By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
LEXINGTON - A distance of several hundred miles didn't keep Kentucky's U.S. Senate candidates from going at each other Monday during their only scheduled debate.
Republican incumbent Jim Bunning of Southgate and Democrat Daniel Mongiardo, a state senator from Hazard, traded personal and policy jabs during an hourlong debate taped here Monday at WKYT.
Bunning, who refused offers to debate as many as six times, said he was prevented from appearing in Lexington because he had to cast votes in Washington. So he appeared via satellite while Mongiardo was in the WKYT studio.
Homeland security and the war with Iraq served as points of deep contention.
Bunning maintained the nation is safer because of the Department of Homeland Security, the new federal agency he voted to form.
"We have combined 22 different agencies of the federal government ... to make us more secure," Bunning said. "Daniel Mongiardo doesn't understand that there has not been an attack over the last three years in the United States. Do you think that's by accident or do you think it's by design?
"We have worked very, very hard," Bunning said. "By combining intelligence, by confronting our good friend Saddam Hussein, the ugliest dictator in ... history, on their turf rather than on our turf, we have prevented" attacks.
Mongiardo contends that Congress hasn't done enough to secure the nation's borders or prevent weapons from coming into the country through cargo shipments.
"I'm concerned we are going to see another attack," Mongiardo said. "Your priorities are not to take care of the working class families of this state.
"By the way, Sen. Bunning ... and even though you think that I look like Saddam Hussein's sons, he is not my good friend," he said.
After the debate Bunning said he was sarcastically referring to Saddam Hussein as "our good friend." He also apologized for a joke he told earlier this year in which he said Mongiardo looks like the sons of the deposed Iraqi dictator.
On domestic issues Mongiardo repeatedly talked of his support for a new federal law that would allow Americans to buy less expensive prescriptions from Canada.
"It is absolutely absurd that we as Americans are paying more for prescription drugs than our neighbors in Canada for medicines made here in the USA" Mongiardo said.
Bunning used the issue to attack Mongiardo for holding the stocks of several pharmaceutical companies. Mongiardo's stock ownership is listed in his financial disclosure forms.
"You're cashing their checks," Bunning said. "You better look at your own portfolio before talking out of both sides of your mouth."
Mongiardo responded by saying if he was trying to make money on his drug stocks he wouldn't be pushing for cheaper drugs from Canada.
"I don't care about the money," he said. "I'm over here with middle-class families because they are struggling.
Mongiardo pointed out that Bunning not only voted to make it illegal for drug importation from Canada but he has taken $81,500 in campaign contributions from drug companies and $334,000 from the insurance industry.
"It's time to put a doctor in Washington who cares more about patients on Main Street than the big drug companies on Wall Street," said Mongiardo, a physician.
Mongiardo went on the offensive over job outsourcing, saying Bunning has supported tax loopholes that benefit companies for locating operations overseas.
But Bunning once again used Mongiardo's stock holdings to show he has invested in several companies that have sent jobs overseas, including Microsoft, Intel and Sun Microsystems.
"He's being a hypocrite," Bunning said after the debate.
The debate will be broadcast in Lexington and Hazard at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and is scheduled to air in Bowling Green on Thursday night. No Northern Kentucky airing is scheduled.
The debate also will be shown on C-SPAN, the cable network that covers the federal government. But as of Monday night the airing was not posted on C-SPAN's Web site.
The Mongiardo campaign released a new poll over the weekend showing the Hazard surgeon trailing Bunning by 8 percentage points among likely voters, 47 percent to 39 percent, with 14 percent undecided.
The poll of 506 likely voters was taken Oct 6. It has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
The poll showed Mongiardo still needs to introduce himself to Kentucky voters. Bunning's name recognition was 83 percent, while Mongiardo's was 55 percent.
Mongiardo's campaign wouldn't release the full poll results, saying it included questions about campaign strategies and issues.
Carl Weiser contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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