The attacks from both sides echoed many of the campaign ads that have filled the airwaves for the past several months, as the two candidates vying for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seats met Friday night in their first debate.
The debate between incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold and Republican challenger Ron Johnson saw both candidates take questions on a wide range of topics, including health care, Social Security, energy policy, and the war in Afghanistan.
Feingold and Johnson repeatedly traded jabs on government spending and Feingold’s record in the U.S. Senate. Johnson, an Oshkosh businessman, criticized Feingold for voting on legislation that has driven up the federal deficit and forced jobs overseas. Feingold defended many of his votes though, pointing to stances he’s taken against fellow Democrats on issues such as trade legislation that have helped protect Wisconsin businesses.
Johnson renewed his commitment to repealing federal health care reforms passed earlier this year, calling them an overreach designed to create a government takeover of medicine. Feingold refuted those claims, saying the bill will only help to ensure the American people have access to the care they need and prevent abuses by the insurance industry.
On the environment, Feingold stressed the importance of keeping global warming in mind when determining U.S. energy policies. Johnson again stated that he believes the science on global warming is far from settled, and proposals Feingold has backed could drive utility bills up for no reason. He also says the nation should expand the use of nuclear power to meet future energy demands.
When asked about national defense against terrorism, Johnson blasted the Obama Administration for rolling back missile defense shields in key areas and pledged to never openly criticize U.S. wars.
Feingold, who has been a vocal critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the role of a Senator is to question those policies. He says the terrorist threat is an international syndicate, and the military needs to work with other nations where it is present, instead of long term occupations that never end.
Friday night’s debate in Milwaukee was sponsored by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation. The candidates will meet in two more debates ahead of the November election. The next will be Monday night in Wausau.