U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk hammered economic issues, saying he would "spend less, borrow less and tax less, while state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias emphasized social issues and tried to depict Kirk as a "politics as usual candidate in their U.S. Senate debate at the ABC 7 studios in Chicago Tuesday.
Kirk, a Highland Park Republican, said the election would be decided on economic philosophy and raised the specter of huge government debt and increased taxes.
"There is a stark choice in this race, countered the Chicago Democrat Giannoulias. "Congressman Kirk wants to fight for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. I want to fight for middle-class families that have been destroyed by this recession.
Both pounded on personal issues that have dogged both campaigns, as well as the negative ads from outside special-interest groups that have cluttered TV airwaves.
Kirk hit Giannoulias on the failure of his family's Broadway Bank and its earlier loans to mob figures.
"When you saw the Broadway Bank collapse, you took no responsibility whatsoever, Kirk said. "When we saw the Bright Start program lose $70 million in college savings of Illinois families that trusted you, that wasn't your fault either.
Giannoulias accused Kirk of waffling on the issues, saying, "I don't put my finger in the wind and take a position, the way the congressman does, and suggesting Kirk indulged in "typical Washington, D.C., change-of-subject sleight of hand. He again cited admitted embellishments Kirk made on his military record.
Kirk slashed back that he found it the ultimate irony to be criticized by someone who never served a day in uniform, adding, "You were back in the rear with the gear.
Prodded by questions from Daily Herald Politics and Projects Writer Kerry Lester, Better Government Association Executive Director Andy Shaw and ABC 7 political reporter Charles Thomas, they did eventually get down to substantive issues, with sharp differences especially on social matters.
Kirk talked of the failure of the stimulus package pushed by the Obama administration, while Giannoulias countered, "Economists across the board will tell you the Recovery Act helped stem a second Great Depression.
Giannoulias expressed support for the Dream Act on immigration reform, "marriage equality and a repeal of the military "don't ask, don't tell policy regarding gays serving in the military.
Kirk allowed he had voted in favor of "don't ask, don't tell but that he was totally confused by the Obama administration's shifting stance on it. He said he was against gay marriage but favored civil unions, adding, "I also don't think we should have a federal takeover of all marriage laws in the United States. Although he said he favored ensuring sound international borders first, only later, when pressed by reporters, did he say he would vote against the Dream Act for now and that it needed more study.
While agreeing on the nastiness of what Giannoulias called "a negative campaign ... a brutal campaign, they differed sharply on putting limits on the negative ads that have been fueled by outside special-interest groups.
Kirk said he favored only more transparent disclosure, while Giannoulias said he would support a constitutional amendment to undo the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down limits on corporate campaign contributions, which he said had "a dangerous impact on the future of our democracy.
While Kirk tried to tie Giannoulias to Obama's economic policies, Giannoulias struck back against Kirk's support for Bush administration policies and tied them to the negative TV ads, saying, "Mark Kirk helped Karl Rove destroy the economy, and now Karl Rove is repaying the favor with millions of dollars.
The Senate candidates' last scheduled debate is at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 on WTTW-TV Channel 11.