BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Republican congressional candidates sparred during a televised debate Tuesday over who has the experience and qualifications to succeed U.S. Rep. Jim Bunning.
The debate, broadcast from KET's Louisville studio, featured candidates Rick Robinson, Gex "Jay" Williams and Jim Kidney discussing who has the background and platform to continue the work Mr. Bunning has performed during six terms in Congress.
Mr. Bunning, a Southgate Republican, is leaving the House to run for the U.S. Senate.
Mr. Robinson, a Fort Mitchell lawyer who has been endorsed by Mr. Bunning, said the candidates share some basic political and personal philosophies. But his platform is more comprehensive that those of the other candidates in the race.
"We're all pro-life, we are all pro-family, and we believe the government should back policies to support both," said Mr. Robinson, who previously worked as a congressional and political aide for Mr. Bunning.
"However, on economic issues, we are as different as night and day," he said. "I believe a congressman must be a spokesperson for economic prosperity in the community and someone to fight" for jobs and roads and bridges in the 22-county 4th District.
"That's the type of congressman I want to be," he said, adding that he advocates keeping school lunch programs and the Head Start preschool program fully funded and in place.
And Mr. Robinson touted his plan to give tax breaks to employers to attract jobs to high-unemployment, high-poverty areas of Eastern Kentucky.
Mr. Williams, a state senator from Boone County, said during his eight years in the Kentucky General Assembly he fought for tax relief and education reform.
He also helped lead a so-called Senate coup that deposed the chamber's former leadership and opened up the process so more votes were taken and bills were not routinely killed by members of leadership or committee chairmen.
"If I cause half as much trouble in Washington, D.C., as I did in Frankfort, then I'll be making some progress," Mr. Williams said.
Mr. Williams also said he would work for higher tax deductions for families with children. And he said he is the only candidate in the race who has a legislative record voting on anti-abortion and other bills.
Mr. Williams mentioned the endorsements he has received from national and state conservative leaders, including: Dr. James Dobson, a conservative radio talk show host and author; former Reagan administration official William Bennett; two-term Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Forgy; and GOP presidential contenders Steve Forbes and Newport native Gary Bauer, who will be in Northern Kentucky today to campaign for Mr. Williams.
Mr. Kidney attempted to distance himself and his views from the other candidates, saying Mr. Williams is too conservative and that Mr. Robinson is too close to special interests because of donations he has accepted from political action committees, or PACs.
He pointed out that Mr. Williams has hired former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed as his general campaign consultant.
"You bring in Ralph Reed and pay him $2,500 a month to be your spokesman to talk the Kentucky voter into voting your way, when I think the Kentucky voter is smart enough to know how to vote," Mr. Kidney said. "We want to know what the Kentucky voters want, not what Ralph Reed, or any of those other individuals who have endorsed you think."
There is also too much emphasis on abortion in the race, Mr. Kidney said.
"I believe in the rights of the unborn, but I also believe there's more to a congressman than that," Mr. Kidney said. "I believe the rights of the born are just as important."