Wednesday's CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith noted how President
Obama was on the campaign trail "in hopes of avoiding a Democratic
washout," but added, "he may be getting some help from Republicans.... unintentional help." Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes exclaimed: "...we've been seeing a spate of strange claims from tea party candidates in recent weeks."
As supposed evidence of those "strange claims," Cordes pointed to Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell accurately noting that the phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the Constitution. Cordes remarked that O'Donnell's comment "actually drew gasps from her audience yesterday," and later concluded: "O'Donnell - who calls herself a strict constitutionalist - appeared unaware of one of the Constitution's most basic tenets."
Cordes went on to claim that "some candidates who rode to Republican nominations on tea party energy are now sounding more moderate." She cited as evidence Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio not calling for the dismantling of Social Security: "Rubio pledged to protect Social Security benefits, including his own mothers."
At the end of the report, Cordes did give the O'Donnell campaign's response to the church and state issue: "[they] released a statement late yesterday saying that she does understand the Constitution but was simply making the point that the actual words 'separation of church and state' don't appear in the First Amendment." Smith correctly added: "That, of course, came from Thomas Jefferson some years later."
Smith turned to Republican strategist Dan Bartlett and Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons to discuss the midterm election. Smith first asked Bartlett: "From the mainstream Republican standpoint, are the tea party candidates an asset or a liability?" After Bartlett defended the influence of the movement, Smith turned to Simmons and asked the same question: "...if you're a mainstream Democrat, so to speak, would you rather run against a mainstream Republican or a tea party candidate?" Smith never asked Simmons if President Obama was an asset or a liability.
Simmons used the opportunity to proclaim: "I think you'd rather run against a tea party candidate. We can see the places where the tea party has hurt the Republicans. It's yet to be seen whether or not having these tea party candidates is going to help the Republicans yet, because we don't know what will happen if they would have had a regular, normal establishment conservative on the ballot." Smith's follow up question to Simmons: "Do you think time is on the Democrats' side?"
On Tuesday's CBS Evening News  , Simmons provided this "political analysis" of the election: "Rich Iott in Ohio who dresses as an S.S. Nazi for the weekend, you know, these candidates are making Democrats look pretty good in comparison."
Here is a full transcript of the October 20 segment:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: The pressure's on. With less than two weeks until election day, President Obama launches a five-state campaign tour to support struggling Democrats while one tea party candidate raises eyebrows during a key debate.
CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?
RODRIGUEZ: We'll hear from both sides as the race to the midterms heats up.
7:05AM ET SEGMENT:
HARRY SMITH: Now to politics, the crucial midterm elections less than two weeks away and President Obama heads to Portland, Oregon today. Beginning another campaign blitz in hopes of avoiding a Democratic washout. But, he may be getting some help from Republicans. CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes is in Washington with the story. I guess that's unintentional help.
NANCY CORDES: That's right, Harry. We've - you could call it inexperience or you could call it quirkiness but we've been seeing a spate of strange claims from tea party candidates in recent weeks, the latest comment comes from Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who actually drew gasps from her audience yesterday.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Countdown to Midterms; Obama Hits Trail As Candidates Come Under Fire]
CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: Where in the Constitution is 'separation of church and state'?
CHRIS COONS: No, an excellent point.
MODERATOR: Hold on, hold on, please.
CORDES: Christine O'Donnell and her opponent Chris Coons were debating the teaching of creationism when O'Donnell - who calls herself a strict constitutionalist - appeared unaware of one of the Constitution's most basic tenets.
O'DONNELL: You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?
COONS: Government shall make no establishment of religion.
O'DONNELL: That's in the First Amendment?
CORDES: With election day approaching, some candidates who rode to Republican nominations on tea party energy are now sounding more moderate. In Florida's Senate debate Tuesday night, front-runner Marco Rubio pledged to protect Social Security benefits, including his own mothers.
MARCO RUBIO: Social Security is the sole source of income that she has, she depends on it. I would never support any changes to Social Security that would adversely impact her or people in her demographic.
