WICHITA, Kan. – Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts called independent candidate Greg Orman's support of abortion rights "unconscionable" during their last debate Wednesday and suggested that helping fellow Republicans recapture a Senate majority was the top issue in their race.
Orman countered by saying he trusts women to make decisions about their reproductive health care and accused the three-term GOP incumbent of spreading "falsehoods" about him in his campaign as a centrist. Orman said that if voters believe Washington is working well, "I'm not your guy."
Republicans have won every U.S. Senate race in the state since 1932, but this year's race has received national attention since Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out last month, making Roberts more vulnerable and jeopardizing the GOP's drive to win a Senate majority.
Roberts continued his attempts to unify the party by portraying Orman as a close ally of President Barack Obama and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats.
"What this boils down to is: A vote for Pat Roberts is a vote for a Republican majority in the Senate," Roberts said in his opening statement. "The No. 1 thing is to get a Republican majority in the United States Senate to end the gridlock and stop the Obama-Reid agenda."
Orman responded that Roberts' campaign is "making up facts" in tying him to Obama and Reid and said "numerous Republicans" have endorsed his campaign.
"I think we need to look past those falsehoods and pay attention to what the truth is," Orman said.
The candidates sparred on numerous issues, including immigration and the economy, but one of their sharpest exchanges came over abortion.
Orman noted the decades of debate over abortion and said, "It prevents us from talking about other important issues, and what I'd like to see us do is start focusing on some of the big problems that we absolutely need to get our arms around if we're going to preserve the American dream and our financial futures."
Roberts, a strong abortion opponent, took issue with Orman's remarks. "Get past the rights of the unborn?" Roberts said.
Later, he told Orman, "I think that's unconscionable, Greg, I really do."
In reply, Orman acknowledged abortion is an important issue. "I just think we've spent a lot of time as a country debating it, and it's time to start debating other important issues as well," he said.
At one point during the debate, Roberts lost his place. He also stumbled on several responses and appeared fixated on touting his endorsements.
On the issue of immigration, Orman said the country needs a policy that secures the border but is practical. He noted that many industries rely on immigrant labor and said the U.S. can't just deport 11 million people.
Roberts, who has accused Orman of supporting amnesty for people living in the U.S. illegally, seemed to nonetheless agree with Orman, saying he never suggested the country deport 11 million people.
The two candidates had their third joint appearance in the studio at Wichita station KSN.
Afterward, Orman told reporters he hopes to send the message to other independents that they should run for public office.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to regain control of the Senate, and it has always counted on the 78-year-old Roberts winning re-election. Orman is a wealthy 45-year-old Olathe businessman and co-founder of a private equity firm who touts his business experience.