There were fireworks and a bit of mud thrown in Monday's debate between Democrat incumbent Max Sandlin and challenger Republican Louie Gohmert. The two spoke before a crowd of around 900 at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
From health care to Social Security and the war in Iraq, both men say they are the right choice for East Texans. In a race both men feel is in their grasp, they say that the decisions the winner makes in Congress will affect every East Texan.
Democrat Max Sandlin: "I'm not talking about family values where it's a slogan -- on a flyer that says 'Vote for Me.' I'm talking about [voting for] things that put value in our families."
Republican Louie Gohmert: "I think we have to be protecting of ourselves. We have to protect our borders. I thank God George W. Bush is president."
Both the parties and the candidates have their images on negative ads, which often work but leave a sour taste with voters.
Sandlin: "This weekend, the DCCC, the Democrats, began running an attack ad against my opponent. I didn't think it was fair. I didn't think it was right. I thought it was misleading. I immediately sent out a press release to stop it. I immediately called a press conference in Tyler, [Gohmert's] home, to say it wasn't right. I demanded they take it down, and they've taken it down."
Gohmert: "The Democratic Party ran an ad over in Shreveport and the minute the first ad ran, he knew and starts calling the Tyler TV stations saying 'I need to be on the 10 o'clock news to talk about how bad this ad is over here.'"
National security is high on the talking points for the presidential candidates. And so it is for Gohmert and Sandlin.
Gohmert: "Terrorism occurs not because there's a perception of strength, but because there's a perception of weakness. And we need to make sure the world over, regardless of who John Kerry says we need to get permission from, the world knows we will defend ourselves."
Sandlin: "We have to support the commander-in-chief of our troops. That doesn't mean we can't question things. Does that mean we can't look at things and make decisions? Absolutely not. We are putting young men and young women in harm's way for the cause of freedom. Certainly we should use the greatest deliberative body on Earth to look at those things."
When those men and women at war come home, the two candidates say they and their party best protect the dignity of the brave.
Sandlin: "I voted against the budget this year, and the reason I voted against it was because every single veterans group in America... said it was outrageous. It was a sham."
Gohmert: "I am proud that President Bush has committed more money than in the history of this country for veterans and their needs. It's not enough. It's a start."
And then there's the "third rail": the issue many seniors in the crowd want answers and assurances of -- that Social Security will survive.
Sandlin: "Social Security is good. It's solvent through 2042 and perhaps even longer than that. It's a solemn promise we made to our seniors. It's the one thing that keeps our seniors out of poverty."
Gohmert: "We do need to beef up Social Security because Congress hasn't been able to keep their long bony fingers out of it. When they talk about, as Al Gore did, a "lock box"... well, there's no lock box, they spend that money right and left."
No war, no program, amd no government runs without money -- tax money.
Gohmert: "My opponent says he's against negative ads, but [an] came in the mail to folks... and says I'm in favor of a 30 percent sales tax. I guess we'll call it 'baloney' in this setting. That's a bunch of 'baloney'. I'll fight till my dying day before I'll let that happen."
Sandlin: "That's interesting you say you'll fight till your dying day because you've never taken a position. You take a position on that. You won't take a position on jobs until you're backed into a corner. You've stood up with [House Speaker] Hastert who's for it. You stood up with [House Majority Leader] Delay who's for it. You said on a questionnaire you wanted to change to a flat tax or that. You're for it and now you're changing your story."
With Congress so narrowly divided, both sides have a lot of money to make their cases heard. The ads will continue, and so will the public debate next week. And if you want to see the candidates in person, next Monday night's debate is open to the public and will be at UT Tyler's Cowan Center at 7 pm.
It will be broadcast only on KLTV the following night at 7pm.