With campaign money from their national parties having never arrived or now on the sidelines, the candidates for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri went one on one Thursday in their first debate.
Republican candidate Rep. Roy Blunt attacked Democrat Robin Carnahan for supporting President Obama's high-priced, economic stimulus program, including a grant to a wind farm run by her brother Tom Carnahan.
"This is an election about whether we live in a country where the government is bigger than the people, or we live in a country where the people are bigger than the government," Mr. Blunt said in the one-hour debate televised Thursday night across the state.
On a question about reducing the federal deficit, Mr. Blunt said, "I'd put a stop payment on a $107 million check to [Tom Carnahan]. There's some savings right there."
Ms. Carnahan, the Missouri secretary of state, continued to portray Mr. Blunt as a quintessential Washington insider, who supports wasteful earmark spending and has strong connections to lobbyists.
Mr. Blunt acknowledged he receives campaign contributions from lobbyists but dismissed her claim that he has received the most in Congress. "Secretary Carnahan says things that she knows are not true," he said.
Since January, Mr. Blunt has led the race for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Christopher S. Bond and is now ahead by roughly 13 percentage points, according to a recent CNN/Time poll.
Though Washington Democrats started the midterm season thinking they could win the seat, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this week canceled its ad buying for the final week of the campaign.
Observers say the move shows the race is slipping away from Democrats and that the money might be better spent in tighter races, including incumbent Harry Reid's tough fight to keep his Nevada U.S. Senate seat from Republican challenger and "tea party"-favorite Sharron Angle. However, the committee can buy back the time.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent almost $780,000 - nearly the maximum amount allowable to coordinate ads with the Blunt campaign - but has thus far not spent money on independent-expenditure advertising, or ads that cannot be coordinated with the campaign.
The Blunt campaign has hoped the NRSC would contribute independent-expenditure money in Missouri to help defend against an estimated $3 million in attack ads, said a source close to the campaign.
However, Mr. Blunt's 14 years in Congress helped him amass $7.6 million in campaign contributions this summer. And he has received generous assistance from American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the conservative groups with connections to Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.
The two groups so far have collectively spent more than $3 million in Missouri, said Jonathan Collegio, their communications director.
Ms. Carnahan - whose father was a Missouri governor, mother a U.S. senator and brother a congressman - has strong name recognition in Missouri, which she used to help raise $6.9 million, according to recent federal reports.
Ms. Carnahan called for a ban on earmarks, saying they have "gotten out of control" in Washington and that voters are tired of "too much corruption" and "sticking it to the middle class."
Mr. Blunt, from southwest Missouri, said they are a means of ensuring Missouri gets its share of federal money. He cited highway funding as one example of Missouri benefiting from dedicated spending backed by the state's congressional delegation, including him.
Though the debate was civil and neither candidate made a gaffe, the candidates clashed over such issues as the government bailout of the financial industry, the new federal health care overhaul and their support for the Medicare program for seniors.
When Mr. Blunt said he wanted to repeal the federal health care bill and replace it with a variety of proposals such as medical liability limits, Ms. Carnahan responded that Mr. Blunt was covered by a federal health plan that he "ought to repeal" first.
When Ms. Carnahan said Mr. Blunt opposed Medicare health care program for seniors, the congressman said he supports the program.
"I never said I was not for Medicare," said Mr. Blunt, adding later, "People do not believe what you're saying because it's not true."
The candidates will hold their second and final debate Friday.
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