Updated: Tuesday, 19 Oct 2010, 10:55 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 19 Oct 2010, 10:55 PM EDT
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The two main candidates hoping to succeed U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy sparred Tuesday night over Social Security, the federal stimulus package, education and climate change, routinely talking over each other in raised voices during their first televised debate.
Republican John Loughlin, a state representative, accused Democrat David Cicilline of distorting his view on Social Security and accused him of "breaches of integrity" in his eight years as Providence mayor. Cicilline said he was proud of his record and accused Loughlin of making false and misguided attacks.
The 90-minute debate, held two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, was co-sponsored by The Providence Journal and WPRI-TV. The first hour aired live and the remainder was streamed online. Cicilline has held a huge fundraising advantage in the race and has been running TV ads for weeks. Loughlin launched a TV ad campaign this week.
The candidates are vying to replace Kennedy, a Democrat, who announced in February that he would not seek a ninth term.
The jabs began almost immediately, when Cicilline said his Republican opponent wanted to privatize Social Security and had voted against a resolution in the General Assembly that urged Congress not to privatize the program. Loughlin said all he had proposed was allowing younger workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into a private account. He accused Cicilline of scaring voters by deliberately misstating his position.
"That's not the way you should conduct this campaign," Loughlin chided him.
Cicilline said Loughlin's view was unquestionionably a step toward privatizing the program.
"He's privatizing Social Security. It will put the program at risk," Cicilline said.
Loughlin later shot back: "What's really putting Social Security at risk is the overspending that's going on in Congress."
Another tussle came when Loughlin accused Cicilline of going back on promises not to raise taxes and criticized him for using city resources during a campaign stop in Tiverton earlier this year. Cicilline said he had reimbursed the city for the car mileage and bristled at the characterization of his administration as unethical.
"My predecessor had breached the public trust," Cicilline said, referring to former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, who was sent to prison in 2002 for corruption. "I'm very proud of the integrity I brought to city government."
The two also clashed over extending the Bush administration's tax cuts, with Loughlin saying the wealthy should be entitled to keep the money they earn while Cicilline said the cuts should be extended and made permanent for the middle class but not for the wealthiest Americans.
"We cannot afford another tax break for millionaires and billionaires while trying to manage the deficit," Cicilline said.
He said he supported the intent of the Obama administration's stimulus aid but that its success was modest and the money should have gone directly toward infrastructure projects. Loughlin, who has repeatedly tried to link Cicilline to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the stimulus bill had been a total failure and that his opponent believed the country was just "one more stimulus package from prosperity."
"If you just give him more money and let him spend it," Loughlin said, "he'll come up with a better answer."
Loughlin criticized Cicilline for presiding over a failing public school system. Cicilline acknowledged problems but said the schools had improved under his leadership. Cicilline expressed exasperation when Loughlin said there was no scientific consensus that global warming was caused by humans.
Loughlin also said he was a committed supporter of the Second Amendment, but Cicilline pointed out that his Republican challenger had voted to allow people accused of domestic violence to keep their guns. Loughlin again said Cicilline was distorting his record.
"You're suggesting I want to take away old people's Social Security," Loughlin said. "Now you're suggesting I want to supply criminals with guns."
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