BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS -- Two of the three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat said their negative television campaign ads will continue out of necessity.
Discussion among all three candidates in the primary race became heated and personal when they were asked during a Saturday candidates forum at Northern Kentucky University why their advertisements need to be so harsh.
"I am new to politics and have not held elective office and my skin gets thicker every day," Louisville businessman Charlie Owen said. "I think this is not the way to do this, but we must be able to discuss the public record. People are entitled to know what the issues are."
Mr. Owen's television spots attack the congressional votes of U.S. Rep. Scotty Baesler and accuse Lt. Gov. Steve Henry of "malpractice on the issue of health care."
Mr. Baesler and Dr. Henry said the ads are untruthful.
"When you distort the facts, you get away from what campaigns are all about," Mr. Baesler said. "But I'm a big boy, and I expect everything that's happened -- and I expect even more."
All three candidates did agree on several other issues: using the country's budget surplus to shore up Social Security; supporting Sen. Wendell Ford's Leaf Act, a proposal to help tobacco farmers; and health care reform that would restrict managed care insurance plans to prevent those on Medicare from being forced into a managed care plan.
But before the 45-minute debate ended, Mr. Baesler was shaking his fist in Mr. Owen's direction, accusing him of being a hypocrite when it comes to campaign contributions.
"I refuse to accept money from PACS," Mr. Owen said after listing the groups financially supporting his opponents. "I don't represent any special interests."
Dr. Henry acknowledged contributions from doctor and health care groups.
Mr. Baesler said Mr. Owen is being dishonest by lending money to his campaign. That means he expects it to be returned, Mr. Baesler said.
"I don't have millions of dollars to spend to trash people like you do," Mr. Baesler said. "I'll take more money, and I hope more people offer it. It shows they like me."
Dr. Henry even asked Mr. Owen and Mr. Baesler to stop the negative ad campaigns immediately. "When words like "malpractice' are used against me, I have to question that behavior of someone who wants to be a U.S. senator," Dr. Henry said.
Mr. Baesler said it would mean accepting defeat if he stopped the tit-for-tat campaigning. "When any candidate is getting attacked, if they came and beat on you, you at least have to stand up," he said.
Mr. Owen won't stop running his ads because, he said, they are truthful. "We will stay on the record, and we will respond if attacked," he said.
In the Republican primary for the same U.S. Senate seat, state Sen. Barry Metcalf of Richmond is challenging U.S. Rep. Jim Bunning of Southgate. Only Mr. Metcalf appeared; Mr. Bunning rarely attends debates or forums with his political opponents.
Mr. Metcalf said he supports tobacco legislation that protects farmers. His grass-roots campaign has put him in touch with the people whom he said Mr. Bunning has forgotten.
"I think that Mr. Bunning knows when you compare the two of us there's no comparison," Mr. Metcalf said.