Behind the talking points: What Chandler and Barr got wrong and right during KET debate

10/29/2012 10:38 PM

Democratic Congressman Ben Chandler is betting his chance for a fifth term on Central Kentucky voters’ eagerness to see a moderate in Congress while Andy Barr is sticking to his strategy of hitting Chandler on coal as his main strategy.

Neither candidate strayed too much from talking points in their only televised debate on KET Monday night. But with a week left before Election Day, it might be the only direct impression many voters get from both candidates.

The debate lacked a defining game-changing moment. But there were some memorable exchanges.

  • Host Bill Goodman asked Barr five times whether he would support any exceptions to a ban on abortion, such as in instances of rape or incest. Each time, Barr refused to answer. Instead, Barr repeatedly answered that Congress isn’t likely to consider that specific question any time soon.

  • And Chandler, who audibly sighed throughout many of Barr’s answers, made a big to-do about blaming a critical mailer on Barr’s campaign, when the mailers say they were paid for by the Republican Party of Kentucky as Barr claimed. (More on that later.)

The third candidate in the race, independent Randolph Vance added a little levity by describing his position on abortion as being “pro-condom” — a title he first gave himself during an interview on Pure Politics earlier this month. Vance sat back and let Barr and Chandler go after each other for most of the debate. On social issues, he was the only one of the three to favor gay marriage and described himself as libertarian leaning except

Barr made coal the centerpiece of his appeal to voters to fire Chandler, saying Chandler has sided with President Barack Obama on policies that have crippled the coal industry. He was specific when pressed on the regulations he thinks went too far, such as enforcing strict water conductivity rules to block new permits. Chandler’s primary come-back was to say that market forces, not the government, poses the biggest threat to coal and cited a Wall Street Journal article at one point.

Chandler clearly entered the debate seeking to stress his willingness to compromise, mentioning it in his opening and closing. When asked to list an example of an area in which he went against his party, Chandler chose his opposition to the Dodd-Frank banking bill, which compared to the Affordable Care Act, is a more obscure example.

But the Affordable Care Act did play a key role in the debate, as did coal and auto industry and even term limits.

Death Panels/Medicare Rationing Board

Chandler claimed Barr’s campaign sent a mailer showing a skeleton to illustrate what the mailer called the “Medicare death panels” supposedly created through the Affordable Care Act.

But the mailer says “paid for by the Republican Party of Kentucky, as Barr insisted during the debate.

Chandler’s campaign later said Barr’s campaign is responsible for the messaging and reimburses the Republican Party so it can get a cheaper postage rate. It cited the Herald-Leader’s endorsement editorial , which referred to them as “Barr’s mailers and commercials.” And the Herald-Leader’s Jack Brammer reported Tuesday that “Barr has said he consulted with the GOP on the fliers.”

Read more here:

As for the claim about the “death panels” itself, Barr said the law allows “15 unelected bureaucrats to make decisions when those decisions should be made between senior citizens and their families and their physicians.”

But that notion that these are death panels or that they can make decisions about individuals’ care have been debunked by the media since Sarah Palin first coined the phrase “death panels” in 2009. (See articles from Forbes and Politifact.

Term limits
In probably the most unexpected part of the debate, Chandler and Barr took opposite views of Kentucky’s longest-tenured members of Congress.

Barr indirectly criticized Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is serving in his fifth six-year term, and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset , who is serving in his 16th two-year term in the House. He said those who stay in Congress for a career are “single-minded seekers of re-election.”

Chandler, who has been in Congress since 2004, defended their seniority, saying that a small state like Kentucky needs senior members of Congress who have the clout to stick up for Kentuckians’ interests.

Auto industry
Barr and Chandler also disagreed over the value of the auto bailout. Chandler argued that not putting up government money to keep GM and Chrysler afloat would have devastated the entire automobile manufacturing supply chain. Barr said it was an example of the government “throwing money at a problem that could have been handled with a limited role” by government.

Chandler, in his rebuttal, cited remarks of Ford CEO Alan Mullaly. In April, Mullaly told the L.A. Times that he defends his request for the bailout to this day even though Ford didn’t take it because he said no one but the government would have provided the cash to keep the other car companies in business while they restructured.

From the article:
bq. As it turned out, GM and Chrysler have restructured, shedding debt, slashing labor costs and returning to profitability. Ford’s balance sheet has improved as well; according to Mulally, the company has repaid more than $21 billion of the $23.5 billion it borrowed to get through the downturn. The bailout paid indirect dividends to Ford by averting the possible collapse of much of the industry’s supply chain

Some more fact checking:

Auto industry vs. Coal industry
Chandler: _The auto industry employs 50,000 more people in Kentucky than the coal industry. _

Kentucky is home to 442 auto-related facilities that employ 70,569 people, according to the Oct. 1, 2012, state figures. Several sources list the coal industry as employing between 17,000 and 22,000 in recent years.

Barr: A main reason Kentucky has so many auto manufacturing is the low cost of electricity thanks to the coal industry.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s 2012 report on the auto industry listed that as one of the main competitive advantages the state has: “Kentucky has the lowest cost of electricity in the industrial sector among states east of the Mississippi River (4th nationally), averaging more than 25 percent lower than the national average.”

Barr: The only reason unemployment fell below 7.8 percent was because labor participation is the lowest since the 1980s

Labor force participation has been hovering between 63.6 percent and 63.8 percent for much of the year, according to the latest figures. That’s true that the participation rate is the lowest since the 1980s.

But that’s not the reason unemployment dropped by .3 points in September. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people considered marginally attached to the workforce (those who “wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months”) were at the same levels as a year ago: 2.5 million.

The big concern in the job figures was the number of part-time employees continue to rise as full-time workers see their hours cut back.

Chandler: Kentucky is second in job growth

Kentucky added 9,300 jobs in September, a change of .51 percent. That was the fifth highest percentage increase in the country behind the District of Columbia, Maine, South Carolina and Nevada, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But over the last year, Kentucky has added 2.6 percent more jobs (47,000) and only North Dakota has grown at a faster pace with 5.5 percent (22,300 jobs).


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