Topeka The two leading Republican candidates for U.S. Senate tried to paint themselves Tuesday as the most conservative and the one best able to take on President Barack Obama.
U.S. Reps. Jerry Moran, of Hays, and Todd Tiahrt, of Goddard, participated in their first televised debate before the Aug. 3 Republican Party primary.
Also on the GOP ballot in the race are Robert Londerholm, of Overland Park, and Tom Little, of Mound City.
Tiahrt said he is a fighter, not a compromiser, for conservative issues. Moran said he has stood up for conservative principles, whether it be against Democrats or Republicans.
In a live broadcast from the studio of KSNT, the two tangled over taxes, earmarks, immigration, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and terrorism.
They both agreed on wanting to repeal the federal health care legislation signed into law by Obama, saying the reforms will damage the nation’s health care system.
The winner of the GOP primary will have a hefty advantage in predominantly Republican Kansas and against a field of five lesser-known Democrats. The vacant seat is being created by the departure of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who is running for governor.
On illegal immigration, Tiahrt said in the past he had been a supporter of the so-called Dream Act. “I thought it was compassionate to not punish the children for the sins of the parents,” he said.
But, he said, he has listened to arguments from fellow Kansans that illegal immigration is hurting the nation, and that he now opposes amnesty. The first step in solving the problem of illegal immigration, he repeated several times, was “build the fence.”
Moran said current laws need to be enforced and criticized the Obama administration for seeking a court order to block a new law in Arizona that supporters say will reduce illegal immigration.
“What a silly use of taxpayer dollars,” Moran said of the legal action.
On the oil spill, the candidates were asked if they believed that “accidents will happen.”
“I think that is a true statement,” Tiahrt said.
Moran shot back saying, “I don’t think you write it off as accidents happen.”
But both candidates blasted British Petroleum, operators of the rig that exploded, and the Obama administration’s response to the mammoth spill.
Tiahrt also blamed environmentalists for forcing oil companies to explore in deep waters, while Moran repeatedly criticized Obama’s proposal to cap carbon dioxide emissions.
Tiahrt accused Moran of not voting for all of the tax cuts under former President Bush, but Moran said he voted for all those cuts. Moran criticized Tiahrt for pushing through budgetary earmarks, but Tiahrt said Moran did the same thing.
At least twice, Tiahrt accused Moran of wanting to give terrorists constitutional rights because of his votes in 2006 against the continuation of military tribunals to try terrorists. Moran denied the accusation, saying he voted against the legislation because it was flawed and unconstitutional and if passed could have resulted in terrorists being turned loose.
Tiahrt has represented the 4th Congressional District of south-central Kansas since 1995. Moran has represented the 1st District of western and central Kansas since 1997.
A second debate is scheduled for next week in Wichita.