Health care, federal spending and the conflict in Syria were among the issues as Missouri’s three leading Republican U.S. Senate contenders squared off in a debate Monday night.
All three candidates repeated their opposition to the health care overhaul passed by Congress at the urging of President Barack Obama. All said they would even oppose keeping some of the law's popular provisions, including one that would allow children up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance, according to an account in the St. Louis Beacon.
Brunner said the law was "infested with termites" and should be eliminated.
All three also said they make tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush permanent.
Brunner, who is in his first race for public office, emphasized his outsider status.
“The career politicians have failed us, simply failed us” while protecting their jobs and pensions, he said.
Brunner said Missouri “needs a new kind of senator” with the courage to attack Capitol Hill.
Steelman said senators such as Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill are “pampered, privileged and wealthy” and “fly around in their jets while they raise our energy prices.”
She also said “you’ve got to fight the good old boy club that exists up there already.” She also cited her work to help keep the state’s AAA financial rating.
Akin cited his 12 years in the U.S. House working to change federal policy.
“Talk and promises are cheap,” he said. “I have a proven record as the most conservative congressman in the state of Missouri.”
He said he has been willing to take controversial stands such as voting against the Wall Street bailout and No Child Left Behind education standards promoted by then-President George W. Bush.
About 1,100 people attended the 90-minute event at Lindenwood University’s J. Scheidegger Center. The event was organized by KFTK-FM, a conservative talk radio station. Jamie Allman, a program host on the station, was moderator and questions were asked by four panelists.
It was the latest in a string of debates, forums and other joint appearances around the state among the three. At least one more will be held before the Aug. 7 GOP primary.
The three also pledged to cut federal spending. Akin in particular said he wants to reduce dollars devoted to the energy and education departments and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Steelman advocated cuts in the education department and environmental protection and foreign aid. She proposed balancing the budget in five years. Brunner said he’d emphasize cuts to programs not essential to national security.
On Syria, Akin opposed American military intervention in the conflict, which he said pits “terrible thugs at the top” against “terrible thugs that want to take over.”
Steelman said the nation should exhaust non-military means by using economic sanctions and covert operations to help “freedom fighters.” If a decision to send in troops is ever made, she added, it should carry “clear objectives.”
Brunner spoke similarly, saying that any American involvement would require “a clearly defined mission” and a commitment to provide the proper resources. However, like Steelman, he stopped short of advocating intervention.
The campaign heated up last week when Brunner began running a negative ad accusing Akin and Steelman as lawmakers of casting votes that amounted to “manufacturing debt.”
The commercial referred to votes Akin took to increase the national debt limit and to approve bills earmarking particular projects.
As for Steelman, the Brunner campaign said the ad concerns her vote when she was a state senator in 2003 for a revenue bond issue to finance some new buildings and repairs to older facilities to free up general revenue for operating expenses. The campaign also cited Steelman’s vote for a bond issue for highway projects.
The only apparent reference in the debate to the ad was from Akin, who said in his closing statement that “in politics it’s pretty common to run ads to trash our opponents.”
He contrasted that to what he said was the nation’s founding fathers’ efforts “to lay their lives down for the dream.”
Steelman, in a news conference after the debate, called the ad “completely misleading” with respect to her record.
She said the state Constitution requires a balanced budget but that the Legislature has used bonds in a conservative and prudent manner “as a tool to leverage our state’s assets” and build infrastructure.
Meanwhile, she said Brunner’s company had used “junk bonds.”
Brunner, in response, told reporters the firm hadn’t used junk bonds, although he has said previously that it did incur debt for new facilities and equipment in the 1990s. Brunner stood by his ad.
Meanwhile, the McCaskill campaign after the debate issued a release ripping the three Republicans for saying they could support partial privatization of Social Security.
The three said while the Social Security system should continue for older people, younger citizens could be offered the choice of an alternative plan.
"For younger generations, they should be able to pursue their own type of investments," Steelman said.
A McCaskill spokesman, Erik Dorey, said the three would rather abandon seniors "to the whims of the stock market" than trim business tax breaks.
A recent opinion poll by Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports showed McCaskill trailing all three Republican contenders in one-on-one matchups.
The telephone survey of 500 likely voters, conducted June 7, showed Steelman leading McCaskill, 51-39 percent. Brunner and Akin had 10-point and 8-point leads, respectively, over McCaskill.
A poll late last month by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, showed the November race to be much tighter. The firm called the contest a tossup, showing McCaskill leading Brunner, 46-44 percent, tied with Steelman at 44 percent and trailing Akin, 45-44 percent in a survey May 24-27 of 602 Missouri voters.
The poll also said the three-way GOP primary fight was very close.