Final debate shows Bills, Klobuchar far apart
ST. PAUL -- If the final Minnesota U.S. Senate debate did nothing else, it showed the political distance between the two candidates.
Republican challenger Kurt Bills added distance between his views and those of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar Sunday night in their last face-to-face meeting of the campaign.
Neither candidate brought up new issues, but the hour-long debate emphasized their differences.
Bills declared he does not believe in climate change, he supports a tax where everyone pays the same percentage, Klobuchar shows no leadership in the Senate and government gets in the way of middle-class Americans.
Democrat Klobuchar said she wants to keep middle-class tax cuts in place while raising taxes on the rich, that she helped get the Budget Control Act passed, allowing private Social Security investment would be risky and that climate change is real.
The debate, heated at times, came near the end of what has been a mostly quiet campaign, due in part to Bills' inability to raise money.
"If you want less money spent on a campaign, I guess I'm your man," Bills joked in response to a question about the influx of campaign advertising in many races.
Bills raised thousands of dollars, while Klobuchar raised millions, one way the two are far apart. Another way is the distance in polls: Klobuchar's lead has been around 30 percentage points lately.
Federal taxes and the budget highlighted the night, another big difference.
Klobuchar said she worked with Senate Finance Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., to insist to the White House that a budget commission be established. That commission set up $2.2 trillion in spending cuts, some specified and some yet to be decided.
Klobuchar said she will work to get Congress to make specific budget decisions by year's end.
"We support a balanced approach, a mix of revenue ... and, yes, reducing spending," she said.
Bills was critical of the Senate, which has not approved a budget in 1,248 days.
"Complete negligence," Bills called the failure to pass a budget.
"My plan is to start over," he said. "We should reboot the tax system."
Bills said a flat tax, where everyone pays the same percentage, would be fair and easy. Klobuchar said it would give the advantage to richer Americans.
The GOP candidate said throughout the debate, and campaign, that government intrudes too much into people's lives. He said the federal government should stay out of private business.
"If there is no private sector left, there will not be funding for our public schools, our infrastructure, our military," Bills said.
A 12-year-old audience member asked the candidates how to make college more affordable.
Bills said the answer is to reduce government's involvement and let the market dictate college loans and influence the courses students take.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, praised a new law that limits how much students need to repay based on income. She said with the new law, "nobody is making money off of students."
Bills is a first-term state representative who also served a term on the Rosemount City Council. He teaches economics at Rosemount High School.
Polls show Klobuchar is the state's most popular politician and she often is mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. She is wrapping up her first six-year Senate term.
The Bills-Klobuchar debate, sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio and hosted by Cathy Wurzer, was just one of many activities during the final weekend of campaign 2012.
GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan rallied 6,500 people at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport Sunday afternoon, the biggest crowd he has attracted during a solo appearance this campaign. Bills was at the event, but was not invited to speak, even though congressmen such as Chip Cravaack were.
Later, former President Bill Clinton made his third Minnesota appearance on behalf of Democrats in a week. His St. Cloud speech followed ones in Minneapolis and Duluth Tuesday.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders continued a bus tour of the state, and those against a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage traveled in a recreational vehicle to spread the word.
The two proposed amendments appear close contests, recent polls show. The race between Republican Cravaack and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan also appears close.