The debate sponsored by the Omaha World-Herald sparked familiar refrains about repealing Obamacare, regulatory burdens and the national debt and deficit. But it was not for lack of trying – the moderators asked several unorthodox questions. For example, the candidates were asked to name one of their weaknesses and their most recent act of charity.
The candidates — Attorney General Jon Bruning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg and state Sen. Deb Fischer — all advocated for getting government out of the way to create jobs and the need to end direct payments and cap payments in the Farm Bill. Deb Fischer, a Cherry County rancher, said as “the ag candidate,” she knows farmers understand the need to reduce spending on ag programs.
“Farmers would like a safety net, but they’re not looking for a hammock,” Fischer said.
Although Fischer did take one veiled swipe at Stenberg – mentioning at one point, “I haven’t been running for the U.S. Senate for forever.”
With regard to the hyper-partisan atmosphere in D.C., only one of the candidates would name a Democratic senator they could work with in Washington if elected. Fischer said it’s difficult to say because she doesn’t know the senators yet, and Stenberg said any senators who wants to cut federal spending, reduce federal regulations, defend the Second Amendment and develop domestic energy.
Bruning said he could work with Sen. Joe Lieberman “on Israel” – except the former Democratic senator is now an Independent and isn’t seeking re-election. Bruning said he doesn’t agree with Lieberman on much, but is an “unabashed supporter of Israel.”
When asked what weaknesses Democratic candidate Bob Kerrey is likely to exploit in their opponents, Stenberg targeted Bruning for becoming a multimillionaire since entering public office.
“He’s become wealthy while serving as our attorney general,” Stenberg said. “Jon Bruning is the only one who has become wealthy while serving in a major public office in Nebraska in my lifetime.”
Stenberg also brought up the fact that one year after Bruning was accused of showing favoritism by attempting to waive a $1 million settlement with Nelnet, a Lincoln student loan company, he bought a $675,000 lakeside home with two Nelnet executives.
“This is typical of Don Stenberg campaigns,” Bruning said in response. “There’s a reason that Don has lost three times. This kind of mud-throwing doesn’t work. I’m not going to throw mud at my opponents.”
However, he did squeeze in a zinger when he mentioned that South Carolina already has two senators – a sly reference to South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s support of Stenberg.
“They don’t need a third,” Bruning said.
When the candidates were asked to name a mistake they’ve made in their adult life, Fischer pointed to a sugar beet bill and Stenberg said his decision to date other people when he went off to Harvard (before changing his mind and proposing to his now-wife Sue at Christmas break). But Bruning wouldn’t get specific.
“I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I think if you ask my wife she could tell you that,” he said. “There’s so many it’s hard to put my finger on just one.”
Since all three candidates want to repeal President Obama’s health care reform law, they were asked about providing health care to the working poor. Mostly they talked about eliminating regulations, tort reform and allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines.
But the candidates were open to making changes to Social Security benefits to keep the program solvent, but not for current seniors. Fischer said she’s open to means testing and a higher eligibility age – but only for people now aged 40 and under.
Stenberg said he opposes any changes for people aged 55 or older, but would be open to raising the age people can begin drawing Social Security and diverting a portion of Social Security taxes into a private retirement account in exchange for reduced benefits.
Bruning also said benefits shouldn’t change for people aged 55 and older, but he’d support increasing the eligibility age.
The last question was whether income inequality – the primary cause of Occupation Wall Streeters – is a problem and whether government should address it. But the candidates had little to say about that. Instead, both Stenberg and Bruning talked about how anyone can make it in America if they work hard.
“I don’t want to see this class warfare go on because I don’t think it’s useful,” Bruning said.
Fischer said instead the candidates should talk about “important issues” such as burdensome regulations.
“I find it very disturbing when we have discussions that try to pit one American against another,” she said. “We need to look at facts, not emotion.”
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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