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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Richard Burr & Elaine Marshall Debate For U.S. Senate: Jobs & Homes

U.S. Senate Candidates Don't See Eye To Eye, But Remain Civil

North Carolina's U.S. Senate candidates met for their first televised debate Monday night, sharply disagreeing on the new health care law, on drilling off the state's coast and on which party was responsible for the national debt.

In a one-hour debate, Democrat Elaine Marshall most often played the role of the aggressor, portraying Republican Sen. Richard Burr as a political insider, attempting to tie him to public discontent with Washington.

"Washington is not responding to the needs of ordinary Americans," Marshall said. "Senator Burr has been in Washington for 16years and is part of that club."

Burr - hoping to capitalize on the unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority Congress - said the Senate race would help decide the direction of the country.

"If you believe that our government has to be downsized and we need to figure out how to get more bang for our buck of our tax dollars," Burr said, "then I'm asking for your support."

This was the first of three televised debates scheduled between Burr and Marshall this fall. It was moderated by Carl Kasell, the former NPR newscaster. Michael Beitler, the Libertarian candidate did not participate. The debate was sponsored by the N.C. Broadcasters Association Foundation.

The debate occurred at a crucial moment in the campaign for Marshall, with all the polls showing Burr enjoying a double-digit lead just before early voting begins Thursday. Election Day is three weeks away.

The debate was civil in tone, although both candidates got in jabs. At other times, the debate seemed flat. There were no moments of high drama, and there appeared to be no major mistakes.

Marshall called Burr "a poster boy for obstructionism" and noted that he had voted for several unpopular trade agreements. But her criticisms were made almost in passing, rather than as part of any sustained argument as to why voters should fire their senator.

One of the sharpest contrasts came on the landmark health care legislation that passed Congress this year.

Burr voiced strong opposition to the health care law, saying he would seek to overturn it and start over.

"I would vote to repeal it," Burr said. "I would vote to defund it. I would vote to replace it with something that helps the American people."

He said the health care law would add needless burden to businesses, would not reduce health care costs, would cut benefits for certain Medicare beneficiaries and would stymie innovation.

Marshall said that the process of passing the health care bill was "ugly" and that there need to be adjustments, but she said the law offered broader access to health care.

"We've got to lower costs on families," Marshall said. "The elimination of pre-existing conditions. The elimination of gender discrimination."

"I get it," she said. "I've had a very sick husband. We paid $5,000 a month for one medication he needed to live. It's not a happy place to be. But I had good insurance." Her husband died of cancer in December.

The candidates disagreed on other issues:

Offshore Drilling:

Marshall said she opposed exploration, saying the type of spill that occurred in the Gulf could devastate North Carolina's tourism and fishing economy. But Burr said it should be up to each state whether to allow drilling. He said that if the U.S. was ever to become energy independent it had to explore for oil and gas in this country.

National Debt:

Burr blamed the national debt on the policies of the Obama administration, but Marshall countered that the debt had skyrocketed under the Bush administration with Burr's backing. "There is one of us on this stage who has been on a spending spree," Marshall said.

War in Afghanistan:

Although Marshall and Burr disagreed on the need for a surge in Afghanistan, the two candidates did not seem far apart in the debate. Marshall said she would leave it up to the military commanders on when troops should be withdrawn, while Burr said time was needed to determine whether the surge would be successful.

Social Security:

Marshall said she opposed any form of privatization saying, "We need to make sure that Wall Street doesn't get its hands on this money." She also said she has seen the devastation of seniors who have lost their savings through bad investments. Burr said he offered legislation to provide a $250 stipend to seniors to make up for a lack of a cost-of-living increase in Social Security to be paid for from unspent stimulus money. But Burr also said Social Security is unsustainable in its current form. Burr, who has previously supported allowing younger people to invest part of their Social Security funds in the stock market, said he looked forward to the recommendations of a debt commission being co-chaired by UNC-system President Erskine Bowles before deciding a course of action.


Marshall said the federal stimulus package "kept us from going into the second Great Depression." But the country hasn't yet seen the entire effect, Marshall said, adding "the jury is still a little bit still out."

Burr was far more skeptical, saying the stimulus created a lot of temporary jobs and noting that those who attended a debate traveled on an interstate that was being paved mainly because the money needed to be spent quickly rather than because it was needed. He said, "The millions of Americans out of work right now, whohaven't felt the effects of this stimulus package, it's hard to convince them that this prevented them from going off the cliff."

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WRAL, Google Maps

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