KANSAS CITY, Mo., - Sen. John Ashcroft and Gov. Mel Carnahan battled over tax cuts, education, and health care Sunday in the second debate between Missouri's two major party candidates for U.S. Senate.
The debate, broadcast live on public television and held in front of about 150 spectators in the Gem Theatre in Kansas City's Jazz District, was the first -- and probably last -- televised debate between the pair this election season.
Like in Friday's match-up on KMOX radio in St. Louis, the Democrat Carnahan was the more aggressive jumping at the first opportunity to attack a tax cut his Republican foe proposed in 1998.
"My opponent has talked about a lockbox to protect social security," Carnahan said. "But he also wants a $4 trillion tax cut. They don't match. That's a lockbox with a hole in the back."
When Ashcroft was running for president in 1998, he proposed a $4 trillion cut over ten years -- twice the estimated federal surplus. Ashcroft said he dropped the cut when he began his bid for a second term in the Senate, preferring instead to offer $200 billion in federal funding for education.
On education, the two tusseld over how federal education dollars should be spent. Carnahan has proposed $50 billion that schools must use for one of several options, including hiring and retaining teachers.
Ashcroft said his larger sum could be spent any way the local district wants. Only struggling schools, he said, would be told how to use the money.
"The people who know the names of the students are better able to make the decisions than bureaucrats in Washington," Ashcroft said.
Carnahan also assailed Ashcroft for rejecting a Democratic patient's bill of rights. He said Ashcroft instead supported a weaker proposal the governor called, "the HMO's bill of rights."
Ashcroft retorted by saying the American Medical Association applauded his efforts to pass a new compromise bill.
In response to an audience member's charge that politicians promise much but deliver little, Ashcroft said he had achieved what he set out to do when he first ran for the Senate in 1994.
"If you look at my ads from '94, I wanted to accomplish three things," he said. "I wanted to balance the budget, pay down the debt, correct the welfare system and stop the raid on social security."
He said three of those had been done and Congress had started paying down the debt.
For his part, Carnahan trumpeted his record as governor, saying Missourians had more after-tax money to spend, struggling urban schools faced accountability standards and many more children had health insurance than before.
The discussion focused mainly on domestic issues with only two questions about foreign policy. Both men said they would support lifting the ban of food and medicine sales to Cuba.
Nearly all the questions came from the audience with the moderators, Nick Haines of KCPT-TV and Kave Helling of KCTV, offering only a few follow-ups. The candidates sat on stools next to round tables, but both men rose and walked the stage when speaking.
Neither Carnahan nor Ashcroft are known for being animated but both hammed it up a little. The usually stoic Carnahan even got a laugh when he addressed an audience member's question asking why "candidates don't get off their duffs and get things done."
The Ashcroft-Carnahan race is one of the most-watched in the nation as both parties vie for control of the Senate. Reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post were on hand to cover the debate.