RUSSELL — Any undecided voters in the 6th Congressional District, voters tired of a barrage of negative ads, probably didn’t learn much from Monday night’s debate on Kentucky Education Television between Andy Barr and Ben Chandler.
Barr, the Republican challenger who lost to Chandler by 648 votes two years ago, and Chandler, the Democratic incumbent, mostly reiterated campaign themes and charges against the other candidate.
For most of the time, the independent in the race – Randolph Vance, a convenience store clerk – sat and listened.
Early in the debate, Chandler said Barr erroneously attacks him for a vote to save the auto industry while Barr said it would have been better to have used the bank bailout funds – TARP – to help the auto companies pay bills while they went through bankruptcy.
But Chandler said Toyota and Ford Motor – neither of which got bailout funds directed to GM and Chrysler – asked him to support the bailout because their supplier chains would likely have failed if they lost sales to GM and Chrysler.
He said he “would not have gambled 70,000 jobs on some kind of plan that may or may have not worked.”
Barr hit Chandler as he has throughout the campaign on federal regulation of the coal industry and blamed President Barack Obama and Chandler for “literally bankrupting our signature industry in Kentucky.”
Shortly thereafter a caller asked Chandler to explain a vote on a cap-and-trade bill in the U.S. House, a bill Chandler said he voted for because it contained funding for clean coal research and which never passed the U.S. Senate.
Chandler said he would not vote for such a bill if re-elected if that bill did not contain funding for clean coal and said he has been endorsed by the United Mine Workers of America. Barr responded that Chandler had received the “endorsement of a union boss” but that the “miners of the state are behind Andy Barr.”
Barr said if the bill had “been enacted it would have cost 35,000 jobs and doubled electrical rates.” He said Chandler stood with Obama rather than Kentucky – another campaign theme of Barr’s: to tie Chandler whenever possible to Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky.
Chandler said he often disagreed with his party on votes, and specifically pointed to the bank bailout which he said should have gone farther. Barr, given the same opportunity, said he supports term limits of 12 years.
Chandler also called for more bi-partisanship – “We don’t need more ideologues.” Barr responded the problem is “career politicians” who are focused solely on keeping their seats. Chandler said he’d served a shorter time than Barr’s suggested limits and noted that Republicans Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers far exceeded Barr’s suggested limits.
In response to a question from caller Ralph Oliver of Richmond, Barr said he is pro-life and has been endorsed by Right to Life. Chandler said abortion “is a tragedy and should be discouraged at every turn” but said he didn’t think it right for the government to insert itself into decisions better made by a woman and her doctor.
KET moderator Bill Goodman four times asked Barr if there were any exceptions to his anti-abortion stance for such things as life of the mother, incest and rape, but Barr each time shifted his answer to say he would not vote for taxpayer funded abortions or late-term abortions.
He never answered the question. He refused to answer the specific answer again after the debate when reporters posed it to him.
Vance said he was “pro-condom,” and said men should take shared responsibility for unwanted pregnancy.
Barr several times criticized the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – but Chandler went out of his way to point out he voted against the bill. Chandler showed a mailer by Barr’s campaign which depicted a skeleton and claimed Chandler supported “death panels.”
“This is a Republican Party piece,” Barr said, denying responsibility, then continued to criticize Chandler on health care rationing. He said the bill is “a job killer” and one of the reasons for the slow economic recovery.
Chandler conceded he has voted against appeal of the law because it contains features that “ought not to be repealed,” such things as protections against denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions or allowing children up to 26 to say on their parents’ insurance.
Barr said the law should be repealed and replaced with “something better” utilizing tax credits.
Barr defended his position on Medicare, the same position as Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan support – a “premium support” for those who are now 55 and younger while maintaining current coverage for current retirees or those over 55.
Chandler countered Barr supported the Paul Ryan budget and it would cost seniors over $6,000 a year, specifically those under 55 when their retirement benefits begin. He said that budget would block-grant Medicare to the states.
Vance usually sat quietly while Barr and Chandler devoted their attention to the other. But perhaps showing how seriously Vance takes the race, when he entered KET he was accompanied by a volunteer supporter, Frank Harris – the only problem was Harris wore a Barr button.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.