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Indiana Senate Debate Turns on Economy, Social Security, Immigration

INDIANAPOLIS -- Republican Dan Coats and Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth sparred over the economy, Social Security and immigration Monday in the last of three debates in the race for Indiana's open U.S. Senate seat.

Ellsworth said Coats, a former senator, shouldn't have voted for NAFTA and an immigration amnesty proposal. Coats says he doesn't support amnesty and that Ellsworth's support of Democratic programs such as the federal stimulus and health care overhaul are taking the country in the wrong direction.

A new poll shows Coats with a comfortable lead in the race for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Evan Bayh.

Coats said Social Security needs to be "saved from itself" and suggested increasing the retirement age.

Ellsworth said now isn't the time to raise the retirement age and that putting more people back to work would put more money into the system. Raising the retirement age would be fine for those who work at desks but "it's not fine for somebody who's on the end of a jackhammer," he said.

Coats and Ellsworth traded jabs several times during the debate in front of about 300 people at the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center at Vincennes University.

Ellsworth, as he has throughout the campaign, tried to convince voters that Coats, a former lobbyist, would represent special interests instead of the people. Coats continued to try and portray Ellsworth as a liberal in conservative clothing who sides with Democratic leadership in Washington.

Near the end of the debate, Coats said he's talked to Indiana residents and knows he represents the values of the state -- and that doesn't include big bailouts and costly health care programs.

"I know exactly what they want," Coats said.

Ellsworth noted that Coats has lived outside Washington for years and has a second home in North Carolina.

"I never left Indiana," Ellsworth said.

Libertarian Rebecca Sink-Burris said the debates, all of which have included Coats and Ellsworth trading jabs, highlight why she's a Libertarian.

"I want to stop the tennis match in Washington," she said.