MILWAUKEE -- Exchanges on 9/11 and Iran brought a contentious end to a debate between Republican Tommy Thompson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin that had largely been more cordial than their previous encounter.
Thompson said it bothered him that Baldwin voted against a resolution honoring the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Baldwin shot back she was outraged Thompson questioned her patriotism.
Baldwin also took a shot at Thompson for how the Department of Health and Human Services responded to the attacks under his watch as secretary; she charged a company he later headed was able to win an $11 million contract related to the attacks.
"He has personally profited from 9/11 and now he's trying to politically profit from 9/11," she charged.
Thompson insisted he was not questioning her patriotism, but her judgment. He recounted the steps HHS took while he was secretary in responding to the attacks and said he held victims and personally saw the damage of the attacks.
"That bothered me five years after that," Thompson said. "I was there. I saw that. I held those people, and it still to this day haunts me."
The two met tonight at Marquette Law School in the final debate of their U.S. Senate campaign, moderated by Mike Gousha. It was sponsored by Milwaukee's WISN-TV 12 and WisPolitics.com, and produced in partnership with Marquette Law School.
Overall, the debate was less confrontational than their meeting last week and found both candidates attempting to move more toward the center.
Thompson said that his record as governor, which resulted in tax cuts and welfare reforms with a Democratic Legislature, was a sure sign that he'd work with both sides in the Senate. Thompson echoed that theme of bipartisan compromise several times throughout the debate.
Baldwin said she would not call herself a "proud liberal," opting instead for the mantle of a "proud progressive" in the tradition of former Wisconsin Gov. Bob La Follette. She said that she embodies the notion that the average American has a voice in a political atmosphere crowded by powerful special interests.
Repeating a theme from their previous debate, the two again had an exchange over Iran with Thompson questioning Baldwin's judgment in accepting money from a group that opposed sanctions on Iran and charging she flip-flopped on sanctions herself after she decided to run for the Senate. Thompson specifically criticized Baldwin for a vote condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which she voted "present."
Baldwin knocked Thompson again for investments in companies that did business with Iran and mocked his insistence that he did not know about the holdings and that they were handled by his stock broker, telling the crowd he has no room to lecture her on Iran.
Thompson countered Baldwin's own pension fund held similar investments and said she should return the $60,000 in donations from the Council for a Livable World.
Baldwin defended the overall mission of the group, saying it simply supported a cautious approach to nuclear non-proliferation.
"It's a group that says you don't go in with a war first," Baldwin said.
The two again sparred over Medicare as well.
Baldwin again mocked Thompson's claim that he's the architect of the federal governments Medicare Part D prescription drug program, but had nothing to do with a provision banning negotiations over drug prices.
"He had every possibility of saying, 'that's not going to be in there, not on my watch,'" Baldwin said. "He didn't do it."
Thompson shot back that it was originally a Dem idea and that Baldwin voted for it.
Thompson also said that Baldwin has not done anything during her time in Congress to increase the solvency of Medicare.
"That's always been the mantra of my opponent," Thompson said. "Don't do anything and we save Medicare."
Baldwin contested that point, saying that the Affordable Care Act actually extended the solvency of Medicare for 10 years and that Thompson had not done enough during his time as HHS Secretary to protect the program's viability.
Despite the tense climax, the debate contained a few moments of levity earlier in the night.
Thompson repeated his promise to push a tax plan that would include a option for people to fill out a form so simple they could do it during halftime of a Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears football game and still have time to get up for a beer.
Baldwin tweaked Thompson by reminding the crowd that tax season usually doesn't fall during football season. But Thompson nudged back that he was more optimistic than his opponent about the Packers season, reminding the crowd the Super Bowl is in February.