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Here's What Alison Grimes and Mitch McConnell Discussed in KET's Debate

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) Ky., right, and  Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, before their appearance on "Kentucky Tonight" television broadcast live from KET studios in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 13, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Herald-Leader/Pool
Pablo Alcala
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U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) Ky., right, and Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, before their appearance on

The two major party candidates for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat faced off in their first—and likely only—televised debate on public television Monday night.

Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes traded barbs in the forum moderated by Kentucky Educational Television’s Bill Goodman.

Both candidates stuck largely to their campaign’s talking points. Here’s what they talked about.

Minimum Wage

This is an issue Grimes has championed in her campaign, and she brought it up whenever possible. She said her ‘number one priority’ if elected would be to bring jobs back to Kentucky. And she said the minimum wage should be raised to be a living wage for Kentuckians. Grimes also threw in a few references to wage equality, saying women deserve “equal pay for equal work.”

McConnell said he would not support raising the minimum wage at this time, saying it would kill jobs for young people. He reiterated points he’s made before about the minimum wage being a "largely entry-level" wage, and said a better way to help the impoverished would be by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Both candidates cited the Congressional Budget Office’s report on minimum wage, which you can read here.

Affordable Care Act

McConnell has said previously that he believes the Affordable Care Act—or Obamacare—should be repealed. He repeated that Monday night, saying it should be “pulled out root and branch” because it’s “the worst piece of legislation that’s been passed in the last half century.” Kentucky’s health exchange website can continue, he said, but he didn’t make clear how that would stand alone without the federal program.

  Grimes said there’s work to be done to fix Obamacare, but said she wouldn’t repeal it. She said specifically she’d extend the grandfathering clause—when President Obama famously told voters if they like their health insurance policies, they could keep them—and talked about how people’s lives had improved after Governor Beshear’s move to expand Medicaid.

Voting Record

Grimes attempted to control the damage done by last week’s interview with The Courier-Journal editorial board; when asked if she had voted for President Obama in 2008 or 2012, she declined to answer and made national headlines. In the debate, she again refused to answer the question, citing her current job as Kentucky’s secretary of state. She said she had the constitutional right to privacy at the ballot box it was a matter of principal. “If I, as chief election official don’t stand up for that right, who will?” she asked.

McConnell said he didn’t have any such qualms, and volunteered that he had voted for both John McCain and Mitt Romney. In what could have been a slightly more awkward moment, moderator Bill Goodman asked who McConnell had voted for in the 2010 Republican Senate primary. McConnell said he had voted for Trey Grayson over his current colleague, Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

Coal

References to Kentucky’s flagging coal industry and President Obama’s so-called “War on Coal” were sprinkled throughout the debate, though neither candidate mentioned the role of natural gas, declining reserves and other market forces that have factored into the coal industry’s decline.

When asked how he would help coal miners, McConnell made a plug for his re-election, and said if Republicans take control of the Senate and he becomes the Majority Leader, he’ll ensure the Senate votes on coal issues. He called two Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations—to restrict the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from both new and existing power plants—as the biggest problem for Kentucky coal miners.

Instead of focusing on the environmental rules Obama’s EPA is pursuing, Grimes talked instead of coal miners’ health and safety. She talked about the importance of making sure coal miners receive their black lung benefits, and mentioned ‘reining in the EPA’ as an aside. Interestingly, she called coal a “prime American export;” though she didn’t elaborate. The comment could mean she thinks the fuel’s future is brighter as something other than a domestic fuel source.

Climate Change

McConnell made headlines earlier this month when hetold the Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board that he wouldn’t comment on climate changebecause he’s ‘not a scientist.’ In tonight’s debate, Grimes called him out on that claim, noting his willingness to discuss health insurance or economics despite the fact that he’s not a doctor or economist. McConnell dodged the question again, noting that in the 1970s, scientists predicted another ice age. “The job of the U.S. Senator from Kentucky is to fight for coal jobs in our state,” he said.

The U.S. is the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide (recently surpassed by China), but McConnell also said pursuing climate change policies would be a waste of time if no other country follows the U.S.’s lead. “Even if you felt this was a cause worth pursuing, our doing it by ourselves is going to have zero impact,” he said.

For her part, Grimes also reiterated statement’s she’s made in the past. “I don’t think you have to be a scientist to recognize the realities that are happening around us,” she said. But she advocated for a balanced approach that addresses climate change while protecting Kentucky’s jobs. She also said more money could be spent on advanced coal technology, like carbon capture and sequestration.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.