TUCSON — U.S. Senate candidates Jon Kyl and Jim Pederson hammered their positions on immigration and war as the second of their three televised debates moved to southern Arizona on Wednesday.
While the issues remained largely unchanged from the initial debate in Phoenix three days ago, the tone was markedly different.
Following their first performance Sunday, their rematch brought them to the campus of the University of Arizona, both candidates' alma mater.
The candidates, apparently seeking to appear more civil this time than their debut encounter, were more congenial. Neither accused the other of "fibbing" or "lying," as they had repeatedly three days earlier.
The biggest difference in the debate was the presence of dark-horse Libertarian Richard Mack, a former Graham County sheriff and current fiction writer and car salesman.
Mack initially was not invited to any of the three debates, which were set up jointly by Kyl's and Pederson's campaign staffs. Mack was invited only after officials at Public Broadcasting System station KUAT-TV (Channel 6) in Tucson threatened to back out of their agreement to broadcast the program if Mack was excluded.
The Libertarian played something of a wild card role during the hour-long debate.
He frequently doubled up with Pederson in criticizing Kyl's and the Bush administration's policies, particularly concerning the war in Iraq and national security. On other occasions, he sided with Kyl and spoke against Pederson's and the Democratic Party's policies, notably concerning taxes.
Kyl tried to set the agenda early and criticized Pederson for opposing the recent confirmations of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Kyl said Pederson's opposition demonstrates he is far out of the mainstream.
Kyl also challenged Pederson, the former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, to explain his "flip-flops" on building a border fence and why he believes illegal immigrants should get U.S. citizenship.
Pederson let the Supreme Court challenge go unanswered, but outlined his immigration policy in response to the first question. The shopping mall developer countered Kyl by comparing his 20-year service in Congress to a failing business.
"Sometimes when you take over an existing business or a project, things are so messed up that you have to come in and make complete change, change the personnel and start over. Folks, I think that's where we are today," he said.
Pederson said Kyl is part of the Republican leadership responsible for unsecured borders, tax policies that unfairly target the middle class, corruption, immoral behavior and lax national security measures.
Mack used his opening statement to introduce himself to voters, many of whom might not have even known he was in the race. The former sheriff has kept an extremely low profile.
"My name is Richard Mack and I approved this debate. As a matter of fact, I'm really grateful to be here. I don't always get invited. I think it's kind of astonishing that I don't get invited to all of them," said the man who literally was left standing outside the door of the Phoenix debate.
Mack said he hopes to revive the country's founding principals of self-rule and limited government.
BORDER AND IMMIGRATION ISSUES
• Mack called for diplomacy with Mexico and the halt of government benefits to non-citizens. He also questioned the value of a recently legislated 700-mile fence along the country's southern border. Both major parties are to blame for the failures, he said. "We don't need another immigration law. We need to enforce the laws that are already there."
• Pederson supported an immigration bill that stalled in the House earlier this year after the Senate passed it. Co-authored by Kyl's own campaign chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the bill called for increased border security, a guest worker program for foreign nationals, and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living in this country.
• Kyl urged support for measures he included in a bill that did not win Senate approval. It included provisions to increase border security, prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants, and encourage most illegal immigrants living in the United States to return to their home countries, plus a guest worker program. He said the most problematic aspect of the Pederson and McCain plan is a provision allowing guest workers to immediately apply for U.S. citizenship.
• Pederson said the country is less safe now than before Sept. 11, 2001, because the United States' role in Iraq has helped galvanize terrorists.
• Kyl argued the country is safer. He said there is better comminution between intelligence agencies, and cited the enactment of the USA Patriot Act, the Tools to Fight Terrorism Act and similar measures.
• Mack said the country absolutely is less safe, less secure and less free. He called the Patriot Act unconstitutional and said to surrender freedoms for security is wrong.
Kyl and Pederson are scheduled to conclude their debate series Friday night in Flagstaff. At the moment, Mack expects to be standing outside the door again.