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Bachmann, Tinklenberg spar in final debate

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Michele Bachmann and challenger El Tinklenberg
DFL candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg (right) is challenging the 6th Congressional District seat of incumbent candidate, Republican Michele Bachmann.
MPR Photo

With just five days before the election and no more debates scheduled, both 6th District congressional candidates tried to make the most of their limited time to debate the issues on Minnesota Public Radio's "Midday" program. 

"Good thing we're broadcasting in stereo," said show host Gary Eichten.

Greeting Supporters
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann greets supporters outside the studios of Minnesota Public Radio on Thursday, just before heading to a debate on MPR's 'Midday' program.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

     Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is running for a second term against Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg. Recent polls show the race as a toss-up after Bachmann touched off a campaign controversy nearly two weeks ago. 

During an interview on MSNBC, Bachmann said she was concerned Barack Obama might have anti-American views. She also called on the media to look at the views of members of Congress and find out if they are they pro-America or anti-America. 

Bachmann has since said she was misunderstood. But during the MPR debate, she denied making the comment. Bachmann also insisted that voters aren't asking about the issue.

"That is not what I said in recent remarks, and the number one thing that people have been concerned about as they talk to me when I'm all over the district campaigning is the bailout. That's their main concern," said Bachmann.

Elwyn Tinklenberg
Elwyn Tinklenberg is a Democrat running for Congress in Minnesota's 6th District.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

     But the controversy that Bachmann sees as a non-issue resulted in a financial windfall for Tinklenberg. Donations to his campaign have totaled nearly $2 million in the past two weeks. Tinklenberg says Bachmann's comments show the need for political unity and bipartisan cooperation. 

"The idea that this is not an issue in the campaign is simply not credible," said Tinklenberg. "I mean it's what's given this campaign a national interest. And it's what generated Colin Powell's comments about that kind of nonsense has got to stop. It is important." 

     Tinklenberg said Bachmann should be held accountable for showing a lack of independence and voting with President Bush 97 percent of the time. Bachmann said she's a reformer who's split with the president on key issues, including the Wall Street bailout and the No Child Left Behind law. 

The candidates also clashed on taxes, which Bachmann described as the defining issue in the contest. Tinklenberg criticized Bachmann for supporting what he sees as the flawed policies of the Bush administration. He said tax breaks should be focused on the middle class and small businesses. Tinklenberg also suggested looking at tax increases for the wealthiest Americans.

"Obviously we're in a situation where with the kind of deficits that the Bush administration has created, we have to look at the revenue side, at the expenditure side, at setting priorities," said Tinklenberg. "There are things we're going to have to cut. We're going to have to work on that hard."

Tinklenberg told reporters later that he would also look at ending tax breaks for oil companies and corporations that move jobs overseas. 

In the debate Bachmann described herself as a principled conservative who stays true to her values. She said she opposes tax increases for anyone.       "There's no reason in this economy that anyone should see a tax increase. And El Tinklenberg and the Democrats that are now in control of Congress, and if Barack Obama would win the presidency, we will see punishingly high increases in taxes and redistribution of wealth. And that's something that the American people are opposing. That is not the American way," said Bachmann.

     Bachmann also took a parting shot at Tinklenberg on the abortion issue. During her closing statement, Bachmann said that unlike her opponent, she opposes taxpayer-funded abortion. After the debate, Tinklenberg told reporters that he too opposes abortion, and he supports programs that reduce unwanted pregnancy. 

Bachmann did not stay to answer questions following the radio debate.