Missourians will play a large part in the battle for control of the Senate in today’s election. In a race too close to call, Republican incumbent Jim Talent faces off against State Auditor Claire McCaskill–D in this heated and often bitter campaign.
McCaskill has sought to portray Mr. Talent as a puppet of President Bush, a yes-man who has put the party ahead of the people in his votes on the war in Iraq, who is out of touch with Missourians, and who doesn’t support “basic mid-western values.”
Talent calls Ms. McCaskill “extreme” for her heavily liberal views, citing her support of controversial abortion methods and refusal to back a Constitutional Amendment stipulating marriage as between a man and a woman as examples.
The latest poll has Talent leading his Democratic opponent by one percentage point entering Election Day. In a race too close to call, where issues were often ignored in favor of personal attacks and accusations of ineptitude and incompetence, where the candidates have taken to cutting two versions of their ads, one pronouncing the name of the state “Missour-uh,” the other “Missour-e,” to play in rural and urban markets, let’s take a look at how they stand on the issues themselves, both national and regional, that Missourians are most concerned with.
National Security Issues
The Findings of the 9-11 Commission:
Sen. Talent: “The government has implemented or is in the process of implementing 37 of the 39 recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. And the Senate recently passed the Port Security bill, which represents action on 38 of the 39 recommendations.
“We need to do two things to keep America safe: First, secure the border, including security fencing, which Claire McCaskill opposes. Second, continue to improve our human intelligence capabilities in cooperation with allies like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Ms. McCaskill: “The 9-11 Commission represented America at its best. It was Republicans and Democrats coming together and looking closely at what we need to do to make America secure, in a completely nonpartisan way. It is five years later and the majority of those recommendations have not been implemented.
“Senator Talent mistakenly believes we can’t implement the recommendations because of budget constraints and bureaucratic resistance. I believe it’s because Washington and the priorities of the Bush administration have placed a higher priority on giving multimillionaires more tax breaks than making sure we can inspect more cargo for dirty bombs and that our first responders and agencies can talk to one another more effectively.
“The funding of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations should be a top priority. As to Senator Talent’s excuse that there is bureaucratic resistance, I have exactly the right experience to wrestle bureaucrats as a result of my work over the past eight years as Missouri’s state auditor. If we do not have the will to implement good, strong bipartisan work that will make our country safer, I think we need some new voices in the Senate who will implement these recommendations so we can better protect Americans.”
Warrantless Surveillance and responses to the finding of the Federal Court declaring it unconstitutional.
Talent: “The federal judge’s decision was wrong. The decision was roundly attacked within the legal community by people in both political mainstreams. If allowed to stand, it would harm the security of the United States and the American people. Our government has the authority to monitor international phone calls or e-mails coming from terrorists.
“As the arrests in Great Britain make clear, there are a large number of terrorist cells and organizations plotting to carry out attacks against the United States and all who oppose their barbaric vision of the future.
“The judge’s ruling fails to recognize the primary objectives of winning the war and the interdependence of liberty and security. We must make our intelligence gathering efforts focused and effective. Nothing in the Constitution was intended to prevent the exercise of those powers that are necessary to protect our people.
“I strongly support the terrorist surveillance program. Claire McCaskill opposes it. I believe that when terrorists are willing to die to hurt us, we need to do everything it takes to stop them.”
McCaskill: “I certainly am a big supporter of surveillance. I think surveillance is absolutely necessary. As somebody who’s been a prosecutor and as somebody who has been involved in very complex criminal investigations, I know that we need to do human surveillance, Internet surveillance, financial transaction surveillance, and phone surveillance. Congress needs to give the president and our intelligence community the tools they need in the framework of our laws to do the surveillance necessary.
“If people weren’t so interested in playing politics with this issue we’d be catching more terrorists and the president would have all the tools he needs. I will never put politics ahead of national security, because preventing future attacks is the first, last and most important duty of our government.”
Talent: “The question is whether terrorists will have a right to demand classified information for their defense. I don’t think they should have that right. It seems obvious to me that we should not release classified information about terrorist operations to the terrorists. My opponent supported the U.S. Supreme Court decision and supports a system of trying terrorists that jeopardizes our security.
“The United States does not engage in torture of captured terrorists. However, some are arguing that evidence should not be admissible if it was obtained in violation of protective rules, like the Miranda rules, that apply to criminal defendants in civilian courts. I do not agree that probative evidence against terrorists should be inadmissible in such circumstances.”
McCaskill: “I would follow the leadership of President Bush’s first secretary of state and the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin Powell, along with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the former Secretary of the Navy and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an Air Force reserve officer and reserve military judge; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former POW, as it relates to how we conduct our military trials.
“These men, who have decades of military service, are all Republicans and are truly great examples of being nonpartisan in the name of being strong patriots and supporting our military. They understand this isn’t just about how we treat the terrorists, it’s our how our men and women will be treated in prisons across the world. If they’re captured, we need to provide an example for the rest of the world. As a prosecutor, I understand we do our best work under the framework of rules.”
