The Republican senatorial candidate conveyed her support for free trade, but held back on endorsing normalized relations with Cuba


Republican U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell added an agricultural angle to her message of conservative economic policy when she spoke to leaders of the Delaware Farm Bureau in Camden Oct. 15.

During a 40-minute question and answer session, O’Donnell treaded on some unfamiliar ground in discussing international trade tariffs and her stance on normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba.

O’Donnell found herself somewhat off script when the Farm Bureau’s Kent County Director Richard Wilkins asked her if she would support the ratification of new international free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, Panama and other countries that are emerging as big consumers of American agricultural products.

Wilkins said free-trade policies help farmers get better prices for their crops and expand their access to new markets.

Though Tea Party loyalists generally condemn free-trade policies and argue they’ve allowed American companies to move jobs overseas, O’Donnell said she supports free trade.

“I’m usually a proponent of free trade,” she said. “If it helps Delaware voters, that is my priority.”

In the same vein, Wilkins asked O’Donnell if she’d support normalizing relations with Cuba, something farmers endorse for the purposes of expanding agricultural trade.

On that issue, she treaded carefully.

“Cuba is a vey complex issue right now. We have to be very careful,” she said. “My initial reaction is we disagree on some things.”

But, O’Donnell was able to stump effectively on two issues near and dear to the hearts of many Republicans, especially her supporters in the Tea Party movement: the estate tax and the federal energy policy known as “Cap and Trade.”

The estate tax, or the “death tax” to its opponents, is tantamount to Marxism, O’Donnell said, repeating a word that’s been thrown around with some vigor by her campaign, particularly in light of a college newspaper column written by her Democratic opponent Chris Coons. In the article, Coons joked that his experiences in college had turned him from a loyal young Republican to a “bearded Marxist.”

Currently, the estate tax is on hold, part of a package of cuts left over from former President George Bush’s administration. But, those cuts are set to expire in January unless Congress acts.

“It is one of my policies to permanently eliminate the death tax,” O’Donnell said. “Understanding what it does to farmers, small business owners, it’s about protecting family farms.”

Farmers at the meeting said they’re concerned for the future of their industry and the impact a revived estate tax would have on the transfer of their lands to heirs.

“My youngest son is in the business with us, and I’m concerned about whether he’s going to be able to go on,” said Kitty Holtz, of Clayton.

O’Donnell also hammered home her opposition to so-called Cap and Trade energy policies, whereby the government imposes a cap on total industrial emissions and allows companies that emit less to trade credits for those savings on the open market.

“There’s a lot of special interests that gain form Cap and Trade, not a lot of local interests,” like farmers, O’Donnell said.

Farmers in the audience agreed with O’Donnell’s view that Cap and Trade will increase the price of agricultural work.

“We’re big users of fuels, if the fuel price goes up, it will hurt us. And it hits us on the other end with [the price of] our products,” said Farm Bureau President L. Edward Jestice Jr.

Coons and Democratic candidate for U.S. House John Carney were scheduled to participate in the Farm Bureau sit-down, but were delayed because of a fundraising event with President Barack Obama held the same afternoon. Farm Bureau staff decided to reschedule a meeting with the Democrats.

Republican House candidate Glen Urquhart also was slated to be at the Farm Bureau, but his campaign thought the forum was a week later.

The only other candidate who attended was Earl Lofland, a Clayton resident running for U.S. House for the Independent Party of Delaware. His campaign platform urges a return to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Email Doug Denison at doug.denison@doverpost.com