- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and Democratic challenger Nancy Jo Kemper sparred Monday night over issues ranging from health care to Donald Trump’s fitness to lead America’s foreign policy in a hard-hitting televised debate, two weeks from Election Day.

Kemper, a pastor, went on the offensive at the start of the hour-long debate, accusing the two-term Republican congressman of running a TV ad in Kentucky’s 6th District that took her words from a television interview out of context.

“One of the principal problems that is wrong with Washington is the fundamental kind of dishonesty that this represents,” she said during the debate in Lexington hosted by KET, the state’s public television station.

Barr defended the ad and then linked his challenger to President Barack Obama’s policies on health care and financial regulation, which the congressman said have slowed economic growth.

“Americans are stuck in the slowest, weakest economic recovery of their lifetimes,” he said.

Barr also tied Kemper to an Obama foreign policy that he said has strengthened America’s adversaries and weakened its allies.

“Our allies no longer trust us, our enemies no longer fear us,” the congressman said.

Without mentioning Trump by name, Barr said that the GOP presidential ticket has embraced an agenda that would restore national security.

That brought a quick response from Kemper, who said the thought of Trump serving as commander in chief was frightening.

“I would not describe Donald Trump as a clear eyed, conscientious man of considerable thought who could have his finger on the nuclear buttons,” she said. “This is not the man I want conducting our foreign policy. He’s impulsive, he’s vulgar.”

In a state that’s turned increasingly Republican, Kemper went on to praise the Democratic presidential nominee’s credentials, saying: “We have not had a better-prepared person to be president and commander in chief in some time than Hillary Clinton.”

The sharp differences between Barr and Kemper extended to health care policy.

Barr bluntly referred to the federal Affordable Care Act, championed by Obama, as a disaster.

“You’ve got premiums and deductibles going through the roof,” he said.

Kemper countered that the health care law has accomplished a great deal but needs to be improved to counter rising costs.

“We cannot go back to a time when we had so many people uninsured,” she said. “We cannot go back to a time when the free market and competition allowed insurance companies to boot people off of their insurance policies.”

Kemper, who trails Barr by a wide margin in campaign fund raising, has criticized the GOP incumbent for receiving sizable contributions from large banks, including scandal-ridden Wells Fargo. She accused Barr of “giving his attention to the needs of the banks and the corporations,” and chided him for not returning contributions his campaign received from Wells Fargo, which has been plagued by a scandal over its sales practices.

“I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t pass the smell test in my book,” she said.

Barr called it an absurdity for his challenger to suggest that his opposition to the Dodd-Frank law - which gave regulators new oversight powers over the banking industry - was based on contributions from the financial sector.

His opposition is based on the law’s damage to the economy by restricting the availability of credit, he said.

“It is why our economy is not recovering,” Barr said. “It’s an avalanche of red tape that is holding this country back. Look, I have been for free enterprise and limited government before I was ever even elected to Congress.”

Barr said he is pushing legislation that would increase penalties for the kinds of scandals that surfaced at Wells Fargo.

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