WASHINGTON – Frontrunner Ben Cardin became the target as the four top Democrats running for U.S. Senate openly debated the health system, the Iraq War and campaign finances on two Washington-area radio stations Thursday.
Cardin, a congressman, was confronted by Josh Rales, a Bethesda businessman, Allen Lichtman, an American University professor, and Kweisi Mfume, former congressman and former chairman of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, on his support last year for maintaining troops in Iraq. The four appeared on Washington Post radio with WTOP radio political analyst Mark Plotkin.
“Cardin said he has been critical of the Bush administration . . . but his record says another thing,” said Lichtman, who added that the congressman voted against two thirds of his party last year to authorize the government to keep troops in Iraq.
Rales brought up a story published by The Washington Post that said Cardin had accepted money from political action committees from pharmaceutical companies, oil and energy outfits and insurance firms, while he was trying to be perceived as an outsider.
“These are people that have a big investment in Cardin,” Rales said.
“Judge me on my record,” Cardin repeated often during the one-hour debate. He said he has been critical of the Bush administration, favors campaign finance reform and said he has not been influenced by corporations’ contributions to his campaign.
Twenty-nine candidates, 18 of them Democrats, are running to fill the seat that Paul Sarbanes, Maryland’s senator for five terms, will leave in November. The primary election is Tuesday.
Mfume was hampered in his debate performance Tuesday because he was stranded in a lengthy morning traffic jam on the Capitol Beltway and spoke by cellular telephone.
Mfume said he believed Cardin voted according to his conscious.
“Leadership is not only to annunciate problems, but also to offer solutions,” Mfume said in his final statement.
Lichtman said he would be different, even “better,” than Cardin if he gets to the Senate.
“I will not be beholden to any special interest,” he said.
Lichtman took particular exception to Cardin’s vote against the Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003, which would have legalized the reimportation of drugs from Canada in an effort to cut medication costs.
Cardin defended his vote against that law, and emphasized his work on those issues.
“I am proud of the changes I made in the health care system,” he said later.
Cardin also said he has stood up against insurance companies and oil companies.
After being criticized for not having a more defiant position against the war and the Bush administration, Cardin said he voted against sending troops to Iraq four years ago, although he acknowledged his vote “to support our troops” last year.
“I did stand against the Bush administration,” he said. “I did it because I believe it was the right thing to do.”