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South Carolina Senate Candidates Debate Education, Taxes

Little new ground was covered as each candidate in the hotly contested Senate race attempted to paint his or her opponent as bad for South Carolina.

Tenenbaum, the state superintendent of education, continued her attack on Representative DeMint’s support of a bill to create a 23 percent national sales tax, which he has said will simplify the tax code and reduce the tax burden on companies and individuals.

“Economists who’ve looked at this have said he will raise taxes on 95 percent of the people in South Carolina. And not only will he raise taxes on individuals through this plan, he also will require under this bill state, local and federal governments to pay a 23 percent tax on everything the governments buy. So you’d have local and state taxes going up to pay for purchases,” she said.

DeMint once again attacked Tenenbaum’s education record, saying that South Carolina ranks “dead last” in SAT scores and now has the country’s “worst graduation rate.”

“She’s telling ninth-grade students that they have a 50-50 chance of getting a high school diploma in 50 years. That’s what colleges look at, that’s what universities look at. Employers telling me they’re having trouble bringing people to South Carolina to work because they look at where our schools are,” DeMint said.

Tenenbaum countered that during her six-year tenure, SAT scores “went up for five years in a row, sometimes dramatically 12 and 8 points in one year.” She acknowledged this year’s drop but anticipated that “they’ll go back up.”

Continuing on the topic of education, host Tim Russert asked DeMint to clarify statements made earlier in the campaign in which he said practicing homosexuals “should not be teaching in our schools.”

DeMint apologized for the remarks saying they are “distracting from the main issues of this debate,” but refused to either disavow or support the earlier statement saying it was a “local school board issue.”

The candidates continued to disagree on abortion. Tenenbaum acknowledged that she would in fact support a woman’s “constitutional right to have a safe and legal abortion” as well as a ban on partial birth abortion if it “contained an exception for the life and the health of the mother.”

DeMint, on the other hand, acknowledged that he would ban all forms of abortion. “My view is we should protect all human life and that our laws should be set up to protect that life,” he said.

But DeMint refused to answer Russert’s repeated question of who should be held responsible and prosecuted for committing an abortion if it becomes illegal.  

Tenenbaum attempted to come across again as an independently minded Democrat. She said that although as a voter she would support Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for president she would work on behalf of South Carolinians in the Senate.

“So, yes, I’m a Democrat. I’ve never tried to be anything else but a Democrat. But I also am an independent person who will put South Carolina first,” she said.

The only new topic of debate was one in which both sides agreed.

When asked to comment on the South Carolina reservists in Iraq who reportedly disobeyed orders and refused to go on a mission citing a lack of proper equipment, both DeMint and Tenenbaum expressed support for the troops in Iraq and a need to investigate the matter fully.

“We don’t really know what happened there, and we need to find out before we start making statements,” DeMint said.

“I believe that our troops have to have the equipment they need to do the job that they are required to do, and in this case that is being investigated,” Tenenbaum added.

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