The internal squabble among Delaware Republicans heated up Friday in the run-up to a contentious Senate primary, as the state Republican Party dropped the L-word -- liar -- in calling out Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell over her alleged financial problems.
O'Donnell is trying to replicate the kind of Tea Party upset that rocked the Alaska GOP Senate primary last week by casting her more established Republican opponent, longtime Delaware Rep. Mike Castle, as a moderate disloyal to conservative principles.
But some Republicans fear she has too few credentials and too much baggage to beat Democrat Chris Coons, a local county executive, in the race for the Senate seat previously held by Vice President Biden.
O'Donnell, in an interview Thursday with Fox News, repeatedly denied claims that she owed back taxes, never received a college diploma and had her home enter foreclosure.
But the Delaware Republican Party picked the interview apart in a statement Friday, questioning whether she was misleading the public. The primary is Sept. 14.
"Is Christine O'Donnell actually this unhinged from reality? Or is she simply a liar, whose total lack of respect for Delaware voters leads her to deliberately and repeatedly deny the clear facts surrounding her many personal and professional failures?" party Chairman Tom Ross said, calling her interview statements "bizarre and untruthful."
That level of intra-party rhetoric is unusual even in a tense election year that has mainstream Republicans increasingly jittery over the recent success of Tea Party-backed challengers.
O'Donnell's campaign shot back Friday, saying her critics "don't have all the facts." On the diploma issue, the campaign produced a letter from Fairleigh Dickinson University showing that she had earned her English literature degree -- effective Sept. 1, two days earlier.
The campaign explained that it took her 12 years to pay off her student loans and that a "separate bill" for tuition from her last semester had held up her degree. The campaign said O'Donnell had already earned a graduate fellowship from the Claremont Institute.
O'Donnell said on Fox News that she's "not a multimillionaire" and did not have a "trust fund" to pay for her college education. She said she attended the graduation ceremony in 1993 but did not receive her degree then.
O'Donnell and her Republican Party foes are going back and forth over a series of other accusations.
The state GOP cited a Wilmington News Journal report from March that detailed those troubles. The report said that, at the time, O'Donnell owed nearly $12,000 in taxes and penalties from 2005; that she owed nearly $24,000 in campaign debt from her prior Senate runs; that she had trouble paying her mortgage and sold her home in 2008 right before it was set to go on auction; and that Fairleigh Dickinson University sued her for nearly $5,000 in unpaid expenses 16 years ago. The debt was reportedly repaid years later -- apparently paving the way for her to receive her degree Wednesday.
O'Donnell has also acknowledged paying part of her rent with campaign donations -- which she said was justified because her townhome is also her campaign headquarters.
O'Donnell has addressed these allegations point-by-point on her website. She says the IRS mistakenly claimed she still owed money and that the "remaining balance" had been paid. She says there was no foreclosure.
Federal campaign finance reports show that, as of the end of June, her campaign debt has fallen below $12,000.