As with nearly every U.S. Senate debate, Iraq dominated the discussion. Congressman Kennedy tried a new tactic, trying to link Democrat Amy Klobuchar to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's recent statements.
Kerry stopped campaigning earlier this week after telling a group of college students to study hard or they'll end up in Iraq. Kennedy, who voted for the war in Iraq, says he doesn't think the troops can come back to the United States until the war on terror is won.
"As it relates to Kerry, I stand with the Minnesota National Guard soldiers that are on the front page of the New York Post today saying just how much they appreciated the disparaging comments that John Kerry made about them," Kennedy said. "You have refused to denounce his statements questioning their intelligence. You have refused to give back the over $100,000 that you have gotten from him. You should disassociate yourself with John Kerry."
Klobuchar shot back that Kerry made an inaccurate statement that was in poor taste. Klobuchar doesn't support an immediate troop withdrawal but wants to see a change of course in Iraq. Klobuchar then accused Kennedy of trying to rerun his 2004 campaign instead of focusing on this election.
"But unlike the congressman, I don't think the people of Minnesota are interested in going back and redoing the Kerry/Bush fight," Klobuchar said. "They want to talk about the elections in November and it is time for a change. If you want to talk about supporting our veterans, the congressman has a C+ rating from the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war. "
The Independence Party's Robert Fitzgerald was even harsher on Kennedy for even bringing up Kerry at all. Fitzgerald is the only major party candidate who is calling for an immediate troop withdrawal. He suggested that Kennedy and Republicans across the nation are using the Kerry flap to divert attention from their own records.
"The fact that we're even debating this at this point tells me this has been a failed policy," Fitzgerald said. "And regarding John Kerry's statement, this is the Republican machine pouncing on a Democrat. You could have written this story a year and a half ago. The Republicans smelling blood, tasting blood, jump on it like a pack of piranhas. "
The issue of embryonic stem cell research was also a focal point of the debate. The issue is of particular importance in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic, one of the nation's leading research institutions. Many scientists say the research, which uses cells from a human embryo, has the potential to cure many many diseases like Parkinsons and Alzheimers. The problem is the technique used to withdraw the cell also destroys the embryo.
Both Fitzgerald and Klobuchar say they support a bill that would spend federal money on all embryonic stem cell research. The current policy allows for federal research money on stem cell lines created before 2001. Klobuchar says it's a controversial issue but that she sides with the promise of the research.
"This was a bill that would have made sure that we didn't have cloning," Klobuchar said. "It would have outlawed profiteering. It would have had the kind of measures we want in place to make sure that this was done in an ethical way. I come down on the side of a cure and I support stem cell research."
For his part, Kennedy does using federal money for embryonic stem cell research. He says he supported legislation that increased funding for other health research but draws the line at any research that would destroy an embryo.
"No research is banned in America today," Kennedy said. "The only question is whether we're going to take taxpayer money from people who don't agree with this and force them to invest taxpayer dollars in things they don't agree with."
Fitzgerald says he would hope that Congress would take as strong a stance on science as they do on other issues.
"On the war on terror, we hear we'll win the war on terror whatever the cost; that we will fix illegal immigration whatever the cost. But when it comes to finding cures for debilitating diseases, we tie our hands," he said.
The candidates will spend the next two days campaigning across the state. They will meet in one more debate on Sunday night, sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio.