All eyes were on Columbia as the candidates for Governor and the US Senate squared off in the first debate of this election cycle on Friday. This week on the show we have more in-depth reporting on what happened at the debates.
There is no doubt now – Todd Akin is the race to stay. The final deadline just passed at 5:00pm Tuesday and Representative Akin can’t get his name off the ballot now. KBIA’s Jessica Reese will tell us a bit later about what that means for the Republican party.
But first, the Gubernatorial debate was basically the opening act on Friday – the crowd was thinner than that for the Senate debate that followed. But Governor Jay Nixon and Republican nominee, Dave Spence, traded barbs at the forum – both digging in to the positions they’ll likely be firing from for most of this race. KBIA’s Andrew Yost has more.
Friday’s Gubernatorial forum
The morning of policy debate often turned into aggressive attacks and defensive stances on each other’s policies.
“It’s time for the career politician to go home. It is time for true leaders to come in and straighten out what the politicians have made. The (St. Louis) Post-Dispatch called our governor the ‘invisible governor’ for a reason, said Republican nominee for Governor Dave Spence.
Spence is a businessman and banker from Saint Louis. Spence’s campaign has centered on issues such as a lack of state fiscal responsibility and a dire need for more jobs. On Friday, he called for changes to existing fiscal policy.
“The things we need to do are bold. They’re bold initiatives and it’s not playing defense. We need to go on offense. We need to enact the right to work, we need true workman’s comp. reform, not the brokered one our governor did, true tort reform that doesn’t get overridden and we need to get pay to play out of our government,” Spence said.
But Spence said he opposed the proposed tobacco tax on the November ballot, which would fund education, saying it would burden Missouri families with misappropriated financial strains. He then attributed funding cuts for higher education in the past three years to a lack of fiscal efficiency.
“I think it’s a matter of priorities. It’s a matter of looking at tax credits. Lift up every rock in the state and see how we do things. We take in 24 billion dollars, and we can’t fund our higher education? There is something wrong,” Spence said.
Gov. Nixon countered Spence’s claims of fiscal irresponsibility, expressing the importance of continuing to both fund and expand higher education. Nixon said that with more Missourians receiving a higher education, Missouri could then expand the economy through industrial growth.
“I think as we move forward, making sure that we keep the cost of higher education low, that we expand the number of folks going to school, that we target our resources on things like the auto sector where we can clearly get growth and we build on the solid progress we’ve made on exports,” Nixon said.
Nixon responded to Spence’s calls for economic growth, saying he vouched for industry job security in the past and planned to continue doing so. Nixon pointed to the auto industry incentive package passed during a special legislative session in 2010.
“When thousands of people’s jobs were on the line and the legislature didn’t get it done on time, I called them back. And I brought democrats and republicans together and in a fiscally prudent way, put together the necessary package to get that investment in our state and because of that, we’re making real progress,” Nixon said.
In response to a question about overhauling the foundation formula for funding K-12 education in the state, Spence said drastic action needed to be taken, such as increases in job creation spending. Nixon said he might support some minor changes.
“But ultimately, you have to support public education. And ideas, radical ideas like vouchers, taking public money and sending that to prep schools for their dollars, for their education, just won’t work. We have to take the limited resources we have and put those resources with the public schools,” Nixon said.
The three most recent polls for this race, taken in August, all show Nixon with a commanding lead over Spence, ahead by anywhere from 9 to 14 percentage points.
The Senate debate
And of course, U.S. representative and Senate candidate Todd Akin and Senator Claire McCaskill also faced off in their first debate last week, too. KBIA’s Jessica Reese reports the gloves came off in Friday’s debate.
Sen. Claire McCaskill used her opening remarks to express the differences between .
“The election is going to be quite a contrast for Missourians, but not because we’re at opposite ends, Todd and me, I’m in the middle. It’s just he’s so far on the fringe, that’s where the contrast comes in,” McCaskill said.
And, Akin didn’t hesitate to dish it back.
“Claire can say she is a 50 percent-er, but when you vote with 98 percent of the time with Obama and then tell us you’re a regular middle of the roader that takes a lot of guts I got to give her credit for that,” Akin said.
The debate continued with questions about a variety of key issues. Medicare and the national debt were two topics that kept the tension high between the candidates. McCaskill said Akin’s plan to privatize Medicare is unrealistic to the needs of those on the program.
“Now what I didn’t hear in Congressman Akin’s answer was his plan. His plan is to privatize Medicare. He wants to give seniors a voucher, and once you spend your voucher your on your own. If the premiums go up you can’t afford it, you’re on your own. If the medicine goes up you can’t afford it you’re on your own,” McCaskill said.
Akin, meantime focused on the senate’s three year gridlock in its ability to pass a budget through the traditional route, instead using a measure raising the debt ceiling.
“That’s the reason I’m running for the senate, because the senate can’t get anything done. I don’t think the debt ceiling increase and another 10 percent the sequestration on defense is a good excuse for not doing what the law says which is to pass a budget,” Akin said.
And, as many expected, one of the journalists at the forum did ask about Akin’s comments on rape and pregnancy. Akin stated he already addressed the issue and moved on from the topic. McCaskill said the comments painted a bigger picture for the race.
“You know I think congressman Akin’s comments opened the window for his views for Missourians. He apologized for those comments, but they say a lot for how he views things, and that’s where Missourians need to pay attention,” McCaskill said.
With the dropout deadline passed and Akin officially staying in the race, according to the Associated Press, Republicans are considering looking past the controversy and again putting money back into Akin’s campaign. And, if the GOP wants a majority in senate, they may still need Akin’s vote.
“That’s what this election is really about, it’s not about words it’s about two different voting records that are the exact opposite,” Akin said.
The most recent Rasmussen Report’s poll showed McCaskill leading with 49 percent to 43 percent.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took part in a fundraiser for Akin Monday. Gingrich saying, no poll has shown the race to be out of Akin's reach, and he expects more Republicans to help out by mid-October. Meantime, the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund also says his group is now seriously considering supporting Akin financially. The group had remained neutral in the Senate primary.