Topeka Republicans Jim Ryun and Lynn Jenkins on Tuesday traded political jabs early and often during their only televised debate prior to the Aug. 5 primary for the 2nd District congressional GOP nomination.
Ryun, a former five-term congressman, took Jenkins, the state treasurer, to task for voting for tax increases when she served in the Kansas Legislature, saying she buckled under pressure from legislative leaders.
"That's not the kind of leadership we want to send to Washington," said Ryun, of Lawrence.
Jenkins, of Topeka, shot back, saying the Legislature was forced to increase state taxes because of federal requirements approved by Congress.
"We were at your mercy, babe," she told Ryun. "You were passing all of the unfunded mandates."
The two also argued over illegal immigration, budget earmarks and leadership during the one-hour debate televised live on KSNT-TV, Topeka's NBC affiliate.
The winner of the Republican Party primary will face U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., who defeated Ryun in 2006. The 2nd District includes western Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and much of southeastern Kansas. National Republican leaders have made Boyda a primary political target, saying they believe they can win back the 2nd District.
On immigration, Jenkins accused Ryun of voting for several bills that included granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, a charge that Ryun vehemently denied.
"I have not supported amnesty. My record is being distorted," he said.
Both said they would oppose earmarks spending in the budget, but Jenkins said Ryun voted for frivolous earmarks while in Congress, such as $1 million for a locomotive demonstration in Pennsylvania.
Ryun said sometimes earmarks were inserted into larger bills that overall were good for Kansas, but Jenkins said several of those Ryun votes were "straight up or down votes."
They also tangled several times over the issue of leadership.
Jenkins said that while Ryun was in Congress, Republicans held the majority and the White House, but spent and borrowed too much, doubling the national debt.
"I think you had your chance," Jenkins said to Ryun. "It's time to send someone else to Washington."
But Ryun argued he showed leadership by working on tax cuts that helped families while also standing up to President Bush, such as his vote against the No Child Left Behind Act.
On the issue of energy, both candidates said they supported opening to oil drilling the Outer Continental Shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The candidates also took questions e-mailed to them by viewers. Of the approximately 50 e-mails, not one dealt with U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty, who helped moderate the debate.