CORDES: In last night's Illinois Senate debate, where the race for President Obama's former seat is essentially tied, both candidates were in attack mode. Republican Mark Kirk questioning his opponent's business background.
MARK KIRK: Betting his bank's future on risky real estate loans. Brokered hot-money deposits. And loans to well-known convicted felons and mobsters.
CORDES: Democrat Alexi Giannoulias challenged Kirk's embellished accounts of his military service.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: Why, with this record, would you not tell the truth? Why would you make all this stuff up? Congressman it's a simple question, were you shot at or not?
CORDES: Back in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell's campaign released a statement late yesterday saying that she does understand the Constitution but was simply making the point that the actual words 'separation of church and state' don't appear in the First Amendment. Harry.
SMITH: Alright, thanks very much, Nancy Cordes. That, of course, came from Thomas Jefferson some years later. Let's talk about this, this morning now with two CBS political analysts. In Washington Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist, and in Austin, Texas, Dan Bartlett, a Republican strategist. Good morning, guys.
DAN BARTLETT: Hey, Harry.
JAMAL SIMMONS: Good morning, Harry.
SMITH: This is where it really gets interesting, two weeks to go. People start to say interesting things, lots of money pouring in, negative ads all over the place. Dan, let me start with you. From the mainstream Republican standpoint, are the tea party candidates an asset or a liability?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Countdown to Midterms; Will Gaffes Hurt Candidates?]
DAN BARTLETT: I still think - regardless of the comments by Christine O'Donnell, whether it be other slip-ups by some of these young candidates, particularly in these Senate races, Harry, where the pressure is really on, where the profiles of the candidates really come under intense scrutiny - I still think that net-net, the tea party movement, the activism, the intensity will help, particularly in the House of Representatives. It will be difference in why they - I believe Republicans will take over the House. You're right, though, these gaffes, these candidates that don't have as much experience will probably be a good part of the reason why Republicans will probably come up just a little bit short in the Senate, with Republicans not getting over the finish line in Delaware, as you - as you stated.
SMITH: Sure. Jamal, now if you're a mainstream Democrat, so to speak, would you rather run against a mainstream Republican or a tea party candidate?
SIMMONS: Well, Harry, I think I am a mainstream Democrat.
SMITH: So, fire away.
SIMMONS: Alright, so I think you'd rather run against a tea party candidate. We can see the places where the tea party has hurt the Republicans. It's yet to be seen whether or not having these tea party candidates is going to help the Republicans yet, because we don't know what will happen if they would have had a regular, normal establishment conservative on the ballot. So I think we'll all see whether or not all those tea party folks show up on election day. And right now, we do know Democrats are doing a pretty good effort at getting their voters out, even in these early vote states.
SMITH: Okay, because that's my question. We have less than two weeks left. Time is on whose side, do you think time is on the Democrats' side?
SIMMONS: Oh, I think time is, because here's the thing, in a lot of these states now you now have - it's early voting, so people have already started casting their ballots. You know, whether it's Nevada or Iowa, some of these states. And what you're starting to see, in Iowa, the case this morning, Iowa, they had 150,000 Democratic ballots that are already out. And 128,000, I think, Republican - 105,000 Republican ballots. So, you're starting to see a little uptick of Democratic turnout kind of taking over, so-
BARTLETT: Well, Harry, Harry, Harry-
SMITH: Okay, go ahead, Dan.
BARTLETT: I mean, bottom line is actions speak louder than words. The President of the United States is in Oregon, he's out there campaigning in California. These are hardcore Democratic states. They're on big-time defense. They wish they had more time in order to cover more of these - not only of these defensive states but actually try to pick up a seat and that's where the challenge is, Democrats are playing defense. You made notice the fact of the debate last night in Illinois, it is getting nasty but the fact that the President's own seat, his own seat when he was in the Senate is that closely contested demonstrates that Republicans are on offense this cycle, Democrats on defense.
SMITH: Alright. We've got 13 days to go. Thank you, gentlemen, do appreciate it. Jamal Simmons and Dan Bartlett.
SIMMONS: Thank you.
-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.