After months of trading barbs across Missouri in negative television and radio ads, both leading Republican lieutenant governor hopefuls used a 30-minute debate Monday on KCUR-FM to accuse the other of trying to mislead voters.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said his GOP challenger, Brad Lager, is misrepresenting his business background to hide from the fact that he works for a company that stands to make billions of dollars from the new federal health care law.
In contrast, Kinder said he has been "the acknowledged leader in battling Obamacare" in Missouri, filing a lawsuit in 2010 challenging the law's constitutionality.
Lager, a two-term state senator, defended his role with Cerner Corp., a health technology firm based in Kansas City whose CEO was recently labeled an "Obamacare billionaire" by Forbes magazine.
Lager's ties to the company were left off his campaign biography, he acknowledged, but so were his other business ventures. He said he also owns a car wash and a small farming operation and is involved with a housing development. Lager's bio simply lists him as a "small business owner."
"His attack is a complete distortion," Lager said.
Kinder was first elected lieutenant governor in 2004. Before that, he had served in the General Assembly since 1992. Lager contends all that time in Jefferson City has caused Kinder to "lose touch with reality."
"After someone has been in Jefferson City for decades and decades, when you live from the public trough, you lose perspective on what the private sector deals with," Lager said.
Lager also pointed out that during Kinder's time in office he has missed five tie votes in the Missouri Senate. One of the lieutenant governor's roles is to preside over the Senate and cast any tiebreaking votes.
"You get paid $85,000 to cast votes on ties," Lager said. "You should show up."
Kinder said he continued to work in the private sector throughout his legislative career, since Missouri has a part-time legislature. He only became a full-time employee of the state in 2005, when he assumed his current elected office.
Lager admitted he also would have to give up his private sector jobs to serve as lieutenant governor. He has been a lawmaker in Jefferson City since 2002 and ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2008.
Kinder said the tie votes he missed were for amendments to bills, not final votes. If a lieutenant governor doesn't vote on a tie, then the amendment fails, he said. Since he opposed all of the amendments in question, there was no need for him to cast a vote.
"It's really a distortion and it's misleading and not worthy of this campaign," Kinder said.
With a little more than a week to go before the Aug. 7 primary, the KCUR debate marked a crescendo to a campaign that has been both expensive and highly negative.
Both sides have lobbed attacks at each other with TV and radio ads that called into question who is the campaign's authentic conservative candidate. One such ad, paid for by an anonymously funded political action committee, slammed Kinder for his relationship with a former stripper.
In addition to criticizing Lager's connection to the federal health care law, one Kinder ad charged that Lager supported using federal stimulus money in the state's budget.
A recent poll conducted for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found Kinder with a 47 to 21 percent lead over Lager, with a fourth of the respondents undecided.