By Tyler Allen Explorebigsky.com Staff Writer
BOZEMAN –The final debate between incumbent Senator Jon Tester, and Republican challenger Dennis Rehberg was held last night, Oct. 20 at Riverside Country Club in Bozeman, Mont. It was the last opportunity for the candidates to appeal to undecided Montana voters; voters who will decide the most influential Senate race in the state’s history.
The invitation-only event was attended by 55 supporters of each candidate, a panel of journalists and moderator Jay Kohn, assistant news director at KTVQ news in Billings. The Rehberg section included a Girl Scout troop from Belgrade, wearing red shirts in support of the candidate, while the Tester side was occupied with supporters extending their thumb and pinky finger in solidarity with the Senator.
Control of the U.S. Senate could hang in the balance and each candidate attempted to distinguish themselves as the clear choice to represent Montana in the capital. Kohn asked the candidates the first question, “When do jobs trump politics?”
“Washington D.C. bureaucrats are dictating the politics in Montana,” Rehberg said. Liberating Main Street is the path government needs to take, he continued.
“Jobs are critically important,” Tester retorted. “People in Washington don’t work together because of the climate of hyper-partisanship.”
Rehberg continually drew parallels to Tester’s voting record in support of President Barack Obama’s policies, including “Obamacare.” The Republican challenger said the 2010 Affordable Care Act was passed in the “dead of the night,” with little regard for challengers in Congress and it places government between citizens and their doctors. Tester responded by saying it should have passed quicker and said the bill extends Medicare for another eight years.
“The Congressman should have read the bill,” Tester said. “The old system did not work.”
When the candidates were asked which single piece of legislation Congress should pass, Tester said the government deficit was the most important issue facing this country. “It is a huge issue for jobs. Ireland and Greece are canaries in the mine shaft.”
Rehberg said that repealing Obamacare would be his first order of business if elected and it would put $716 billion back into the federal budget.
“If you want to talk about federal spending, let’s go,” Tester responded.
The issue on the minds of many Montana voters is outside money spent on this campaign and the negative advertising that has targeted both candidates.
It is “a huge threat to our democracy,” Tester said, citing the 2010 Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on corporate campaign financing were unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Rehberg said the money spent by the Republican Party is intended to “get the government off the backs of small business.”
When the discussion turned to energy policy, Rehberg said, “we have an environmental policy [in this country], not an energy policy.”
Tester responded that the country has imported less oil than it ever has under his tenure as Senator.
However, the discussion continually returned to the economy. “I support small business not Wall Street,” Rehberg said.
“That’s why you voted to de-fund Head Start,” Tester responded, referring to the government program designed to offer relief to low-income children and their families.
In their closing statements Tester highlighted his support of veterans, the importance of accessibility to habitat for Montana sportsmen and getting corporate donations out of political campaigns.
We’re back to 1912 politics with the amount of money given by corporations, he said.
Rehberg ended his address saying their records define their differences. I stand for Main Street, not Wall Street, he said.
Asked who won the debate afterwards, a Rehburg supporter said it was a draw. “They are both slick, well-oiled politicians.”
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