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Senate hopefuls Akin, Steelman debate

Former Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (left) and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-St. Louis) (right) faced off in a debate Tuesday.
(Steelman photo: file photo, Akin photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt)
Former Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (left) and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-St. Louis) (right) faced off in a debate Tuesday.

Updated at 1 p.m. with comments from the debate.

Two Missouri Republicans vying for the U.S. Senate spent more time criticizing the Democratic incumbent than each other during a debate on Tuesday.

Congressman Todd Akin and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman kept their fire mostly trained on Sen. Claire McCaskill and President Obama during the hour-long forum, which was sponsored by KTRS Radio and the St. Louis Beacon. A third candidate, businessman John Brunner, did not attend.

"America and you face a choice of two futures," Akin told the audience. "The one we have seen many examples of is the McCaskill/Obama, and it's a course that's being charted to set us to be like Greece. There is a sharp contrast between their vision and where they're going, and I believe where many of us that are heartland traditional Americans should be going."

"People are worried about the future of this country, that their kids aren't going to have the same opportunities that we did when we were growing up," Steelman said in her opening statement. "I'm running for United States Senate because I know there's a better way. Those people in Washington D.C., including Claire McCaskill and President Obama, they don't actually value the same things that we do anymore."

Both candidates laid the blame for the economic sluggishness at the feet of McCaskill and Obama.

"What gets the economy going are particularly entrepreneurs, because they create all the jobs and they do a whole lot to create wealth," Akin said. "They have to have capital to invest in their business. If we tax them out of their skins, and then we regulate them to death, then we wonder how come we have no jobs. That's the problem of saying we're going to fix everything by taxing the rich guy."

Akin said Congress also needs to create stability by scaling down regulations, which he says may be worse than the taxes.

Steelman echoed the sentiment.

"More importantly than anything we need to today is to help create an economic environment that allows people to create and expand their business and have more jobs for people, she said. "What we have under McCaskill/Obama is the exact opposite."

Both candidates also pushed for lower government spending. As Akin pointed out, that means reforms to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

"If you were to cut all of the basic functions that you think of as the federal government for the 2011 budget cycle, you could not balance the budget," he said. That would include the entire military and federal bureaucracy. "All of the basic functions of government are being financed with debt."

Both advocated for the repeal of the president's health insurance overhaul. Steelman called on Congress to reconsider foreign aid to China, which finances most of that debt.

The two candidates also agreed that the tax code needs to be reformed.

"We need to close loopholes, broaden the base, and push that income tax rate down as far as we possibly can, both on individual and corporate," Steelman said. "And yes, we need to lower the capital gains tax, because then we get capital flowing into more businesses and creating jobs."

Akin said a "just" system would be a flat income tax with some adjustments for the very poor.

The one disagreement bewteen Akin and Steelman erupted over Akin's 11 years in Washington as a Congressman.

"If you like the way it's been for the last 12, 15 years in Washington, if you like the direction we're headed from that experience, then I'm not your candidate," Steelman said. "I have spent my entire political career fighting the establishment."

Akin bristled at being pegged as an insider, calling it a "gross misrepresentation of fact."

"I told you, the very first vote I took in D.C. was against President Bush's first bill," he said. "Everybody who goes to DC always wants to be a conservative and they always want to shake everything up. The difference is, some people have been there and have been fighting for years based on principle over party."

Steelman also accused Akin of supporting earmarks. Akin said he opposes directing money to a specific company, but that Congress has to retain its constitutional power to appropriate money.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.