GRAND ISLAND, Neb. -- In a lively State Fair debate, Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey staked their claims to becoming the state's next U.S. senator -- clashing on issues ranging from the stalled farm bill to reform of entitlement programs.
The candidates debated before a sometimes raucous crowd at the Heartland Events Center.
Fischer, a two-term state senator, pledged to rein in government spending and avoid raising taxes.
"I'm not your usual politician,'' she said. "I'm a conservative. I believe in limited government.''
Kerrey, the former governor and two-term U.S. senator, said he would work for bipartisan consensus on the nation's most pressing problems.
"I will challenge Harry Reid as often as I annoy Mitch McConnell,'' Kerrey said of the Senate's current Democratic and Republican leaders, respectively.
In both opening and closing statements, Kerrey said his campaign was based on three promises -- that he puts his country first, that he will cross party lines and "shake up'' Washington.
Fischer said the answer to the country's economic woes was not higher taxes but a growing economy combined with spending cuts.
She said she also has a record of bipartisanship in the Legislature, but she dismissed Kerrey's idea of organizing the Congress along nonpartisan lines as unrealistic.
In a moment of agreement, both Fischer and Kerrey said the carpetbagging charge leveled against Kerrey by Republicans should not be an issue.
Kerrey left the state for 12 years to live and work in New York City.
"It's a phony issue,'' Kerrey said, noting he was born in the state, grew up and was educated here and helped build businesses here.
The debate will air three more times on RURAL TV after the “live” airing.
Excerpts from the debate:
Kerrey: "I promise that I will cross party lines. I will challenge Harry Reid as least as much as I will annoy Mitch McConnell."
Fischer to Kerrey: “I don't support your plan that cuts benefits and raises taxes. These people out here from rural Nebraska, that is the high end. So you're hurting people that you think are wealthy, when in fact, they're the people that drive this economy to create jobs."
Fischer: “I would not cut benefits for anyone over the age of 40. We need to protect and honor our commitments to those seniors who are in that plan. That $700 billion that Obamacare steals from Medicare. I don't support that either.”
Kerrey: “Ethanol has been a phenomenal success. Has it raised the price of corn? Yes. It's lowered the fuel costs like 40 cents a gallon.”
Kerrey: “Nobody called me a carpetbagger when I came back from Vietnam.”
Fischer: "I support the repeal of No Child Left Behind."
Kerrey: "The Affordable Health Care Act will be good for childhood education."
Fischer: “Everybody in here knows that I support ethanol. We can't pull the rug out from our ethanol plants or our corn growers.”
Kerrey: “Ethanol has been a phenomenal success. It's lowered the fuel costs like 40 cents a gallon.”
Kerrey: “All you need is high school chemistry” to figure out that we have an impact on climate change."
Fischer: “These are legal immigrants who are serving in our military, and of course they should be in a path to citizenship.”
Fischer regrets that “farm portion” of bill is less than 20 percent, while Kerrey says bill should have multiple facets.
Regarding the proposed Keystone pipeline, Kerrey says of Fischer: “There's no evidence that she opposed the original route.”
Kerrey: I will shake up Washington.
Fischer: I will bring Nebraska to Washington.
Most important issue affecting rural America? For both candidates, it's compelling Congress to pass the farm bill