Serving black voters, health care and economic issues were among the talking points that sparked clashes during debates Tuesday ahead of next month's midterm elections. Highlights:
ILLINOIS: FIGHTING FOR BLACK VOTE
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican businessman Bruce Rauner defended their records on minority hiring, public safety and gun control during a debate that focused heavily on issues impacting African-American voters.
Meeting for their second televised debate, Quinn said that as governor he's hired minorities in key administration positions — including in the post of deputy governor — but said Rauner, a venture capitalist, didn't hire African-Americans at the highest levels of his firm.
"Our cabinet is diverse and many African-Americans are heading departments," Quinn said.
In response, Rauner said he hired minorities at his firm as did many of the hundreds of companies in which the firm invested, though he didn't answer when asked how many of them were in executive roles. The first-time candidate also said Quinn's policies have failed blacks in Illinois, noting high unemployment among African-American men.
"Gov. Quinn is taking the African-American vote for granted," Rauner said. "African-American families are suffering."
LOUISIANA: OBAMA'S ROLE
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu framed Louisiana's Senate election as a referendum on her three terms in office, not the policies of unpopular President Barack Obama, in the first TV debate featuring all three major contenders in the race.
While the Democratic incumbent defended her vote for Obama's federal health care overhaul, she suggested it needed improvement. She distanced herself from Obama's energy policies and talked of her work with presidents over the years, both Republican and Democrat.
"While President Obama is not on the ballot, the future of Louisiana is," Landrieu said.
Her main challenger, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, repeatedly tied Landrieu to Obama's policies, saying a vote for her would be a vote for the president's agenda.
"She represents Barack Obama. I represent you," Cassidy said.
GOP candidate and tea party favorite Rob Maness positioned himself as the Washington outsider. "Our future is in danger from poor leadership from career politicians," he said.
ARKANSAS: HEALTH CARE TANGLE
Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton tangled over the impact of the federal health overhaul, with Pryor accusing Cotton of not having any solution for nearly 200,000 Arkansans receiving coverage under the federal law through the state's "private option" Medicaid expansion if Cotton gets his wish to repeal the law.
Pryor also questioned what would happen to those benefiting from other parts of the law, such as its prohibition on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. "He has no answer on any of this, but he is insistent on repealing it," Pryor said.
Cotton criticized Pryor for his vote for the overhaul and said repealing it would allow for reforming the health care system and giving states control over programs such as Medicaid. "I think we have to start over on health care reform because Obamacare is a disaster," Cotton said.
The two also sparred over Cotton's vote against the farm bill, with the Republican saying the practice of including food stamp funding in the measure needs to end. Pryor said the vote showed Cotton was out of touch with a state that relies heavily on agriculture.
SOUTH CAROLINA: JOB GROWTH
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley touted the more than 50,000 jobs announced by her administration while those challenging her contended those numbers were not real.
Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said roughly half of the announced jobs have shown up and many of the planned openings already have fallen through. Haley countered that the promised jobs don't happen overnight, saying "it will take a while."
Independent candidate Tom Ervin asked Haley to post the incentives given to lure companies to South Carolina, so taxpayers can judge whether they're worth it. He said she had "given away the farm when it comes to economic incentives."
Libertarian Steve French also criticized Haley on incentives. "I look at jobs like I look at sex," he said. "You shouldn't brag about it if you have to pay for it."
United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves said the answer to the state's economy is legalizing marijuana.
MINNESOTA: MIDDLE-CLASS CHAMPIONS
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson's third debate was their feistiest yet, with Johnson on the offensive as he tries to make up ground in the race and the pair arguing over who is the better friend of the middle class.
Johnson, a county commissioner in Minneapolis, said Dayton's roots as privileged heir to a department store fortune mean he doesn't know what it's like to pay a mortgage or college tuition. Dayton pointed out he worked to freeze college tuition, signed a minimum-wage hike and increased school budgets. And he said Johnson would lower taxes on the rich and roll back some of the minimum wage increases.
Dayton called Johnson a "huckster" for promising permits for copper-nickel mining on Minnesota's Iron Range before environmental studies are complete. Johnson accused Dayton of waffling on a gas tax, or at least the exact form it would take.
UTAH: PITCHING BIPARTISANSHIP
In Utah's 4th Congressional District race, both Democrat Doug Owens and Republican Mia Love tried to portray themselves as the candidate more likely to work across political divides if elected to the House.
Owens has sought to paint Love as holding extreme views while pointing to the example set by his own father, former Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens. Love has contended that Owens has attacked her instead of the issues, saying that if more decisions were made at a local level instead of in Washington, there would be less of a partisan divide.
"When you get the decision-making close to people, you see party lines go away," she said.
If she wins the race, Love would be the first black female Republican ever elected to Congress.
Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen and Sara Burnett in Chicago; Melinda Deslatte in Shreveport, Louisiana; Andrew DeMillo in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Seanna Adcox in Columbia, South Carolina; Brian Bakst in Duluth, Minnesota; and Michelle Price in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.