GREENVILLE, S.C. – Republican Senate candidate Jim DeMint (search), hoping to claim a Senate seat held by a Democrat since 1966, attacked his rival Tuesday as a liberal beholden to national Democrats.
Inez Tenenbaum (search), the state education superintendent who has campaigned as a moderate Democrat, countered in their second televised debate that the race for the open seat was about "who is going to put South Carolina first."
DeMint said Tenenbaum has made an issue out of being an independent, but said she has supported liberal Democrats such as presidential candidate John Kerry and former President Clinton.
Tenenbaum, who has trailed in recent polls, said she would vote for Kerry, but said she disagrees with his statement that the war in Iraq is the "wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reason."
"I stand with our troops, and I do believe we have done the right thing," Tenenbaum said. "Now I would like to focus after the election on how do we win this war?"
DeMint, a Greenville congressman, said he will continue to support President Bush, who he said has led the world on the war on terror.
"Getting senators that would support this president is key in this race," DeMint said.
The candidates are vying to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (search), who has held the seat since 1966.
They also differed on whether to classify attacks on gays as hate crimes.
"I think the law needs to treat everyone equally, and crime against one person or another should be punished the same way and so regardless of who there's a crime against, our laws should be consistent," DeMint said.
"Gay men and women are singled out many times for persecution, as well as people of other ethnic groups," she said.
Also Tuesday, the two Senate candidates for Illinois' open seat met in their first debate, which was broadcast on radio across the state.
Democrat Barack Obama, who has a wide lead in recent polls, said the Iraq war has been bungled by the Bush administration and has diverted American attention from pursuing the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center.
But he said America cannot pull out of Iraq anytime soon without further destabilizing the region.
"This is no longer George Bush's war. This is our war," he said.
His Republican opponent Alan Keyes, a Maryland transplant who was recruited to run after the original Republican nominee dropped out, said America must feel free to use military force against other countries even if it is not certain they pose dangers to America.
"It is not sufficient to take action after the fact," Keyes said.
In Georgia, the war in Iraq took center stage in a debate between Senate candidates seeking to succeed conservative Democrat Zell Miller, who is retiring in January.
Rep. Johnny Isakson, a Republican, called attention to his vote in favor of an $87 billion supplemental bill for the Iraq effort. "I'm proud of my vote, and I'm committed to the war on terror," he said.
His opponent, Democratic Rep. Denise Majette, voted against the bill because she said she was not satisfied with the way the government would account for the money.