CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Tennessee's U.S. Senate candidates traded caricatures during a debate Tuesday night that painted a grim choice for voters: rubber stamp or political insider.
"If you want a rubber stamp, don't vote for me," said Democrat Harold Ford Jr., suggesting his opponent would lock step with the Bush administration.
Counterpunching, Republican Bob Corker accused the Memphis congressman of being a Washington insider who benefited from the "machine-style" politics of his politically connected family.
The candidates' second debate came in a neck-and-neck race that could help determine whether Democrats gain control of the Senate.
If elected, Ford would be the first black U.S. Senator from the South since Reconstruction.
Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, questioned the work of Ford's father, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae while Ford Jr. sat on the House committee overseeing its activities.
Ford said no one in his family has ever lobbied him on congressional issues and he would refuse them if they did.
"I work for the people of the 9th District," he told the audience at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Ford attacked his opponent's support for the Bush administration's "stay the course" policy in Iraq.
"If you want to stay the course, I'm not your guy," Ford said. "If you believe America is better than what they've given us this past six years, then I ask for your vote."
Ford said reducing dependence on foreign oil would help keep the country from getting caught up in foreign conflicts and said his opponent was an advocate for "big oil."
Corker said "new strategies" are needed in the war but he disagreed with Ford's suggestion to divide Iraq by ethnic and religious lines.
"That's something European countries did after World War II," Corker said.
Ford blamed the Republicans for not doing anything to rein in federal spending during their 12 years of power in Congress. He also said he supported going to a two-year budget cycle.
Corker said his experience as a business executive, state finance commissioner and mayor would help him during budget discussions.
I've lived a Tennessee life, my opponent has lived a Washington life," Corker said. "Our world views couldn't be any more different."