ST. LOUIS — Two Missouri Republicans vying for the U.S. Senate spent more time criticizing the Democratic incumbent than each other during a debate on Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman participated in an hour-long debate in St. Louis County sponsored by KTRS Radio and the online newspaper the St. Louis Beacon. A third GOP candidate, businessman John Brunner, did not attend. The debate was streamed live on Facebook, allowing viewers to comment along the way.
The debate was mostly polite but had a few interruptions or arguments. But both candidates were critical of Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, often tying her to President Barack Obama. Both cited the increasing deficit and stagnant economy, and blamed McCaskill and Obama for too much taxation and red tape.
"People are worried about the future of this country," Steelman, 53, said. "I'm worried about the future of this country for our kids, that they're not going to have the same opportunities we had growing up."
Akin said the nation's current financial problems "are unlike anything any of us in our lifetimes have ever seen before," and he blamed the government, which he said is making promises it can't keep.
"History should warn us: The greatest danger to groups of people is government out of control," Akin, 64, said.
Both candidates characterized themselves as polar opposites of McCaskill.
"She's for more government; I'm for less government," Steelman said. "I'm for more freedom; she's for less freedom."
Akin said, "The way she (McCaskill) votes is selling our state and our country down the river."
Missouri Democratic Party spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki said the Republican candidates favor an approach that benefits the wealthy.
"Rather than pursuing a balanced approach to reducing the deficit and cutting spending, Steelman, Akin and Brunner would hang Missouri's middle class families out to dry," Legacki said.
Akin and Steelman were critical of the federal health care overhaul, saying they think it's too costly and that most Americans don't support it.
Both were asked what should happen to a 28-year-old man who chooses not to purchase health care insurance, but develops cancer. Steelman said, "They've made the choice not to cover themselves. I would hope someone would take care of him." Akin said, "All of us make decisions in our lives and there are consequences from those decisions. I believe the 28-year-old who chose not to have insurance is going to have to pay a big chunk of his medical bills."
Steelman said the health care overhaul is helping drive up the soaring national debt. Repealing it would save $900 billion over 10 years, she said. She also would examine cutting ethanol subsidies and reducing foreign aid.
"We're sending American aid to China while we're borrowing from them," she said.
Akin said that if the entire federal budget were cut for a full year, the nation would still be in debt. He said the government needs to examine ways to bring financial stability to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Both candidates support increasing domestic drilling as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Akin would seek to eliminate roadblocks to harvesting natural gas, including what he called excessive regulation.
Akin blamed government intrusion for taking a toll on America.
"What we're doing is we're killing the American dream with excessive red tape, excessive taxes," he said. "We have to take America back."
Steelman said the fundamental question is whether government should solve America's problems or whether people should do it.
"We are a strong people and we are optimistic," Steelman said. "In this election we have to take back our government."
The debate was moderated by KTRS talk show host McGraw Milhaven and St. Louis Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies.
Steelman and Akin also plan to take part in a Jan. 30 forum at Branson High School sponsored by Earls Family Broadcasting. Brunner has not accepted an invitation to that event.
All three are scheduled to appear at a 90-minute forum on Feb. 18 at the party's Lincoln Days conference in Kansas City.