[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/09/07/art.odonnell.file1.odonnell.jpg caption="Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is taking fire from leading Republicans."](CNN) - Guess who's getting slimed now in the increasingly nasty Senate race in Delaware: Republican stalwarts Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes.
The charge: both men, editors of the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard, are trying to undermine Delaware Republican Senate candidate and tea party darling Christine O'Donnell, or so her campaign manager says.
"Call Bill Kristol and ask him why he's crossing swords with Governor Palin's endorsement. And Google Fred Barnes and see about him taking money from Republican leadership," a frustrated O'Donnell campaign manager Matt Moran told CNN.
O'Donnell just won the endorsement of Sarah Palin.
The Weekly Standard folks sound unfazed. In a reply to an e-mail from CNN, Bill Kristol offers this: "I know Sarah Palin. I respect Sarah Palin. And with all due respect- Christine O'Donnell is no Sarah Palin."
What's this all about?
Christine O'Donnell, running as a Washington outsider, insists the Republican establishment is trying to drive her out of the race and hand victory to Mike Castle, a nine-term Republican congressman whom she refers to as "the anointed one."
In an interview with CNN, O'Donnell bemoaned what she called "Republican cannibalism" and alleges GOP operatives are spreading "false accusations" about her as they "are fighting for not only my opponent's political career but their own political career." Sarah Palin is echoing that message, saying in a new robocall for O'Donnell, "I can relate to the vicious personal attacks on Christine and can tell you it's sad to see the establishment's desperation in this."
Barnes and Kristol got drawn into this catfight because of a story in the Weekly Standard. On Sunday writer John McCormack reported that back in 2005 O'Donnell filed a lawsuit asking for $6.9 million dollars in damages for alleged gender discrimination and wrongful termination by a non profit called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. In addition to sharing some eyebrow raising details about the alleged harassment, the article questions a claim in the lawsuit that O'Donnell was trying to "take master's degree classes at Princeton". According to the Weekly Standard, the lawsuit states: "Miss O'Donnell has lost the increased earning power that a Master's degree from Princeton would have created. In the future with proper finances, Miss O'Donnell should probably be able to return and complete that program…"
The problem? O'Donnell never took even a single graduate course at Princeton university, something she acknowledges to CNN.
The Weekly Standard article calls this "the latest of many false statements" and question O'Donnell's "honesty and stability."
When CNN asked O'Donnell why the discrepancy about pursuing a masters degree at Princeton she told CNN, "I never claimed that. And it is again, this is one of these false accusations that they are trying to throw out there at the last minute. I was taking an undergraduate course at Princeton University and that has nothing to do with this campaign." She tells CNN this leak is a sign her opponent "is despearate" and "drowning."
Her campaign manager Matt Moran tells CNN she audited an undergraduate course at Princeton and says, "None of this is relevant as far as I'm concerned. We're up against the full weight of the NRSC (the National Republican Senatorial Committee) and the Castle campaign and their media surrogates who have done nothing but try to character assassinate Christine."
In the interview with CNN, O'Donnell repeatedly invoked Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton as inspirations. So we asked whether she believes she's being criticized because she's a woman, O'Donnell says: "Well whenever a strong pioneering woman comes onto the scene theres some backlash."
When contacted for comment the author of the Weekly Standard article, John McCormack tells CNN, "I hope readers will read my report and judge for themselves if its fair" adding, "More than two days after I first asked her campaign for comment to explain this apparent falsehood, it has not done so – probably because it can't."