The three leading Republican Senate candidates in Missouri traded charges on debt and spending Friday night, but they agreed on a general approach for jump-starting the economy.
In a one-hour debate broadcast statewide from St. Louis, businessman John Brunner accused U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of backing debt ceiling increases four times and a measure that would have required all Americans to carry health insurance. Brunner said Sarah Steelman had supported pork barrel projects while a state senator.
"That is part of the problem we have in Missouri," Brunner said of Steelman.
But Steelman countered that Brunner had backed Akin's campaigns over the years and also contributed to the campaign of Democrat Charlie Dooley for St. Louis County executive in the last election.
"He is Democrat, pro-abortion, anti-gun, and he's pro-Obama," Steelman said of Dooley. "I don't know what it is exactly that Mr. Brunner supports."
Akin said Brunner is running a "mud factory" and insisted that he is the most conservative congressman in the state, based on voting records.
The faceoff came a month and a day before the Aug. 7 primary in Missouri that will determine the challenger to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The forum demonstrated that the three largely agree on an approach for fixing the U.S. economy, which produced 80,000 jobs in June, a figure far below the number needed to lower the nation's 8.2 percent unemployment rate.
Their approach calls for cutting taxes, shrinking the size of government and slashing red tape that many small business owners must confront. None of the three specified what programs they would cut.
All three said the federal health care program that the Supreme Court just upheld must go.
"Throw the whole thing out," Akin said.
"We know the free market works," said Steelman. "We never let it work with the health care."
Brunner talked about the need for tort reform as a way to ease the threat of lawsuits facing doctors. He said physicians often order multiple tests as a way to protect themselves against damage awards.
All three candidates pledged to support the winner of the primary.