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Congressional candidates debate hot topics

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BOZEMAN — A debate Saturday between U.S. House of Representatives candidates Republican Denny Rehberg, Libertarian Mike Fellows and Democrat Dennis McDonald quickly heated up when McDonald took a biting approach to informing the audience why voters should replace the incumbent Rehberg. 

In his opening statement, McDonald accused Rehberg of falsely advertising himself as a rancher and said Rehberg hasn’t accomplished anything noteworthy for Montana during his time in Washington, D.C.

“He’s not a rancher; he’s a land developer,” McDonald said, claiming that Rehberg split up his family’s ranch and sold it to create subdivisions, a charge Rehberg said was only partially true. “We need a congressman who doesn’t go to Washington, go to sleep in his office and not do anything for Montanans.”

Throughout the hour-long debate, held at the Holiday Inn in Bozeman and hosted by the Montana Newspaper Association, McDonald repeatedly accused Rehberg of wasting time and Montanans’ tax dollars, saying he spends money “like a drunken sailor.”

Rehberg in turn said electing McDonald would send another ally to Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama.

Questions presented by three panelists and several audience members covered topics like financial reform, dependence on foreign oil, healthcare, natural resources, personal judgment and the federal budget. While discussing the country’s economic recession, McDonald said Rehberg has “offered no ideas, no solutions and no hope.”

In response, Rehberg asked, “Mr. McDonald, after your trillion dollar stimulus, where are the jobs?”

Rehberg said he’s committed to balancing the federal budget by 2015, and would freeze spending now, not next year.

“It is incumbent on this country (to balance the budget),” Rehberg said. “We cannot continue to dig this hole for the next generation.”

Passing an amendment or rule is not necessarily needed to accomplish a balanced budget, McDonald argued, but “what we need is leadership.”

Fellows said he’d like to see negative campaigning go out the window, as he believes Montanans want to hear about issues important to them, not personal attacks. The country’s capitol is full of politicians from the two main parties who can’t agree on much, he added, and he wants to change that.

“We’ve got this bipolar situation happening in Congress … We need to bring this country back to its constitutional roots,” Fellows said. “I’ve been concerned about this country for a long time; that’s why I keep showing up for elections. I want to see a minimum government with maximum liberty.”

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