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Glares, tension on display as U.S. Senate hopefuls spar for the last time

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 15, 2010 - Uncomfortably sitting side by side, and frequently glaring at each other, Missouri's two major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate -- Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Robin Carnahan -- made clear their differences this morning as they heatedly accused each other of putting personal gain over the public good.

Their meeting, at a forum before the Missouri Press Association at Lake of the Ozarks, was the second and final time that the two plan to be in the same room before the Nov. 2 election.

Carnahan lobbed the first of frequent attacks, repeatedly linking Blunt, a 14-year congressman from Springfield, Mo., to "the broken culture in Washington" that she said was corporate controlled and chiefly responsible for the nation's economic troubles.

As she did in Thursday's televised debate, Carnahan also accused Blunt of hiding his votes to cut Medicare and to privatize Social Security.

Ahead in the polls, Blunt denied any opposition to Medicare and Social Security. He also jabbed back by hammering at the $107 million in federal stimulus that went to the central Missouri wind farm co-owned by Carnahan's younger brother, Tom Carnahan. Blunt contended that the grant had been one of the nation's largest and that the farm had created only 16 jobs.

Robin Carnahan, who told reporters later that the farm has created "thousands of jobs," emphasized during the debate that she was Missouri secretary of state and had no role in awarding aid to her brother's business.

She then asserted that Blunt repeatedly attacked the project because he was too close to the oil companies. She waved a computer printout that she said showed that he was the top congressional recipient of contributions from corporate lobbyists. Blunt has maintained that the accusation is inaccurate.

The back-and-forth got so heated, with Carnahan at times interrupting Blunt, that the congressman pointedly told the moderator, "If she's going to ask the question, I want to have time to answer."

After the debate, Carnahan continued on the offensive in an interview with reporters. "I've spoken the truth as I know it. He doesn't deserve a promotion," Carnahan said.

Blunt strode out of the debate hall without meeting with reporters. His communications director Rich Chrismer said that the congressman had to rush to get to campaign events in Springfield and Lebanon, Mo.

Blunt's campaign chairwoman Ann Wagner told reporters that he had stuck to the issues, without personal attacks. His emphasis on the $107 million stimulus grant was a focus on policy, and not personal, Wagner insisted.

Today's event coincided with the filing of the candidates' last major campaign-finance reports before the election. Carnahan's report shows her raising $2.16 million since July 1, spending $3.5 million, and with just over $2 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Blunt only slightly outraised Carnahan for the quarter, but he enters the final stretch with far more cash on hand. Blunt reported raising $2.4 million, spending $2.6 million during the quarter, with $3.746 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Joining the two on the stage today were two other U.S. Senate candidates, Libertarian Jonathan Dine and Constitution Party nominee Jerry Beck.

Beck, a Marine veteran and businessman, repeatedly asserted that the United States is "on the edge of the abyss" unless jobs and factories are moved back from overseas.

Dine, who advocates getting rid of the federal income tax and most government functions, said the acrimony between Blunt and Carnahan exemplified that both are offering "empty promises" and "ready to march in step with their own party's agenda."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.