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Associated Press, Published October 26 2010

Bachmann, Clark tangle in first debate in Minnesota

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — After spending months and millions of dollars attacking each other on television, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democrat Tarryl Clark debated for the first time Tuesday, showing off their stark policy differences but little of the vitriol that has defined the campaign.

They focused on economic issues from the federal stimulus to health care before a well-behaved audience of 500 at the St. Cloud Civic Center, sharing the stage with the Independence Party's Bob Anderson. Bachmann and Clark have combined to raise more than $15 million, making the contest in Minnesota's 6th District the nation's most expensive House race.

Clark set an aggressive tone early on by accusing Bachmann, a tea party favorite, of being an ineffective legislator. She said Bachmann's outspoken style has failed to bring home results, and later criticized the two-term incumbent for voting against the economic stimulus and spending some of her congressional budget on campaign-style mailings.

"By your own admission you have done nothing to pass a substantial piece of legislation that would do anything for the people of this district," Clark said.

Bachmann didn't immediately engage Clark, referring to her as "one of my opponents."

Bachmann said the stimulus was an "abject failure" that included money for highway signs proclaiming stimulus road projects and $71,000 to study monkeys on cocaine. Conservatives have seized on the cocaine research grant to paint the stimulus as wasteful and frivolous. The grant went to Wake Forest University in North Carolina from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for research on drug addiction.

Bachmann predicted that the stimulus spending will lead to tax increases. She also blamed majority Democrats for not holding a vote on the tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

"One second after midnight, you're going to see huge tax increases and that will be particularly on the job creators," she said.

The two front-runners also differ on the health care overhaul. Bachmann voted no, while Clark says she supports the law but doesn't like a mandate requiring people to purchase health insurance starting in 2014.

"Unlike you, Michele, I want to go fix it," Clark said.

"I knew it was going to be an unworkable mess," Bachmann said a few minutes later.

Clark found herself on the defensive after giving an indirect response when asked whether she would support card check legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize. She said workers should be allowed to organize in a workplace if more than half the employees want to and the employer won't allow them to vote on unionization. But Clark wouldn't directly say whether she thinks workers should be allowed to organize without a confidential vote.

"I think you just heard a politician tell you that yes, she will be voting on card check," said Bachmann, adding that she opposes the proposal.

Anderson, who drew 10 percent of the vote in 2008 with his familiar Minnesota name, got his biggest applause when he knocked both his rivals for their campaign spending. The Independence Party candidate has raised very little money.

"To think that you're spending $15 million between the two of you on these stupid attack ads that people are sick and tired of," Anderson said. "I think we just should get back to some common sense politics, and at least I offer that in this race."

The 6th District candidates will face each other twice more before Election Day — on Minnesota Public Radio on Thursday and on KSTP TV on Sunday. The St. Cloud event was the only debate in the 6th District, which covers northern Twin Cities suburbs and the St. Cloud area.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.