LAKE OZARK — At a forum Friday, candidates for Missouri's soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat touched on earmarks, the stimulus package, bailouts and entitlement programs. Throughout the hour-long discussion, however, candidates spent more time sniping at one another than discussing the issues.
Participating in the closed forum at Lake of the Ozarks were Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the Democratic nominee; U.S. Congressman Roy Blunt, the Republican nominee; Jerry Beck, a retired business owner and the nominee from the Constitution Party; and Jonathan Dine, a personal trainer and the Libertarian Party nominee.
Carnahan attacked Blunt in her opening and closing statements and in her responses to every question — painting him as a consummate Washington insider who has lost touch with his rural roots.
"Congressman Blunt, time and time again, is on the side of Wall Street," she said. In her closing remarks, she positioned the election as a choice between "a senator for Missouri or a senator for Washington."
When she wasn't on the offensive, Carnahan spoke against earmarks and bailouts and in support of the stimulus, health care reform and entitlement programs.
Blunt used Carnahan's support of issues such as the stimulus plan to link Carnahan with the Democratic establishment.
"Given the choice of ideology or jobs, the current administration has chosen ideology every time," said Blunt.
Blunt also defended his voting record on issues such as earmarks and the Troubled Asset Relief Program in which the U.S. government purchased assets and equity from financial institutions.
"Nobody wanted to do TARP," he said but added that the economic situation of the time dictated it. He compared and contrasted TARP with the stimulus package passed in 2009. "The difference is, it (TARP) will be paid back."
At times during the debate, the bickering got out of the control of moderator David Lieb, The Associated Press' Jefferson City correspondent. During his response to the first question, Blunt insinuated that Carnahan used her influence as secretary of state to direct stimulus funds toward her brother, Thomas Carnahan, CEO of the Wind Capital Group. The energy firm was awarded $107 million in stimulus funds earlier in the year. Robin Carnahan denied that she used any influence in her brother's favor.
"It is so sad, Congressman, that you would stoop to this level," she said to Blunt. "It's beneath you."
During the next question, Carnahan accused Blunt of taking improper campaign contributions, including "rides on corporate jets." The two candidates then started to talk over each other, and over Lieb's protestations, until Blunt threw up his hands with a gruff, "Give me a break."
The floor was then ceded to Beck for a rebuttal.
"We are in serious trouble, everybody," he said.
The forum came a day after Missouri's only televised debate in the Senate race.
The third-party candidates, who were not invited to the previous debate, both expressed pleasure at being asked to participate in the forum.
Beck focused on outsourcing and said he wanted to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
Dine spoke out against high taxes and what he called excessive government regulation and interference in the private market.
At the end of the debate, Lieb asked the candidates to say one nice thing about one another.
Carnahan acknowledged aspects of Blunt's tenure as secretary of state during the 1980s. "He did some good things, some things I've tried to continue," she said. She waited a beat. "Which is why I'm so disappointed about some of the things he's done in Washington." The crowd groaned.
The debate was sponsored by the Missouri Press Association and was open to members of the association and the working press. It was the last time the candidates will confront one another directly before the Nov. 2 election.