Friday, September 21, 2012

The best jabs of the Missouri Senate debate

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 11:48 AM

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Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill faced off with Republican challenger Rep. Todd Akin and Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine in their first debate this morning in Columbia. It was the first time that McCaskill had spoken directly to Akin since his "legitimate rape" debacle began to dominate the campaign in August. And the showdown was surprisingly civil.

McCaskill was by far the most aggressive candidate, her voice often rising, and often referring to Akin pointedly by his first name. Akin, however, spoke rather softly throughout and focused mostly on promoting his ideas rather than attacking the incumbent despite several apparently easy opportunities. Some news analysts questioned why Dine was even present at the debate. And although he sounded a bit robotlike with his responses, he did a solid job representing third-party hopes and gently poking at both major parties for Washington gridlock.

It was a debate that lacked a game-changing moment or another what-the-hell gaffe, but we've compiled the best moments after the jump.

Akin's opening statement was very reserved. He hit on his family's military history, including the enlisting of his children, and rising gas prices, before saying the election was a choice for Missourians between "more freedom or more Washington." McCaskill, by contrast, went after Akin with a statement saying that the difference between the two of them isn't that they're on opposite ends of the political spectrum. “I’m in the middle. It’s just he’s so far on the fringe, that’s where the contrast comes in,” she says. Dine's opening was rather dull, but he stressed that Libertarians support the legalization of gay marriage and reducing federal budgets.

Unsurprisingly, the first question of the debate was about Akin's "legitimate rape" statements. Candidates were asked in what context should the statements be viewed. Akin got the first crack at his flub but didn't spend his time addressing the mistake. Instead, he shifted to political issues, asking, "Are we going to go the path of Greece" and keep growing government each year. The unrelated answer didn't stop McCaskill from hammering him once again over the comments. “It’s not what he said that is the problem, it’s what he believes that is the problem," she said, echoing what many critics have said about Akin. Dine was brief in he remarks but kicked Akin a bit, saying, “I was astonished to find that Akin sits on the [House] Science Committee but fails to understand 8th-grade biology.”

Next, candidates were asked what they would do about the ever-increasing cost of college education. Akin and Dine both suggested that the market could help stem the rising tuition rates. “I believe that easy-to-secure government loans have increased the price of college," Dine said. Akin gave a similar answer. McCaskill remained more audibly fired up than her opponents and went after a topic most Missouri politicians are terrified of discussing. “I’m embarrassed that our cigarette tax is the lowest in the country," she growled. She added that even increasing the cigarette tax by $1 per pack would leave Missouri with some of the cheapest smokes in the Midwest and could raise much needed money for education funding.

Akin passed on an opportunity to strike McCaskill on the next question about the financial struggles of the U.S. Postal Service. McCaskill took plenty of heat before the campaign began when she suggested that the USPS could save itself with an ad campaign that reminded people how much they enjoy getting letters. But Akin was reserved. He suggested that the service should have to live within its means like other government-funded bodies. This was one of few questions where Dine sounded more confident in his preparation than his opponents did. “I would be in favor of closing the postal service on Saturday," he said. “We can wait until Monday to receive our mail.” He also said he supported raising the price of stamps. McCaskill's response was a stark contrast. She recalled her days growing up in small Missouri towns where post offices were places where “the community came together.” She said rural communities and businesses needed the USPS to maintain Saturday service.

Akin finally showed a bit of flash — and repeated debunked lies — when the debate shifted to the future of Medicare. He said the best way to approach Medicare's future was to repeal ObamaCare. "It creates a 15-person IPAB [Independent Payment Advisory Board] board that will effectively be the people deciding who gets medical care and who doesn’t. This is rationing,” he insisted. He also brought up the $700 billion figure that Republicans claim will be cut from Medicare under ObamaCare. McCaskill, who had previously called that number the "biggest whopper" of the election, hit back. "ObamaCare does not cut one dime from Medicare. Not one dime," she said. "Once again, it’s the same $700 billion he [Akin] voted for in the [Paul] Ryan plan a couple of times.”

McCaskill then came out in favor of means-testing for Medicare recipients. “I know it’s political season, and I’m not supposed to say this, but it’s something I believe in," she said. “I don’t believe we should be paying for Donald Trump’s drugs.”

The final question of the morning was about the nation's rising levels of obesity and its increasing costs. The candidates were asked what the government's role should be in reducing obesity. McCaskill, who earlier this year tweeted about losing 50 pounds through working out on a treadmill, answered with some of her trademark frankness. “I honestly think this is one area where the government should keep its big nose out," she said, adding that she has seven sizes of clothes in her closet. “I would not be someone who thinks the government should be in the business of telling people what they can eat and drink.” Dine mentioned that he had been a personal trainer for 15 years, and suggested making gym memberships tax-deductible. “This is the first time I’ve agreed with Claire,” Akin said. “This is part of just being Americans. This is part of basically living the dream in America.”

During closing arguments, Akin again resisted attacking McCaskill. His statement danced around a question that he had raised multiple times in the debate. “Do you want more Washington or do you want more of the American dream?”

McCaskill returned to the theme of a recent campaign commercial she released that touted her as a middle-of-the-road senator. “I have time and time again stood up to my party," she said. “I have worked with a long list of Republicans.” She once again went after Akin, saying he wants to “Eliminate student loans but give another tax cut to the Koch brothers. I don’t think we have to do that.”

But it was Dine's closing argument that won over the crowd. After copping to not being a polished campaigner, he unleashed the campaign slogan of the year: “I promise to keep the Republicans out of your bedrooms and the Democrats out of your wallet.”

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