Second Congressional District challenger Mike Obermueller (DFL) lobbed plenty of criticism at incumbent Rep. John Kline (R) during the first and only debate between the two candidates on Monday morning.
Obermueller, who is seeking to unseat Kline in the newly competitive congressional district, called the five-term legislator part of a "broken system" during the hour-long debate, which was aired by MPR and moderated by host Kerri Miller.
"John, you’ve voted 95 or 96 percent of the time with your party, that’s more partisan than Michele Bachmann," Obermueller said. “The system is hopelessly broken, the way you guys are running it now."
Kline characterized his opponent's attacks as "cookie cutter," and jabbed at Obermueller's support of the Affordable Care Act. Kline also claimed his legislative opponent supported tax increases that would negatively impact millions of small businesses.
"Right now the country is at a crossroads, we have these huge issues," Kline said. "Mike Obermueller wants more government involvement in health care, he wants the government to step in and negotiate, he wants a public option, he wants a single payer [option] … I and most of my Republican colleagues want more private sector [involvement] and competition."
Host Miller also focused much of her skepticism on Kline, largely sparing Obermueller from more aggressive questioning. During the debate, Miller repeatedly called out Kline on a host of issues, from his bipartisan efforts to contributions he received from Express Scripts and Mutual Pharmaceutical.
Those donations may create the "appearance" that Kline, who supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, is acting in the interest of large companies, rather than voter values, Miller said.
Kline strongly denied that the contributions had influenced any of his political positions. Campaign donors decide who to support based on the candidate's stances, not the other way around, he said.
"Depending on where you on the political spectrum, there will be people that say that because Obermueller getting contributions from labor unions that he’s in the pocket of big labor and he’s always going to do their will to keep getting money," Kline said. "I’m just saying that’s not how it works."
The candidates also disagreed over Social Security, with Kline suggesting that that it may be time to start looking at an increase to the Social Security age cutoff to help stabilize the program—a measure opposed by Obermueller.
"Clearly when Social Security was put into place, the life expectancy for most Americans was about 65, which is when you became available for it … and now of course that life expectancy has moved up," Kline said.
Kline also defended his bipartisan record, saying that he worked in tandem with Democratic legislator Amy Klobuchar on veterans' issues and another senior Democrat from California on charter school reform.
Obermueller wasn't convinced.
"If you want to change the results coming out of [Washington], you have to change the kinds of people we’re sending there," he said.