Wichita U.S. Senate candidates Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran have sharpened their attacks on each other ahead of the two Kansas congressmen's final debate before the state's Aug. 3 Republican primary.
Tiahrt's campaign has launched a new ad suggesting Moran is soft on terrorism, and Moran is accusing Tiahrt of making false statements. The last of their three debates is Tuesday at a Wichita hotel, sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.
During a televised debate Monday night, Tiahrt responded to the Moran campaign's claim that Tiahrt previously supported amnesty for illegal immigrants by saying Moran himself has backed amnesty. Both attacks are based on the candidates' votes or legislation they've supported; both candidates have said they don't support amnesty.
Tiahrt also intensified his attack on Moran over votes in 2006 against legislation allowing military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. Tiahrt's new television ad features Gracia Burnham, a Kansas missionary held hostage in the Philippines in 2001 and 2002, criticizing Moran. She was wounded and her husband, Martin Burnham, died in the rescue effort that freed her.
Tiahrt and Moran are trying to appeal to GOP conservatives and the tea party movement. Tiahrt contends he's the more aggressive conservative, but Moran says Tiahrt is taking some votes on various issues out of context to portray him as inconsistent.
"It's amazing that you can simply keep repeating a sentence over and over and over in hopes that the Kansas voter believes it," Moran said after Monday night's debate. "I hope that the people who listened to the things that Todd Tiahrt said won't believe them — don't believe them. They should not."
Tiahrt, whose campaign posts "mythbusters" about Moran on its website, said he's simply raising questions about Moran's record. Tiahrt said after the debate that Moran's record hasn't been examined thoroughly in his relatively easy congressional races.
"I know it makes him uncomfortable, but it's the truth," Tiahrt said after the debate. "He can flail all he wants, but we do make sure that we document everything that we bring up."
Monday night's debate was broadcast live by KWCH, the CBS affiliate in Wichita.
Tiahrt's claim that Moran supported amnesty for illegal immigrants is based on a vote by Moran in 2003 against a proposal to cut off federal funding to cities that wouldn't allow their law enforcement officials to provide information about immigrants to federal authorities.
Moran's contention is based on Tiahrt's co-sponsoring of bills in 2002 and 2003 to help some illegal immigrants with college tuition, a position Tiahrt has since repudiated.
Tiahrt argued that by voting against military tribunals in 2006, Moran supported constitutional rights for terrorists. In Tiahrt's latest television ad, Burnham says, "Mr. Moran, there's no excuse for this."
Moran said the 2006 legislation wasn't tough enough. His campaign released a statement from retired Lt. Gen. Rich Keller, former commander of U.S. troops in Europe, describing Tiahrt's criticism as unfounded.
Tiahrt has represented the 4th District in south-central Kansas since 1995, and Moran has held the seat for the 1st District in western and central Kansas since 1997. Two other candidates are on the ballot for the GOP primary: Mound City accountant Tom Little and Overland Park attorney Robert Londerholm, who was Kansas attorney general in 1965-69.
Londerholm didn't participate in the debate, but Little did, proposing that the U.S. deport illegal immigrants, expressing opposition to continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and urging Kansans to vote veteran politicians out of office.
"Career politicians have proven that their priority is not the American people," Little said. "Their priority is themselves."
Five Democrats also are running for the Senate seat now held by Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican who's running for governor. None is as well-known or as well-financed as Moran or Tiahrt, and Kansas hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.