- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Questions about Ebola, schools hit hard by budget cuts and an argument over who is a better friend to the middle class were among the talking points during nearly a dozen debates Tuesday ahead of next month’s midterm elections. Highlights of some of those debates:

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ARIZONA: SCHOOLS, ECONOMY

Different philosophies on growing the state’s economy and rebuilding an education system damaged by budget cuts dominated the final debate between the candidates for Arizona governor.

Republican Doug Ducey said cuts to state regulations and a simpler, fairer, flatter, tax code that’s as close to zero as possible will boost the economy. And he said more education money needs to get to classrooms.

But Democrat Fred DuVal called Ducey’s tax-cutting plan unrealistic at a time when the state is facing a deficit of more than $1.5 billion in the coming two years. He said more money isn’t getting to classrooms because of cuts in state funding, and that the economy will grow when businesses know qualified graduates are available to hire.

Therein lies the main difference the two major party candidates have hit on in each of their five debates. DuVal argues that restoring school funding cut during the Great Recession and improved performance are key to drawing new businesses to the state. Ducey wants lower taxes and regulations to lure businesses and says better management of existing school funding is the way for the Arizona’s low-performing schools to improve.

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MINNESOTA: MIDDLE-CLASS CHAMPIONS

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson’s third debate was their feistiest yet, with Johnson on the offensive as he tries to make up ground in the race and the pair arguing over who is the better friend of the middle class.

Johnson, a county commissioner in Minneapolis, said Dayton’s roots as privileged heir to a department store fortune mean he doesn’t know what it’s like to pay a mortgage or college tuition. Dayton pointed out he worked to freeze college tuition, signed a minimum-wage hike and increased school budgets. And he said Johnson would lower taxes on the rich and roll back some of the minimum wage increases.

Dayton called Johnson a “huckster” for promising permits for copper-nickel mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range before environmental studies are complete. Johnson accused Dayton of waffling on a gas tax, or at least the exact form it would take. Dayton said it’s unrealistic to think the state’s $6 billion in backlogged transportation needs can be addressed by borrowing and transportation department efficiencies, as Johnson has suggested.

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ARKANSAS: THREAT POSED BY EBOLA

Former FEMA director James Lee Witt, a Democrat running for Congress in southern Arkansas, focused on preparation when asked about the threat posed by the Ebola virus.

“I think our hospitals and doctors and nurses need the right training and the right equipment to be able to control this. All it takes is one tiny mistake to be infected by this,” said Witt, who served in the Clinton administration.

Libertarian Ken Hamilton said Americans “should be concerned about it, but we should not panic,” adding that the government should develop appropriate protocols for health care workers.

Republican Bruce Westerman, a state representative, said he would ask “tough questions” to make sure the Obama administration is working to protect the country.

“That disease is about five hours away in Dallas. That’s close to home,” he said. “As your congressman I would be calling for hearings.”

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WEST VIRGINIA: WHO’S BETTER FOR COAL?

Between smirks and stiff jabs, Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall and Republican challenger Evan Jenkins clashed over who sticks up for West Virginia and its struggling coal industry.

Rahall, seeking his 20th term in the House, painted Jenkins as a puppet for the billionaire Koch brothers, whose groups have spent millions in the race. He suggested that the Kochs come see a West Virginia coal mine.

“Perhaps they’d get their $300 manicured fingers a little dusty underground with our coal miners,” Rahall said.

Jenkins snapped back that Koch Industries donated to Rahall himself in 2008.

Jenkins, a state senator, switched from Democrat to Republican to face Rahall. He labeled his opponent a foot soldier for President Barack Obama, especially on coal.

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SOUTH CAROLINA: JOB GROWTH

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley touted the more than 50,000 jobs announced by her administration while those challenging her contended those numbers were not real.

Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said roughly half of the announced jobs have shown up and many of the planned openings already have fallen through. Haley countered that the promised jobs don’t happen overnight, saying “it will take a while.”

Independent candidate Tom Ervin asked Haley to post the incentives given to lure companies to South Carolina, so taxpayers can judge whether they’re worth it. He said she had “given away the farm when it comes to economic incentives.”

Libertarian Steve French also criticized Haley on incentives. “I look at jobs like I look at sex,” he said. “You shouldn’t brag about it if you have to pay for it.”

United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves said the answer to the state’s economy is legalizing marijuana.

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Associated Press writers Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Arkansas; Brian Bakst in Duluth, Minnesota; Seanna Adcox in Columbia, South Carolina; and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.


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