AP Interview: After keeping low profile, O’Donnell denies misrepresenting education record

By Randall Chase, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

O’Donnell denies misrepresenting education

WILMINGTON, Del. — After nearly disappearing from public view following her upset victory in Delaware’s GOP primary, Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell re-emerged Friday, denying reports that she tried to falsify her education background.

In an interview with The Associated Press, O’Donnell also denied she had been ducking the media or had gone into hiding amid questions about her background and statements she has made as a conservative commentator on television talk shows.

While trying to rapidly ramp up the number of staffers and find new office space after her primary win, O’Donnell’s campaign has been bombarded with questions from the media, many of which have gone unanswered.

This week, questions were raised about whether O’Donnell had falsely suggested on two online business networking sites, LinkedIn and ZoomInfo, that she had attended Oxford University in England, when in fact she had simply attended a summer program there under the auspices of the Phoenix Institute.

“I know I never created a LinkedIn profile for myself,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t even know what Zoom is.”

“I’ve never intentionally misrepresented my educational record, and I don’t know what the latest accusations are,” added O’Donnell, who said she has stopped paying attention to what the national media reports about her.

O’Donnell, who received her college degree in early September despite asserting for years that she had graduated in 1993, also denied allegations that she has illegally spent campaign money on personal expenses, including rent.

“We’ve always been ethical,” said O’Donnell, who also has been the target of late-night comedy show barbs about things she said years ago as a guest on cable TV talk shows, including that she dabbled in witchcraft as a teenager and believes that evolution is a myth.

O’Donnell, a conservative activist who rode a tide of tea party support and advertising dollars to upset longtime congressman Michael Castle in the GOP primary, declined to say whether she thinks she has been treated fairly by the media.

“It is what it is,” she said. “I’m not concerned about that. We’ve got a great media team in place and we’re going to control our own destiny and make sure that our message gets out there the way we want it to.”

Asked about her low media profile since winning the primary, O’Donnell said her campaign needed time to reorganize and prepare for the general election contest against Democrat Chris Coons, the New Castle County executive.

“We asked for time to regroup and reassess because people were telling us their phone calls weren’t being returned, and that’s not my heart,” she said. “I want everybody to feel like they’re a priority, so now our office is up and running and phones are being put in.”

After greeting a crowd of about 100 supporters who turned out Friday for the invitation-only dedication of her Wilmington campaign headquarters, O’Donnell granted interviews to local reporters, who had seen and heard little from her in the past two weeks. She said shortly after the primary that she would not to speak to members of the national media but instead would focus on Delaware voters.

O’Donnell said she has been out in public, presiding over a coin toss at a community football game over the weekend, shaking hands at local restaurants and a shopping mall, making the rounds of local talk shows, and meeting with editors of weekly community newspapers. She said she would be more visible in days to come.

“You should definitely expect to see a lot more,” she said.

Matt Schlapp, a GOP strategist and former political director at the White House under President George W. Bush, said he doubts O’Donnell is executing some “master strategy” to stay behind the curtain.

Instead, he said, it probably reflects “that this is a grass roots campaign that won a surprise victory, and probably did very little strategic planning on what they would do if they won.”

Schlapp said a sudden emergence on the national stage commonly creates communications problems for upstart candidates. Usually, they have months to hire new staffers, set up campaign offices and get organized. But he said Delaware’s late primary put O’Donnell at a disadvantage.

“This is a candidate who literally has hours and days to make those decisions,” he said.


Associated Press Writer Ben Evans reported from Washington, D.C.

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