Amy Klobuchar and Kurt Bills shared broad smiles and agreed it was hot.
But then the two U.S. Senate candidates took to a Minnesota State Fair stage Thursday in what proved to be a feisty debate during which they agreed on little.
Bills, a Republican state representative from Rosemount, said Klobuchar is a politician, but he is an average American. “This election is really not Republican vs. Democrat anymore, it is America vs. Washington, D.C.”
Democrat Klobuchar, ending her first Senate term, fought back, telling her challenger that he has not been an effective state lawmaker: “I’m sorry, Rep. Bills, you haven’t passed even one bill that has been signed into law.”
The hour-long Minnesota Public Radio debate was in stark contrast to their first encounter, a rural-oriented relatively mild Farmfest forum earlier in August.
Supporters of the two candidates cheered and booed throughout the debate. For the most part, Klobuchar backers arrived early in an effort to get the few seats at the MPR booth after Republicans dominated the background sound during a Wednesday U.S. House debate.
From the beginning, Bills blamed Klobuchar and other Democrats who control the Senate for not passing a federal budget for 1,218 days.
Bills said students in the economics class he teaches do not like what they see in Washington, and not just because politicians are running up a debt.
“I saw they were seeing a great deficit in leadership,” he said.
Klobuchar, a former Hennepin County attorney, repeated what has become her campaign theme, her efforts to work with Republicans to get things done. She rattled off Republicans in nearby states with which she has collaborated.
When it comes to the economy, the senator stole a line from Republicans, saying, “It is the private sector that creates jobs.”
She said that her efforts include making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to export their products.
Bills’ answer to job creation is “get government out of the way.”
While Klobuchar called for continuation of tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, except for breaks for the rich, Bills said he favors what is known as a “flat tax,” which taxpayers “can file basically on an index card.”
The senator said the simplified tax probably would give the rich more of a tax break than other Americans.
Klobuchar said that removing the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 annually would add $700 billion a year to federal accounts. More than once, she called for a balanced approach to the federal budget, hinting that Bills’ approach was more extreme than balanced.
Bills told Klobuchar: “You added $7.4 trillion to the deficit in six years.” He said cuts in Medicare would be needed to balance the federal budget.
The incumbent fired back that she voted for a deficit-reduction plan drawn up by a bipartisan commission, the equivalent of a budget.
Bills received some of his biggest cheers when he said American troops should come home from Afghanistan now and the country should shutter many of its foreign bases. When Klobuchar tried to say the Obama administration plans to bring Americans home in 2014, Bills’ supporters drowned her out with boos.