Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Bunning fails to show up for his debate vs. Mongiardo



By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer

LEXINGTON - It was easy to call the winner in Tuesday night's U.S. Senate debate.

Democrat Dr. Daniel Mongiardo appeared alone on the 30-minute program produced by KET public television and shown across the state.

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Should Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning have debated Democratic Dan Mongiardo on KET Tuesday night? E-mail us at letters@enquirer.com; fax (513)768-8410; or send a letter to Enquirer Editorial Page, 226 Grandview Drive, Fort Mitchell, KY 41017.
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Northern Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning, the first-term incumbent, skipped the debate. He's made only one joint appearance with Mongiardo, a state senator from Hazard in eastern Kentucky.

During that first debate, sponsored by a Lexington television station, Mongiardo was in Kentucky while Bunning appeared via satellite from Republican national headquarters in Washington.

Bunning's absence Tuesday provided plenty of campaign fodder for Mongiardo, who took questions from two reporters.

The Bunning campaign did not say Tuesday why the senator did not attend.

"I wish my opponent were here tonight so that you could see the differences between the two of us and you could make an informed decision who to vote for and what direction we need to take," Mongiardo said.

Rumors have swirled that Bunning is suffering from poor health. His doctors have released statements indicating the 73-year-old senator is in good health and Bunning and his campaign have repeatedly denied that any problems exist.

Mongiardo said neither he nor his campaign had anything to do with the rumors, which he said are unfortunate and should stop.

But he did continually say Bunning has cast votes that are "out of touch" with Kentucky families. As an example, he cited the prescription-drug benefit the Bush administration pushed and Congress passed last year.

Mongiardo said the bill, which Bunning enthusiastically supported, prevents the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada and prohibits the federal government from negotiating prescription prices with drug companies.

"We have 45 million Americans today that don't have health insurance, 680,000 Kentuckians without health insurance, we have 120,000 children in Kentucky that don't have health insurance," he said. "We need a United States senator that will prioritize to help the people of Kentucky."

Mongiardo was asked to give his stance on several issues, including:

•  Tax cuts. He wants to extend tax cuts on the middle class but said "we need to look at" extending the current tax cuts for people who make more than $200,000 a year.

•  Iraq. President Bush did not mislead people in the run-up to the war, Mongiardo said. But faulty intelligence did not give a true picture of the threat presented by Saddam Hussein or his links to terrorists. Now that American soldiers are in Iraq they must be supported with the proper equipment, including armored vehicles, he said.

•  Stem-cell research. Mongiardo, a surgeon, supports spending tax dollars on embryonic stem-cell research as a way to search for cures for cancer, Parkinson's disease and other conditions.

Mongiardo also said he plans to vote for Democrat John Kerry. Current polls give President Bush a double-digit lead in the state.

"I think that our state and our nation are headed in the wrong direction," he said. "John Kerry is a viable alternative."

Both sides have cited internal polling that puts their candidate in the lead.

Monday, Mongiardo's campaign released a poll showing the race in a dead heat. Then Tuesday, Bunning's campaign said its polling shows an 11 percentage-point lead.

"Sen. Jim Bunning continues to remain very comfortable with where he stands with his fellow Kentuckians. Sen. Bunning is going to win re-election and we have the resources and plan for victory in this race going down the stretch," said campaign manager David Young.

Mongiardo agreed with a reporter's statement that he could not be in a virtual tie with an incumbent U.S. senator who has run a previous Senate campaign and has a nearly six-to-one advantage in fund-raising.

"I don't think that it's even," he said. "I think that we're now ahead."

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com




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