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Missouri Governor Candidates Trade Barbs At Debates

The common themes of the debates were Blunt’s efforts to present himself as an agent of change and McCaskill’s attempts to tout her professional experience against Blunt’s relative youth.

Blunt, 33, repeatedly promised he would lead Missouri in a better direction if elected governor.

“In my administration, every Missourian will have a voice in our state and capitol and together we can move Missouri in a new direction and break with the politics of the past,” Blunt said in the second debate, broadcast Friday night.

Vowing to make the state better for his family and all Missouri families, Blunt also called for sweeping changes in the areas of education, jobs and health care.

“Missourians believe the state is broke. In my administration, real and meaningful change will be delivered for this state,” Blunt said in the first debate on Oct. 18.

Meanwhile, McCaskill, 51, contrasted Blunt’s six years of public service with her 20 years of experience in elected office. She repeatedly pointed out that she had learned a lot about life and government since she was Blunt’s age, citing her record as an auditor, prosecutor and state legislator, care of her sick father and time spent as a single mom of three children.

“If I look back over the experiences I’ve had over almost the last 20 years, since I was 33, I’ve learned a lot,” McCaskill said in the first debate on Monday night.

McCaskill, who ousted Democratic Governor Bob Holden in a bruising primary fight, highlighted her role as state auditor in getting new laws or policies enacted after audit recommendations and her willingness to challenge special interests.

In both debates, the candidates offered voters the clearest picture yet of their differences on key issues, as well as their values and leadership styles.

On the issue of job growth, Blunt said one of his first priorities as governor would be creating effective litigation and workers’ compensation reforms, as well as reducing regulation of small businesses. Blunt said these changes would lower the cost of doing business and spur job and economic growth.

McCaskill said she largely supports tax credits and other incentives that help small and medium-size businesses create jobs and expand the state’s economy. She also proposed expanding tax credits to pay for job training.

Blunt has offered an overhaul of the state’s legal system — namely limits on his personal injury lawsuits — as a solution for rising health care costs.

“We’ll set public policy that benefits Missourians and not trial attorneys,” Blunt said during the first debate.

When questioned about education, the two candidates outlined markedly different plans. Blunt pledged to rework the state’s public school budget and distribute funds more equitably between wealthier and lower-income districts. McCaskill said she would create financial incentives for school districts that cut administrative costs and would restore funding for state colleges and universities.

Both candidates have said that they would not increase state taxes, saying they can find more money for education by managing the government more efficiently.

Amid the more substantive discussions of the debates, the two candidates exchanged several sharp barbs that have characterized their particularly competitive race for governor.

Blunt repeatedly questioned McCaskill’s values, saying his stand against gay marriage matched the values of mainstream Missourians. He criticized McCaskill for opposing the gay marriage ban amendment that state voters adopted in August.

McCaskill said she opposes gay marriage but believed the amendment was unnecessary because the ban was already part of state law. Social values have their place, McCaskill added, but they shouldn’t be used to divide people.

“She doesn’t want to talk about values,” Blunt responded. “If I had hers, I wouldn’t either.”

McCaskill, meanwhile, targeted Blunt’s performance as secretary of state, arguing that Blunt has done little to straighten out Missouri’s election problems.

“Was that job too big or was it too complicated?” she asked.

Blunt countered that election operations have improved and pointed to a piece of legislation from 2002 as successfully implementing anti-fraud voting measures.

The rhetoric between the candidates remained as heated throughout the debates, the only two scheduled, as it has throughout the campaign.

While Missouri will likely support President Bush on Nov. 2, the race between McCaskill and Blunt is a tossup, George Connor, a political science professor at Southwest Missouri State University, told The Washington Post.

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