HELENA, Mont. – Democrat Dennis McDonald attacked incumbent Congressman Denny Rehberg, a heavy favorite, immediately at their first debate Saturday as someone who doesn’t work hard enough — while the Republican portrayed his challenger as a liberal ally to Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C.
Rehberg is looking for a sixth term, and easily cleared his party’s primary earlier this month. McDonald, a rancher and former Democratic party chairman, is running for his first office as is Libertarian Mike Fellows. All were at a debate hosted by the Montana Newspaper Association.
McDonald said harder work is needed to improve the economy, and to create rules that would prevent another economic collapse and environmental disaster like being seen with the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Unfortunately we have a congressman who has not adopted that work ethic,” McDonald said. “What we don’t need is a congressman who continually takes the easy way.”
Rehberg, the Republican, called the attacks a “bunch of bunk,” and took opportunities through the debate to paint McDonald as a liberal ally to Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“When you are considering candidates, don’t send Nancy Pelosi another ‘yes’ man,” Rehberg said.
McDonald was quick to respond: “I never met her. I wouldn’t know her from a bale of hay.”
The two also staked out ground on various issues.
Rehberg, who has already made spending under Democrats a primary campaign issue, promised at the debate to do what he can to balance the federal budget by 2015.
“We work on borrowed money. It is time to take bold action,” Rehberg said. “Bottom line: stop the spending.”
McDonald countered that Republicans under the Bush administration were guilty of their own spending problem, and said that Rehberg “voted to place two wars on Uncle Sam’s credit card.”
Fellows said neither party is to be trusted.
“It doesn’t matter who is charge in Washington, D.C. We see the country continue to grow these deficits no matter if it is the Bush administration or the Obama administration,” said the perennial candidate and also-ran. “There are a lot of people that are upset out there.”
McDonald differed a bit from Democrats in Washington, D.C. on the federal health care plan. The former lawyer said it was a good step, but promised he would seek a voluntary single-payer system instead.
Both Rehberg and McDonald said embattled energy giant BP may need to cough up more than the $20 billion negotiated by the Obama administration.
But Rehberg said President Barack Obama seems to have responded too slowly, failing to learn from similar mistakes by his predecessor. McDonald, however, pointed a critical finger at the policies of the Bush administration supported by Rehberg.
McDonald said reducing the country’s dependence on oil could start with switching the commercial trucking fleets over to natural gas.
Rehberg said he prefers an “all of the above” solution to energy that includes more domestic fossil fuels, conservation and incentives to get alternative energy off the ground.
Both also addressed issues that have been coming from their opposition’s party operatives.
Rehberg said last August’s boat crash, which has resulted in drunk driving charges against the state lawmaker who was piloting the vessel, was simply an accident that should not become the subject of “personal partisan politics.”
McDonald defended his past representing organized crime figure-turned mob informant Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno in the 1970s, a relationship portrayed as friendly in a book from the time. He said he was instrumental in getting Fratianno to testify for the state and bring down other mob figures.
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