Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir sparred over a wide variety of topics at their first debate Monday, ranging from health care to newly-confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Tomah VA scandal.
Their positions rarely overlapped and their styles could hardly have been more different with Vukmir on the attack throughout the one-hour event while Baldwin was more measured.
The debate opened with several questions about health care and both candidates returned to the topic throughout the evening. Vukmir charged that Baldwin's support for a "Medicare for all" universal health care plan would upend the entire health care system.
"I'm going to call it 'BaldwinCare,'" Vukmir said. "Because under her plan, the Affordable Care Act goes away. Medicare goes away. Everything we know about insurance goes away."
Baldwin said "Medicare for all" was one of many options that should be considered to improve the health care system, countering that Vukmir's support for ending the ACA would return the nation's health care system to the "bad old days."
"Our protections for people with pre-existing conditions are threatened right now," Baldwin said.
The two also touched on a vote Vukmir took as a member of the state Legislature against a bill requiring insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy the same way they do traditional chemo. Baldwin has used the vote to attack Vukmir in TV ads.
"When I looked at this bill, I was very concerned that the unintended consequence of that bill would be that the very people who wanted that care would be restricted from that care," Vukmir said. "(Sen. Baldwin) will do whatever she can and say whatever she can to make me look bad."
Baldwin countered that Vukmir's record was clear.
"A vote is a vote, and Leah Vukmir voted with insurance companies to prevent oral chemo from being covered," Baldwin said. "I don't know how you can run away from the vote."
When the candidates were asked about concrete steps the government could take as a response to the #MeToo movement, both referenced Kavanaugh in their answers.
Baldwin said Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than 30 years ago, should have been treated more fairly by the U.S. Senate.
"I personally found her to be credible and compelling," Baldwin said. "I believe her. But despite the outcome, I don't want that to silence a whole new generation who I know are scared right now."
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Vukmir attacked Baldwin, who voted against Kavanaugh's confirmation, for not giving him fair consideration.
"I believe something did happen to Dr. Ford, but there was nothing to corroborate and to link that to Judge Kavanaugh," Vukmir said.
Vukmir used a question about veterans to attack Baldwin on the scandal at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where veterans were overprescribed opioids.
"She turned her back on the veterans at the Tomah VA," Vukmir said.
"I think that Leah Vukmir should be ashamed of herself for using a Marine veteran's death for her own political gain," Baldwin responded.
The two had one of their most dramatic exchanges when Baldwin was asked about her views on partial birth abortion.
"I support a woman's right to choose," Baldwin said. "I don't believe that government should interfere with a woman's health or whether or when she should have a child."
Baldwin said Vukmir held "extreme" beliefs on abortion for supporting bills that would ban some forms of contraception and embryonic step cell research. Vukmir pushed back.
"I am 100 percent pro-life," Vukmir said. "I can't even imagine not being pro-life. You want to talk about extreme, Sen. Baldwin? Extreme is voting for a partial birth abortion."
Monday's debate was hosted by WTMJ-TV and WUWM-FM Radio in Milwaukee.
Vukmir and Baldwin are scheduled to debate again Saturday and for a final time Friday, Oct. 19.
Also this week, Marquette University's Law School is scheduled to release a new poll that will give the latest snapshot of the race. Marquette's last poll had Baldwin leading Vukmir by 11 percentage points.