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Delaware Senate candidates set the stage for November

By Alison Harding, CNN
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O'Donnell's primary win splits GOP
  • Republican Christine O'Donnell and Democrat Chris Coons hold a forum
  • The candidates' forum displays little animosity
  • Their messages diverges as they seek to define their political narratives

(CNN) -- Delaware voters were treated to a markedly different tone Thursday night as they watched their two Senate candidates together for the first time since the primaries.

During a candidate's forum, Republican Christine O'Donnell and Democrat Chris Coons displayed little of the animosity that came to define O'Donnell's bitter primary battle with Rep. Mike Castle.

Rather, the night was marked by polite discourse and even agreement as the two candidates sought to lay out their position on many key issues.

Their messages did diverge, however, as the two sought to define their political narratives.

Coons, a county executive, repeatedly brought up his political know-how, saying in his opening statement that he had the "value, skills and experience" needed in a senator.

"Delaware's next senator should be someone who is prepared, who has concrete ideas and who is ready, willing and able to get our economy back on track, to restore America's middle class, to revitalize manufacturing," Coons said.

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O'Donnell, meanwhile, portrayed herself as a "hard-working average citizen who understands what it's like to fall on hard economic times."

The conservative commentator and marketing consultant has never held an elected office. She became the latest Tea Party-backed candidate this election season to defeat an incumbent candidate after she easily beat Castle, a moderate Congressman and former governor. The primaries were held Tuesday.

"As we approach the general election over the next month and a half, it's my goal for you to get to know who I am, and why I'm running in this race, and why I'm asking for your vote on November 2," O'Donnell told the standing-room only crowd.

O'Donnell has received an outpouring of national attention from conservative groups and heavyweights, including the Tea Party Express and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

At the forum, O'Donnell expressed her gratitude for the national support, and lamented her own state party's failure to get behind her candidacy. The Delaware Republican Party backed Castle in the primary, and has yet to publicly embrace their new candidate.

"I am fighting two political parties here in Delaware. Our political system has become an entrenched system. My goal is to open up the political process to 'we the people' where you get to decide based on the policies who you want to represent you in Washington, D.C., not who a party has anointed you," O'Donnell said.

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Polls suggested that Castle would have been favored in the general election battle over Coons, but with O'Donnell as the party's nominee, surveys indicate that Coons is now considered to have the advantage.