Government & Politics

U.S. Senate candidates Jason Kander, Roy Blunt meet in what may be their only debate

Senate candidate Jason Kander argued for a “generational” change in Missouri’s representation in Washington during a debate here Friday.

Kander, 35, is facing incumbent Republican Roy Blunt, who is 66.

Both took part in an hour-long exchange of views sponsored by the Missouri Press Association. It was the first debate of the fall campaign, and perhaps the last. Neither campaign has announced future joint appearances.

The debate was polite, until the end. Blunt spoke in more general terms, while Kander seemed interested in engaging his opponent more directly.

“After 20 years in Washington, he’s changed,” Kander said of Blunt.

Kander criticized Blunt and his colleagues for taking too much time off this year. The government was unable to pass emergency funding to fight the Zika virus, he said, because senators were “too busy taking seven weeks off.”

Blunt played a leading role in obtaining $1.1 billion for anti-Zika efforts. Congress approved the spending this week.

Kander criticized Blunt for failing to meet with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, who has yet to have a hearing on his nomination. Kander pledged to meet with any nominee if elected to the Senate.

Blunt said he thought Garland was a fine man, but “there was no reason to confirm Judge Garland.” He also said the choice of judges — and the Senate’s role in confirming nominees — was an important decision point for voters.

“This is a big moment,” Blunt said.

The incumbent Republican called discussion of taxpayer support for free college tuition “foolish.” Kander said free tuition would be “too expensive,” but said the government could help students refinance student debt.

Kander also accused Blunt of cutting grants to college students, then endorsing restoration of the funds. Blunt said that approach was supported by Democrats.

Kander criticized Blunt for saying students’ “lifestyles” have added to their debt burdens; Blunt said he has been told that by school administrators.

The candidates were asked about the prevalence of weaponry in their commercials, particularly Kander’s assembly of a rifle in an ad.

Kander defended the ad. “I support the Second Amendment,” he said, but he also supports background checks for some weapons purchases.

Blunt claimed Kander had received an “F” from the National Rifle Association, a group that supports gun access rights.

Three other candidates — Libertarian Jonathan Dine, Constitution Party nominee Fred Ryman and Green Party nominee Johnathan McFarland — took part in the debate.

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc

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