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Barber, Kelly clash on character in CD8 debate
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Analysis

Barber, Kelly clash on character in CD8 debate

  • Barber, Kelly and Manolakis during Wednesday's debate.
    azpm.ogBarber, Kelly and Manolakis during Wednesday's debate.
  • Democrat Ron Barber
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comDemocrat Ron Barber
  • Republican Jesse Kelly
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comRepublican Jesse Kelly

The debate between Democrat Ron Barber, Republican Jesse Kelly and Green Party candidate Charlie Manolakis broadcast Wednesday night might as well have been pre-scripted, in addition to being pre-taped.

But it would've made for a good drinking game.

In what the producers, Arizona Public Media, billed as a "candidate forum," the sparks between the candidates were few, and the repetitions of talking points were many.

AZPM reporters Andrea Kelly and Christopher Conover did well to question the trio on topics other than Social Security and Medicare, but for much of the hour-long debate one could've made a great drinking game based on the frequent mentions of the programs: A sip of a beer when Social Security came up, a shot for Medicare, and maybe a chug-a-lug when Manolakis brought up Medicaid.

In the debate, which was taped in the afternoon for a 6 p.m. broadcast, the candidates followed the pattern already set for the campaign:

  • Kelly focused on saying "we will protect the benefits that seniors have earned," backing away from his proposals to privatize Social Security.
  • Barber pressed Kelly on his plans to change the programs, using the Republican's previous statements against him and saying, "That's wrong for Southern Arizona."
  • Manolakis told the other two candidates that their lack of focus on 90 million Americans on Medicaid makes them unfit to serve in Congress.

"We will not do it (protect benefits) with the government and its current anti-business policies," Kelly said.

The GOP candidate, who lost a close race to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2010 after a campaign that found him calling more clearly to end Social Security and Medicare in their current forms, said expanding U.S. production of oil, coal, natural gas and uranium would support providing benefits for current seniors.

"Literally thousands of Southern Arizonans depend on these two programs," Barber said.

"Mr. Kelly has repeatedly said he would like to privatize, and eliminate and phase out these programs," he said. "My work when I go to Congress will be to make sure we protect those programs."

"Can we trust a candidate, Mr. Kelly in this case, who has repeatedly said one thing and now wants to say something different?" Barber said.

Kelly said the Democrat has mischaracterized his positions.

"Do you want to elect a candidate who has run his entire campaign based on attempting to scare seniors into voting a certain way?" he said.

One of the few moments where Barber and Kelly broke from their scripts was late in the debate, when they clashed over Barber's charge that Kelly has been less than truthful:

Barber: "A lot of things have been said in Mr. Kelly's campaign, on his website, that are just flat-out wrong. One of them is, that he believes that oil is a renewable resource. I don't think so, I believe that's incorrect. I just think we need to have the ability in our candidates to tell the truth, and to not make stuff up."

Kelly: "Well, sadly, that's not nearly the first lie that Ron Barber's told in this campaign, and I am hoping that that'll be the last. I said that, it was a joke, everybody knew it was a joke. So once again, here at a public forum, a man of your stature just lied to every voter of Southern Arizona. How embarrassing."

Barber: "Just let me interrupt for a second."

Kelly: "I have not interrupted you once, nor will you interrupt me once, sir. So please, let's not do that."

Barber: "Go ahead and finish and then I want to talk about ..."

Kelly: "I would appreciate that."

Barber: "Go ahead, finish."

Kelly: "Thank you. I'm done."

Barber: "Are you finished?"

Kelly: "Please continue."

Barber: "I guess I didn't interrupt you. Here's the thing: You said, not too long ago, that you wanted to eliminate the minimum wage. Right? You said it, it's on tape — are you denying that?"

Kelly: "I'm allowing you to finish, please continue."

Barber: "Did you say that?"

Kelly: "Is it my turn to talk?"

Barber: "No, I'm just asking you a question, yes or no?"

Kelly: "You're not the moderator of this debate, Mr. Barber."

Barber: "Let me go on. You said it, and then I went on a local radio talk show and I repeated what you had said — which is actually on tape. You came on later on that show and said I was a liar. Well, the facts are that I wasn't a liar, and you're trying to misinform people. So I just think you need to get your facts straight. You need to not be attacking me inappropriately. You need to not make things up, as you've been doing from the very beginning. You need to tell the truth, and then we'll have a more civil campaign. That's the real issue here — making stuff up is not what this campaign is about, and you've done a lot of it."

Seeing the clock ticking down, Kelly saw an opening to jump into his stump speech rather than reply to Barber. He touted his credentials as a Marine veteran, father and "small businessman."

Earlier in the debate, the candidates were asked about health care reform. While he wouldn't say whether he would have voted for it had he been in Congress, Barber said he would move to refine the Affordable Care Act but wouldn't "throw the baby out with the bathwater."

"There are a lot of things that need to be changed," he said.

Kelly charged that Barber supports the Obama administration's proposed $500 billion cut in fees paid to Medicare providers over a decade, and "$500 billion in tax increases through his support of Obamacare."

Kelly said he would immediately move to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected.

The Republican candidate said that the Democratic Party is backing Barber because he'll be a "reliable far-left vote."

Kelly said the United States should tap oil shale deposits and "create millions of new jobs."

"As far as recoverable oil goes, there's more oil, in the form of oil shale, in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado than the entire rest of the world combined," Kelly said.

"I stand for more sensible drilling, everywhere we can," he said. "That's not only oil — natural gas, coal, uranium. We have all the capability we need, all the resources we need in this nation."

Barber called for increased investment in solar and other alternative energy, and said Kelly is wrong on his assessment of U.S. oil reserves.

"The oil reserves are not as big or bigger than Saudi Arabia or the rest of the world," he said.

"What Mr. Kelly talks about is oil in shale. There's no technology available today to make it happen. If it was, it would be pursued," Barber said.

"The most important thing we can do here is stop sending money overseas to buy oil from hostile governments," Barber said.

Barber said jobs in Southern Arizona will be created by high-tech and bioscience companies, not in oil extraction.

"Jesse, you have probably been spending a little too much time in Texas, because we don't have oil here to create jobs," he said.

Another debate in a week

A live debate, sponsored by the Arizona Daily Star, will take place on May 23 at the Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Rd. That event, scheduled for 7 p.m., will be public. That debate will be radio broadcast on KVOI 1030 Am. The JCC Ballroom seats about 500 people.

Early voting in the special election begins Thursday and the election is June 12.

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