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Talent, McCaskill meet for fourth debate


Springfield, MO –
Republican Sen. Jim Talent used a debate on traditional Republican turf to launch his most aggressive attack yet on Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, implying she may have skimped on her taxes in what McCaskill derided as an unfounded "smear."

McCaskill, who has repeatedly criticized Talent's record on Iraq and other issues, claimed Talent was plunging the campaign "to new lows" both in negative ads and in Monday night's debate hosted in southwest Missouri's conservative base.

Talent's seat generally is considered as crucial for Democrats, who need to gain six seats to recapture control of the Senate. Polls show the candidates about even with just a few weeks remaining before the Nov. 7 election.

Immediately seizing the offensive, Talent opened the debate by noting he had released his family's income tax returns something done at the request of The Associated Press earlier this year but McCaskill had not made public the tax returns of her businessman husband, Joseph Shepard, who files separately. She did release her own tax returns, although there is no law requiring candidates to do so.

"We have reason to believe that maybe she and her husband haven't paid all of them," Talent said.

He resurrected the implication several times throughout the debate while also accusing her family of owning "an offshore tax shelter" and failing to pay property taxes. When the candidates were given the opportunity to directly question each other, Talent asked McCaskill if she would release her family's tax returns.

McCaskill, the Missouri auditor, said Talent was making unfounded allegations. She noted that the missed property taxes were on a condominium lived in by her brother, and she said her family had released "a book of information about financial holdings."

"There has been nothing that has been done wrong," McCaskill said. "There is absolutely no tax sheltering that is occurring that is not part of a tax code that Senator Talent embraces and that his wife advises clients on every day" as a tax attorney.

"This is just about smear," McCaskill added. "I will not go there with Senator Talent. I will never attack his family, and I think Missourians need to put their foot down and say if we're going to change Washington, we're going to change the way these campaigns are being run."

Talent said the election should be about changing Washington, and asserted: "I've done that." He cited legislation requiring greater use of renewable fuels and cracking down on methamphetamine ingredients, among other things.

The debate in the television studio of KYTV was the fourth of five scheduled between Talent and McCaskill. It had no live studio audience. The final debate is to occur Wednesday at a Kansas City school.

Debating last week in suburban St. Louis, it was McCaskill who went on the offensive by criticizing Talent for not questioning Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in several appearances before the Armed Services Committee on which Talent serves.

McCaskill expanded that line of attack Monday by claiming Talent had not participated in two-thirds of the committee's hearings evidence, she said, of his unquestioning support of President Bush's failed foreign policies, particularly in Iraq.

On Monday, Talent accused McCaskill of having a "meth scandal" in her office when she was the Jackson County prosecutor in the 1990s and of having the lowest incarceration rate for convicted felons of any urban prosecutor in the country.

McCaskill said such assertions were "ludicrous." She claimed to have reduced crime by 45 percent in the county and pioneered the local war on methamphetamine. When meth allegations were raised against someone in her prosecutor's office, McCaskill said she requested a special investigation.

When given the chance to ask a question of Talent during the debate, McCaskill pressed him to say "yes" or "no" on whether he would vote for a Missouri ballot measure raising the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour with an annual inflation adjuster. Missouri currently follows the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

Talent, who has refused to take a position on the ballot measure, also declined to directly answer McCaskill's question. He said it was an issue for Missouri voters to decide.

At another point, a media questioner asked Talent if he agreed with one of his campaign's radio commercials in which the voice of a veteran calls McCaskill a liar and cheat a rebuttal to a McCaskill ad in which a veteran criticizes Talent's work on behalf of veterans.

"No, I wouldn't have used those words," Talent said, but defended the veteran's right to express his views in Talent's commercial.

McCaskill responded: "This is really the problem. When asked whether or not he would call me a liar or a cheat, he said `no' he wouldn't, but he approved an ad that said that."