaware, which is a small state, are going to focus on her, her past statements, what she's saying now. And this is not a good start."
And when asked whether he had ever engaged in witchcraft, Rollins said, "I have had a voodoo doll or two of some of my candidates that I've wanted to strangle to stick needles in, in the course of a very long career ... but never witchcraft."