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Senate hopefuls pitch ideas to the media
Feb 17, 2006 12:00 am
February 10, 2006
NASHVILLE — For the first time since their campaigns began, all five candidates vying for Tennessee's U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist shared a stage Thursday during a candidate forum in downtown Nashville.
And with the exception of a relatively small number of instances, they also shared a lot of opinions.
The event – officially a forum and not a debate – was put on by the Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association during the association's annual Winter Covention at the Sheraton Downtown Nashville. The hour-and-a-half long forum was moderated by Clint Brewer, managing editor of The Lebanon Democrat.
"I think this is a great thing for the State of Tennessee," Brewer said just before kicking off the forum. "This is an important race, obviously it's an important seat. The United States Senate is where some of the biggest decisions on the future history of civilization are made."
And while it was a chance for members of the media from across the state to see the candidates together up close, the forum also gave candidates the opportunity to distinguish themselves from one another and make their pitch as to why they should succeed Frist, who is retiring at the end of the year.
Yet, the four men and one woman – Republicans Ed Bryant, Bob Corker and Van Hilleary and Democrats Harold Ford Jr. and Rosalind Kurita – spent the majority of their time on stage agreeing on a number of issues ranging from immigration to energy to how to deal with the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Much of the cordiality stemmed from the structure of the event, which allowed for rebuttal only at the moderator's discretion. But hardly any claims made were challenged. Instead, the candidates most often tried to point out subtle differences between their approach and the approach of their opponents on the majority of issues.
However, the starkest contrasts of the afternoon came when Brewer asked what each candidate would do to aid in the restructuring of the U.S. labor force in a global economy.
The three Republicans and Ford said adapting to an expanding global economy was essential to maintaining America's place among the top industrial nations.
But Kurita distinguished herself, saying a few times, "I am not a free trader."
Seeking to stake out a position on the far left of the other candidates, the state senator said, "It is not all about competition.
"We need to ensure not only that we are giving our children the best education possible, but that we treat people with dignity who have worked hard for companies in this country," Kurita said.
Brewer continued asking pointed questions about policy and the appropriate role of a U.S. senator, steering clear of any and all questions regarding either personalities or past decisions. One candidate did venture into voting records of his competitors.
Using a question on work force, Ford took one of the debate's few shots, challenging the voting record of Bryant and Hilleary, with whom he served in Congress.
"You can't on Thursday say that you're for making America more competitive, then on Monday vote for making cuts to the higher education programs in this country, or making it harder for people to get job training," he said. "I just think we need to look at the record."
Corker also strayed from the pack, responding to a question about a federal shield law for reporters by mostly touting his conservative credentials.
Bryant and Hilleary pointed to their time in Congress as proof that they best represent the conservative Tennessee voter.
In his closing remarks, Hilleary said he hoped move Congress back to where it was in 1994, when he and Bryant were elected to the House in the "Republican Revolution."
"I want to recreate some of that excitement," he said. "And I don't think the Democratic Party has done much better."
While all left the stage unscathed, Bryant predicted that is likely to change in the coming months.
"There's talk in our camp that whoever wins our Republican primary is going to be the next senator," Bryant said. "And I think we're in for a real fight with our Democrats on the podium here. And I think there are going to be clear differences out there as this process goes down the road. Maybe they didn't get flushed out today, but it's good that we have those clear differences."
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.