The topic was supposed to be U.S. foreign policy, but the debate Sunday at UW's Memorial Union between U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin and her Republican challenger, Dave Magnum, frequently devolved into sniping and mudslinging.
Responding to a question about Iraq, Baldwin said she wants to bring U.S. troops home now. She explained that she voted against funding for the war because it's the only way for Congress to have any leverage on President Bush. "The power of the purse strings lies with Congress," she said.
Magnum ignored the next question, which was about the genocide in Sudan, so he could take aim at Baldwin's stance on Iraq. "I find it incongruous that you could be as concerned about Darfur as I am. How can you be so concerned about those people, and not concerned about cutting and running in Iraq?"
As the audience began to hiss and boo, Magnum continued: "The men and women of Iraq are whispering in your ear, 'Please don't abandon us.'"
Baldwin called Magnum's attack "outrageous" and said the U.S. role in Iraq should now be diplomatic. "I'm not talking about cutting and running."
Later, Magnum brought up a study that ranks members of Congress on their influence, noting Baldwin was No. 424 out of 435. The study by Knowlegis, a nonpartisan research group in Virginia, was released in May. Magnum noted Baldwin's former chief of staff, Brad Fitch, led the study.
Baldwin dismissed the survey as "goofy," saying it mixed up the names of members of Congress and relied on newspaper clippings, not committee assignments, to determine a member's influence. She called Fitch a "PR flack" and admitted that she'd had to fire him.
Magnum gaped at Baldwin's description of Fitch. "Why would you defame him? That doesn't speak well of your hiring practices."
The debate's final question was about whether the U.S. should sign the Kyoto treaty and pledge to reduce its emission of greenhouse gasses. Magnum -- while not clearly answering whether he believed the U.S. should sign Kyoto or not -- charged that Baldwin has been in office for 3,000 days "not done anything about climate change."
Baldwin laughed, saying she didn't realize that she was solely responsible for ending global warming. She noted that some Republican leaders in Congress still don't believe climate change is a threat. "No one in their right mind would stand before you and say that one person in Congress could change it. Especially if they're not a member of the majority party."
Baldwin and Magnum will debate five more times, including tonight in Baraboo at the R.G. Brown Theater.