PUEBLO, Colo. — Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet ramped up criticism of his Republican challenger Thursday, pounding on the podium in his third debate with Republican Ken Buck and accusing his opponent of flip-flopping on Social Security and taxation.
The candidates exchanged accusations of political deceit in their most fiery debate so far. The debate came as Bennet started airing ads accusing Buck of supporting a higher national sales tax and privatizing Social Security.
When Buck clarified his position and said Bennet was wrongly describing his position, Bennet read quotes from Buck speeches during the primary campaign and pounded on the podium as he said, "It's important that we say the same things in red parts of the state and blue parts of the state."
Buck later replied, "Senator Bennet, you're unbelievable."
They were bickering over Social Security and a national sales tax. Buck has said that younger workers should have private, government-approved personal savings accounts as a companion to traditional Social Security — a position Buck says Bennet is wrongly describing to seniors as a plan to end Social Security.
Bennet replied by reading a Buck statement questioning the role of the federal government in retirement savings, raising his voice and pointing at the Republican — "He said that. I didn't say that."
The tone was similar throughout the hourlong debate sponsored by The Pueblo Chieftain. Bennet and Buck sparred over last year's stimulus package, which Buck described as a "failure" because the national unemployment rate is still hovering at about 10 percent. Buck also complained the stimulus package cost too much.
"A billion dollars here and there — pretty soon that's real money, folks," Buck said.
Bennet replied that the stimulus was needed.
"We were in even a worse recession than we imagined when this president was elected," Bennet said. Bennet also reminded the crowd that much of the stimulus was tax cuts.
For the first time, the Senate hopefuls also sparred over Colorado water. Buck backed the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a divisive proposal to capture water from the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers for a new reservoir north of Fort Collins. Bennet hasn't taken a position on the project.
The two disagreed over the role of the federal government in Colorado water disputes. Bennet said the federal government should stay out of intrastate water disputes, while Buck said, "It's one of the places the federal government should have a role."
One topic that didn't come up — previous jobs. In recent days, allies of both candidates have aired attack ads about former their jobs.
A Democratic-leaning group started airing ads this week attacking Buck for a reprimand he received about a decade ago while working as a federal prosecutor. And a group allied with the GOP has an ad blasting Bennet for his oversight of a pension fund at Denver Public Schools, where Bennet was superintendent.
Neither candidate mentioned those previous jobs during Thursday's debate. Bennet and Buck have three debates planned next week.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.