ST. PAUL, Minn. - Democrat Tarryl Clark attacked Republican Michele Bachmann starting with her introductory statement during a short but feisty debate Thursday in one of the nation's hardest-fought congressional races.
Clark opened by accusing Bachmann of neglecting the people in her central Minnesota district while favoring trickle-down economic policies that create more jobs in Asia than at home. Bachmann hit back by criticizing Clark for supporting tax increases while in the state Senate.
By the second round of questions, they were talking over each other on live radio.
That clash came as Clark went after Bachmann for letting Congress adjourn last month without voting on an extension of expiring Bush-era tax cuts. Democrats and Republicans disagreed on whether to let the tax cuts end for families making more than $250,000. Bachmann, a conservative Republican with national tea party appeal, had just said she wanted to extend all the tax cuts before the election recess.
"You should have made that happen," Clark said.
"I voted no on adjournment. I voted no on adjournment," Bachmann said as Clark continued talking.
Moderator Gary Eichten cut in: "One at a time, please."
The verbal sparring continued throughout the 26-minute debate on Minnesota Public Radio, as the two candidates sat a few feet apart in the station's St. Paul studio, with Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson to their right.
"Gary, you just got another non-answer from one of my opponents, from Tarryl Clark," Bachmann said after Clark said she favored letting the tax cuts expire for the top earners but not for anyone else.
"No, I said I would oppose. I would oppose," Clark said of extending the cuts.
On the banking industry bailout, Clark said she would have voted against the bill, which Bachmann also opposed. Then the challenger took the chance to bring up Bachmann's vote against new financial industry regulations, accusing her of siding with Wall Street campaign donors over the middle class.
"My greatest contributors are average people with less than $45 in donations. I'm the candidate of the little guy," said Bachmann, who has raised more than $11 million this election cycle — more than any other House candidate.
"This bill will make sure that there isn't a bailout again," Clark said.
"No, it makes permanent bailouts going into the future. You really misunderstand this bill," Bachmann said.
As the end of the debate neared, Clark continued jabbing. She questioned Bachmann's vote against a bill that would give up to $7.4 billion to workers sickened during the cleanup of the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11. attacks.
"Why is she voting against our 9/11 responders?" Clark said.
Eichten again had to break in and give Bachmann a chance to respond.
"We already had given money to the 9/11 victims. This was a brand-new entitlement," Bachmann said.
Bachmann is seeking her third term in Minnesota's conservative 6th District, which wraps around the northern half of the Twin Cities and stretches west past St. Cloud. The three candidates meet again Sunday in their third and final debate.