Both agreed that President Bush was right to go after Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but the conformity ended there. The two disagreed on Representative DeMint’s tax policy, Tenenbaum’s record as state education superintendent, trade policy, gun bans and openly gay teachers in schools.
Held Sunday, Oct. 3 in the stately and historic Alumni Hall on the campus of the College of Charleston, the candidates spent a good deal of time attacking each other and had to be reined in again and again by debate moderator Patrick Villegas, a local television anchor.
The first question of the night, directed to Tenenbaum, concerned the tone of campaign ads. Her response criticized DeMint’s tax plan.
“People need to know about that 23 percent sales tax,” Tenenbaum said, The State reported.
DeMint rebutted by accusing Tenenbaum of being the candidate who would raise taxes.
When Tenenbaum repeatedly referred to DeMint as having “introduced” legislation that would eliminate all federal taxes with a 23 percent national sales tax, DeMint fired back that he had merely co-sponsored another member’s bill to generate discussion and that she didn’t understand the difference.
Tennenbaum has repeatedly objected to what she calls DeMint’s patronizing tone.
“That’s a little patronizing, and, frankly, Jim. I don’t understand. You’ve got daughters of your own,” Tenenbaum replied.
“I don’t mean to be patronizing,” DeMint said, “but she doesn’t understand things I’ve worked on for years. I have to correct her. If it’s demeaning, I’m sorry.”
The topic of education in South Carolina also drew personal acrimony. DeMint accused Tenenbaum of failing to act on federal deadlines, thus allowing millions of unspent federal dollars to be sent back to Washington.
“She’s even left money on the table,” DeMint said.
“Jim, you disappoint me so much. You’ve been in Congress for six years and still don’t know the (education) accounting system,” Tenenbaum said in response.
When the topic turned to trade and job outsourcing, the two candidates, who differ deeply on the issue, traded barbs about who had the true support of South Carolina’s decimated manufacturing industry, The State reported.
DeMint supports increasing foreign trade agreements to benefit local manufacturers. Tenenbaum has favored limiting job outsourcing and reexamining current trade agreements.
“Is that why the manufacturers of this state support me?” DeMint said.
“They don’t support you, Jim, I’m sorry to say, they support me,” Tenenbaum replied.
“You have a few malcontent textile leaders,” DeMint countered.
“You’re so glib about it,” Tenenbaum said. “Forty-two thousand jobs here, 56,000 jobs there. You’re so glib.”
The one new issue to emerge from Sunday’s debate stemmed from DeMint’s comment that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to teach in public schools.
The third-term congressman said that the government should not endorse homosexual behavior. “We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values,” he said.
Tenenbaum responded that DeMint’s position was “un-American.”
DeMint’s comments follow an incident last week in which one of his staffers was reprimanded for using a slur about lesbians in an email.
On other issues, DeMint said he supported the recent demise of the ban on assault weapons, which Tenenbaum, who said she supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms, did not support.
DeMint said he would support banning all forms of abortion while Tenenbaum said it was a decision that women should make with their families and doctors. She said she supports allowing girls under 18 abortions if they obtain permission from a judge or other family members if her parents refuse.
The two candidates will next meet Oct. 12 in Greenville.