Kennedy targets Klobuchar's character in U.S. Senate debate

Before the debate
Technicians make last-minute adjustments before Senate candidates began a debate on Sunday night.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The war in Iraq was front and center in the debate. Mark Kennedy, who voted for the war in Congress, has changed campaign strategy in recent weeks and is making the war his top issue. He's running an ad standing behind his decision at a time when many other Republicans have been distancing themselves from their votes.

Kennedy also wants an additional hour-long, televised debate on the war. Kennedy asked Amy Klobuchar why she turned down his offer. He later asked Robert Fitzgerald if he was interested.

"Given that we really don't know, what does change of course mean? How are you going to negotiate with Al Qaeda?" Kennedy asked. "Don't you think that this is something that we ought to move forward and have a campaign devoted to it? What is your thought about Ms. Klobuchar's refusal to have a campaign debate devoted to this most important issue?"

Fitzgerald, who said the KSTP debate gave him the most publicity during the campaign, promptly accepted the offer. Klobuchar declined. She said the candidates will meet in a total of ten debates before Election Day.

"An eleventh debate won't help," Klobuchar said. "People know that I have been opposed to this war and he voted for it. They know that I'm opposed to permanent military bases and he voted against a resolution that would have banned permanent military bases."

Kennedy is trailing Klobuchar, the Hennepin county attorney, in every major independent poll. The latest financial reports also show that she has two times the money Kennedy has to spend in the last days of the campaign. With 10 days to go before the election, Kennedy is working every angle to close the gap. One line of attack against Klobuchar is character.

Kennedy asked why it took several days for Klobuchar to notify the FBI about an incident where the campaign was notified of an unreleased Kennedy campaign commercial. A liberal blogger viewed the ad on a password protected website and leaked it to Klobuchar's campaign. Klobuchar fired the staffer who viewed the ad.

Kennedy also wanted to know why it took so long for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to turn over documents requested by the Republican Party.

"If you won't give Minnesota voters straight answers on these issues, why should they trust you in the U.S. Senate?" he said.

Klobuchar quickly turned the issue of character back on Kennedy. She brought up Mark Foley, the Republican Florida congressman who recently resigned after allegations of improper contact with House pages. Kennedy had no connection to the controversy but the scandal has been a political thorn in the side for House Republicans across the country.

"When I found out that something had gone wrong and somebody had broken into a website, not on my campaign's employ, I immediately reported it to the authorities," she said. "That's more than I can say about the leadership of this Congress when they found out that somebody was soliciting pages."

For his part, Fitzgerald lobbed criticism at both Democrats and Republicans who currently serve in Congress. He said Congress passed legislation that he considers giveaways to prescription drug companies, military contractors and oil companies.

"This has been the worst Congress ever," Fitzgerald said. "The 109th is an abomination."

Fitzgerald said he was the only candidate who could get the federal budget under control because he was the only candidate free of special interest money. He also criticized Klobuchar and Kennedy for supporting a border security plan that includes a fence along the U.S. Mexican border.

"$1.2 billion set aside for a fence to cover 700 of 2,000 miles. That doesn't get the job done and more dollars aren't going to get the job done," Fitzgerald said. "You show me somebody with a 50-foot fence, I'll show you somebody with a 51-foot ladder."

Green Party candidate Michael Cavlan was not invited to participate in the debate. He was removed from the audience after he disrupted the live broadcast.

There are two more Senate debates between now and Election Day.

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