During a televised 6th Congressional District debate Sunday, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, Democrat Tarryl Clark, and Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson traded barbs over hot-button issues like Social Security and abortion.
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Moderator Tom Hauser kicked off the KSTP-TV debate by playing a snippet from one of Tarryl Clark's ads on Social Security.
"Well, Michele Bachmann says we need to wean everybody off of Social Security, like Social Security is an addiction you need to break," said the narrator in the ad.
In early October, Hauser gave the ad an F rating, because it took Bachmann's comments on Social Security out of context. Bachmann had indicated Americans should be weaned off Social Security. But she was talking about younger people -- not seniors currently drawing benefits.
During the debate, Bachmann expressed her concerns about the program.
"Social Security right now is on a trajectory of being bankrupt. This year, six years ahead of time, Social Security is putting out more money than what it's taking in," said Bachmann.
Clark countered by asserting that the Social Security trust fund is still solvent and can pay out benefits for another 25 years. She also moved to link Bachmann with plans for privatization.
"Before she was elected, Congresswoman Bachmann talked about private accounts, told people that basically Wall Street would be gambling with their money," Clark said.
When Hauser asked Bachmann if she favored any kind form of privatization, she refused to answer directly.
"Well, what I favor is to look at the problem and tell people who are ages 65 and older nothing will change," said Bachmann.
Anderson said he thinks privatization would be a bad idea. He repeated his frequent refrain that the nation's problems, including Social Security, could be addressed by limiting outsourcing.
"We need to get the jobs back here so that we have a broader tax base so we're paying in and not only taking social security from our employees but companies match that, too," said Anderson.
Anderson, who garnered 10 percent of the vote two years ago, often looked exasperated during the KSTP debate as Bachmann and Clark spoke over each other.
SPARKS FLY OVER ABORTION
Some of their most heated exchanges came in response to a question about whether the candidates support further restrictions on abortion.
Anderson said he supports current laws and would not call for further restrictions, but he thinks more prevention programs are necessary.
Clark agreed and talked about her experience on the prevention front.
"As a former counselor of pregnant and parenting teens, I've run teen pregnancy preventions, I've worked to make sure families can get affordable health care and child care, I believe we can eliminate and reduce 95 percent of all abortions, if we came together to do the things we know worked," Clark said.
Bachmann accused Clark of giving a typical politician's answer.
"She is pro-abortion, she is supported by EMILY'S List and supports partial-birth abortion," Bachmann said.
Bachmann suggested that Clark's endorsement from the group EMILY's List means she supports late-term abortions, called partial birth abortions by abortion opponents. An EMILY's List spokesperson said candidates are not screened for endorsement on the basis of that issue -- but only on whether a candidate supports Roe v. Wade.
Clark said she does not support the late-term procedure, except when a woman's life is in danger. She went on to say that she was the only candidate who has worked to keep abortions down.
Bachmann objected vehemently.
"That is not true. I've been very involved in the life movement. As a matter of fact, my husband and I have taken 23 foster children into our home and we've reached out to unwed mothers, we've literally brought them into our home. We've helped the life movement," said Bachmann.
The 6th District is the most conservative one in the state, so abortion could matter to the voters there. But just how much is unclear, especially in a year where the top issues are the economy and jobs.