Bell, Klobuchar and Kennedy spar in first Twin Cities Senate forum

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In their first Twin Cities debate, U.S. Senate candidates Ford Bell, Amy Klobuchar, and Mark Kennedy on Friday sparred on foreign policy, taxes, American dependence on foreign oil, and rising health care costs.

During the nearly two-hour forum at the Mermaid Supper Club in Mounds View, sponsored by the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce, DFLers Bell and Klobuchar criticized Republicans from the White House to Congress for failing middle-class and low-income Americans. Bell, who favors a national health care program, said the Republican mantra of “health care choice” means no choice at all.

“What they mean by health care choice is the choice mothers make to take a child to the emergency room for the flu because they have nowhere else to go,” he said.

Klobuchar went after the Bush administration’s fiscal track record: a record-breaking deficit. “We were told they would bring fiscal sanity to this nation, and turned a surplus into a deficit,” she said. “I’m tired of propaganda and want results.”

Kennedy, a Republican who represents the 6th Congressional District, touted President Bush’s tax cuts, medical liability reform, and spending cuts. In a dig at Klobuchar, the congressman emphasized his small-town roots and business background. “You don’t change Washington by sending another lawyer to the U.S. Senate,” he said. “That’s called more of the same. I would be one of the few businessmen and the only CPA.”

The candidates also addressed the Iraq war, which could be the defining issue in a race for a seat where a senator might be asked to cast a vote for or against going to war. Klobuchar restated her opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion. She has been attacked from the left for being too moderate on a withdrawal plan. Unlike her DFL opponent, who wants U.S. troops home by Christmas, Klobuchar has said she supports a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Kennedy, who has been one of Congress’s most reliable supporters of the Bush foreign policy, said he won’t “cut and run” in Iraq.

Bell and Klobuchar are locked in a delegate hunt to secure votes for the June DFL convention in Rochester. Klobuchar says she will honor the endorsement. Bell says it will have to be a substantial vote to endorse at the convention to cause him to withdraw. Precinct caucuses are scheduled for March 7.

The forum was the first time the three major candidates have appeared together in the Twin Cities. They all participated in a debate in Two Harbors last month. Michael Cavlan, who is seeking the Green Party endorsement, has not been invited to participate in either forum.

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