UPDATED: 10/20/10 4:57 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Illinois U.S. Senate candidates Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias came out swinging Tuesday night, as they squared off in a one-hour debate.
Kirk and Giannoulias sparred over federal spending, immigration and gay rights.
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CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports the debate got heated over the tone of their commercials.
In fact, right before one of his questions Tuesday night, Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association called issues of character in this campaign “the elephant in the room.” It was in the debate, too.
In the first 10 minutes of the debate, Republican Kirk and Democrat Giannoulias reflected the negative messages in their commercials.
Giannoulias went after Kirk for misstating his military record.
“The question, congressman, is why with this record, would you not tell the truth? Why would you make all this stuff up? Congressman, it’s a simple question. Were you shot at or not?” asked Giannoulias.
Kirk responded: “The ultimate irony that a man who spends most of his campaign for the Senate criticizing my military record, and yet he never served a day in uniform in his life.”
“Were you shot at or not?” Giannoulias repeated.
Kirk then attacked the management of Giannoulias’ family bank.
“He made a number of mistakes, betting his bank’s future on the risky real estate loans, brokered hot money deposits, and loans to well-known convicted felons and mobsters,” said Kirk.
Giannoulias responded: “I am very proud of the community bank that my father started 30 years ago. And let’s be clear, no one has ever suggested the bank has ever done anything illegal, illicit or improper – never.”
Perhaps their most spirited and direct exchange followed a question about what Kirk called a “voter integrity program”, to watch the polls on Chicago’s South and West Sides, along with parts of Rockford and East St. Louis.
“You’re trying to suppress the African-American vote, and that’s unacceptable,” said Giannoulias. “It’s dangerous, and it flies in the spirit of our democracy. Where on the South and West side of Chicago is there voter fraud? Tell us.”
“We had a conviction just in Chicago recently,” said Kirk. “But it is no secret that there is corruption in the state of Illinois, and you of all people, should know.”
Giannoulias says he’d support the DREAM Act, while Kirk says it’s not the time for such immigration reform.
The DREAM Act would help grant U.S. residency to some young immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents. The legislation says young people would have to spend time in college or the military.
Giannoulias says he wants comprehensive immigration reform and that families are being torn apart.
Kirk says the first priority is border security. The five-term U.S. representative said he wouldn’t consider the DREAM Act until other parts of the immigration system have been repaired.
Giannoulias and Kirk debated Tuesday night at Chicago’s WLS-TV, Channel 7. They are in a tight race for President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
After the debate, the most aggressive spin masters were certainly on Kirk’s side. CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall counted at least six e-mails from Kirk’s representatives — with what they called “fact-checking” messages.
Kirk and Giannoulias will Spar one more time, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
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