It was mostly play-nice time Sunday between the Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Nebraska.
Cordial debate ruled the day, with the exception of a bit of a rumble over earmarks, as four GOP candidates gathered for their fourth debate of the month.
All four said they supported abolishing earmarks. But State Treasurer Don Stenberg continued to hammer Attorney General Jon Bruning for once requesting an earmark to fight methamphetamine use.
Bruning, Stenberg, State Sen. Deb Fischer and businessman Pat Flynn of Schuyler all participated in the debate, sponsored by Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom.
About 75 people braved gusty winds to attend the open-air debate at Maple Grove Park in west Omaha.
The candidates aired few, if any, major differences on issues such as taxes and budgets. All supported balancing the budget, lowering taxes and reducing government regulations.
The four are entering the final stretch of the election. The victor in the May 15 primary is expected to face Democratic front-runner Bob Kerrey in the fall election.
The one clear chance for the candidates to tangle was a question about earmarks.
In the past, Stenberg has repeatedly criticized Bruning for requesting an earmark from U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson for an anti-drug program.
This time, when a question was asked about the candidates' opinions of earmarks, Stenberg initially passed on a chance to ding Bruning.
But Bruning anticipated that Stenberg would later raise the issue. He argued that he refused to accept the federal earmark once he realized that Nelson was offering an earmark.
“We found out it was an earmark, and we sent it back,” Bruning said.
Stenberg later noted that Bruning refused the earmark only after questions were raised about it by Nelson.
Stenberg argued, once again, that Bruning's request for the earmark was another reason to question who was the “true conservative” in the GOP race.
As for earmarks, all the candidates said they opposed the controversial spending amendments attached to federal bills.
Fischer said she too opposed earmarks, in large part because they were often done with little participation from the public. She called for more “transparency.”
Flynn argued that earmarks allowed Congress to “spend like drunken sailors,” because they were used to buy votes on spending bills.
The questions primarily focused on taxes and spending in the debate, but one foreign policy issue was raised: the United Nations.
The United Nations is not a popular entity with the major Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Nebraska.
All the candidates argued Sunday, to a lesser or greater degree, that America was losing some of its sovereignty to the multinational organization.
Stenberg said he did not support complete withdrawal from the United Nations, because he wanted to maintain America's veto power on the Security Council.
However, Stenberg said he supported lowering the fees given to the organization.
“The United Nations seems to me to be getting farther and farther off the track and threatening freedom lovers around the world,” Stenberg said.
Fischer also argued that the United Nations was “overstepping” its bounds. She favored a review of how much the United States was giving in dues to the United Nations.
“They're not here to be an enforcer to the people of the United States of America,” Fischer said.
Bruning also took issue with the United Nations, especially its relationship with Israel.
“Israel is a white spot of freedom in the Middle East. .... I unabashedly support Israel,” Bruning said.
He argued that the United States should never have to “ask permission” from the United Nations.
Flynn said he wanted the United States to completely withdraw from the United Nations, calling it a “thug organization.”
The candidates' next debate will be May 1.
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