KANSAS CITY — Democrat Robin Carnahan cast Republican rival Roy Blunt as a lobbyist's best friend while Blunt retorted that she was repeatedly twisting the truth Thursday in the first debate of Missouri's U.S. Senate race.
Carnahan and Blunt staked opposite positions on federal spending earmarks, the government bailout of the financial industry and the new federal health care overhaul. They also clashed over their support for the Medicare program for seniors.
The debate at Kansas City Public Television was to be aired across the state Thursday night. Blunt, a congressman from southwest Missouri, and Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, are to meet in their second and final debate Friday at a Missouri Press Association event at the Lake of the Ozarks.
They are seeking to replace retiring GOP Sen. Kit Bond.
Carnahan attacked first Thursday, using her opening statement to accuse Blunt of backing corporate bailouts, wasteful earmark spending, privatizing Social Security, "giving special favors to his lobbyist friends" and voting for tax breaks that send jobs overseas.
She then threw him a twist, suggesting Blunt could use the rest of her time to answer her allegations. Blunt took the opportunity to say he would not vote for anything that would raise taxes.
Carnahan, who has trailed Blunt in polls, was frequently the aggressor in the debate, directing many of her comments to Blunt personally and repeatedly noting he has served 14 years in Congress, many of those in Republican leadership.
"Earmarks have gotten out of control on your watch. We've seen too much corruption, too much cozy deals with lobbyists and too much sticking it to the middle class," said Carnahan, who called for a ban on earmarks.
As for lobbyists, "I'm their worst enemy, because they know they can never buy me," Carnahan said.
Blunt denied Carnahan's assertion that he ranked first in Congress in lobbyist contributions, though he acknowledged there was a time early in his Senate campaign when he had.
"Secretary Carnahan says things that she knows are not true," Blunt said.
The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions, lists Blunt as the top recipient of lobbyist money among House members as of this summer, though six senators are ahead of him.
Blunt defended earmarks as a means of ensuring Missouri gets its share of federal money. He cited highway funding as an example of an area in which Missouri has benefited from dedicated spending backed by the state's congressional delegation, including himself.
Blunt also defended his role in negotiating and supporting a 2008 bill bailing out troubled financial institutions — something Carnahan said she opposes. Blunt noted that much of the money supplied to private industry has already been paid back to the government, or will be. He said the legislation provided "an injection of confidence into the economy."
The debate got pointed in several instances.
When Blunt said he wants to repeal the federal health care bill and replace it with a variety of proposals such as medical liability limits, Carnahan responded that Blunt was covered by a federal health plan. "You ought to repeal your own first, and man up, and do what you're asking other people to do," she said.
Blunt's response to a question about deficit reduction included a jab at a stimulus act grant to a wind farm run by Tom Carnahan. "I'd put a stop payment on a $107 million check to Robin Carnahan's brother's business — there's some savings right there," he said.
Blunt repeatedly cast Carnahan as a supporter of Obama's economic policies — including climate control legislation — that he said ultimately would be costly to Missourians.
"Our jobs plan is over 100 pages. Secretary of Carnahan's jobs plan is under 500 words — you could tweet her jobs plan in four tweets," said Blunt, referring to the Internet social networking site, Twitter.
Carnahan also accused Blunt of opposing the Medicare health care program for seniors. She was referencing several comments made by Blunt, including a July 2009 radio interview in which Blunt said: "You could certainly argue that government should have never have gotten in the health care business, and that might have been the best argument of all, to figure out how people could have had more access to a competitive marketplace."
But Blunt said that was far shy of opposing Medicare, which he said he supports.
"I never said I was not for Medicare," said Blunt, later telling Carnahan: "People do not believe what you're saying, because it's not true."