Stances on interrogation tactics of captured or suspected terrorists:
Talent: “The law prohibits the use of torture or cruelty against captured terrorists. It does not prohibit the use of ‘rough’ interrogation techniques. I would want to make certain that a “rough” interrogation technique did not amount to torture, but if it didn’t I would support the use of such techniques if they held promise of getting intelligence that would save American lives. It should be remembered that some people think playing loud music to terrorists, or varying their meal schedule, is a ‘rough’ or degrading interrogation technique. I do not agree.”
McCaskill: “The law on this type of torture was sponsored by Sen. McCain and passed through the Senate with Sen. Talent’s vote and was eventually signed into law. As a former prosecutor, I believe all interrogations need to be tough, but all interrogations should be conducted under that recently enacted legislation and the Geneva Conventions.”
How should the United States respond to nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea and their potential for developing nuclear weapons?
Talent: “Unfortunately, North Korea already has nuclear weapons. We cannot allow Iran to develop them as well. There is a great danger that they would use them or give them to terrorists.
“We need to develop a united Western response or approach to Iran that imposes sanctions on that country until it abandons its nuclear program or allows inspections. We also need to keep a military option on the table in case diplomatic efforts and economic sanctions are not successful.”
McCaskill: “The greatest threats to our safety are weapons of mass destruction. The spread of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons must be stopped. And there must be no uncertainty about that goal. North Korea has been stockpiling nuclear weapons without so much as a glance from the current administration. Iran may now be close to producing a nuclear bomb. We cannot allow them to go any further.
“I believe our tunnel vision in Iraq has allowed both the situation in North Korea and Iran to deteriorate. As a result, Iran has become emboldened by the fact that we are spread so thinly and allowed the Hezbollah to invade our best ally in the region. Iran’s nuclear capability, however, can still be prevented. There must be an immediate and complete moratorium on their enrichment processes. Together with our world allies, we must convince Iran of their own best interest, using the threat of economic sanctions and the promise of world trade and investment.
“It is a grave concern that the current Prime Minister of Iraq is talking of his growing bond of friendship with Iran and has expressed strong support of Hezbollah. They need to know that our talks, if unsuccessful, will be followed not by rhetoric and reprisal, but by the full strength and force of the American military. With North Korea, we must call for reopening the six-party conference to develop a more effective containment strategy. We must talk to the North Koreans directly if we are ever to get them to renounce their weapons and allow a verification system to assure their compliance.”
Talent co-sponsored the “Combating Methamphetamine Epidemic Act” to limit access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the primary ingredient used to make methamphetamine. The bill, which took effect at the end of September, requires such medicines to be moved behind the pharmacy counter and limits the amount one person can buy per month.
McCaskill led a crackdown against methamphetamine as Jackson County, MO Prosecuting Attorney during the early to mid-1990s. She implemented a program to condemn properties where meth labs had been found so meth makers could not return to set up business. She did not oppose Talent’s bill but questioned whether the bill would have sufficient funding.
Talent supports development of alternative energy sources such as ethanol and biodiesel fuels, but also wants oil to be mined from Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also supports efforts to increase natural gas supplies by tapping into resources in the Gulf of Mexico.
McCaskill does not believe drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be worthwhile. She supports a repeal of $14 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for big oil companies and an increase in development of alternative energy in this country.
Marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Talent supports an amendment to the Constitution that would stipulate that marriage may only be between a man and a woman.
McCaskill believes marriage is between a man and a woman. She thinks a constitutional amendment to that effect is unnecessary.
Talent says a federal judge was wrong to rule that the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional. He supports wiretapping as a surveillance method to identify terrorists and believes the President should have the authority to wiretap with or without seeking court permission.
McCaskill believes the President should have the tools, including surveillance, he needs to fight and capture terrorists. She supports human, Internet, financial transaction, and phone surveillance.
Talent opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, wants the U.S. to strengthen its borders by building a fence along the Mexican border to combat illegal immigration, and supports felony penalties for employers who repeatedly hire illegal immigrants.
McCaskill opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and supports fences along with additional technology to monitor the borders. She also supports tougher fines and penalties for companies that exploit illegal immigrants.
Talent supports minimum wage increases only if packaged with support for small businesses.
McCaskill supports an increase in minimum wage either initiated by the state or through a national increase by Congress.
Abortion/ Missouri Proposed Amendment 2
Talent opposes abortion with some exceptions, including in cases of rape, incest or the mother’s life. He supports stem cell research, but opposes somatic cell nuclear transfer. Talent does not support Amendment 2 because he believes the language allows for human cloning.
McCaskill believes the decision to have an abortion is up to a woman and her family, doctor and/or spiritual beliefs. She supports requiring parental permission for minors with some exceptions, such as victims of incest. McCaskill supports Amendment 2 as a way to protect stem cell research and believes the Amendment’s language clearly prohibits human cloning.
Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill exemplify the polarity of the American people on this election day. The time for partisan bickering and attack ads has passed and the voters will decide. The eyes of the nation, and the hopes of both parties, are on Missouri today.
Source references for this article include a series of debates sponsored by the Associated Press.