COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Gordon Ball in their first and only joint appearance of Tennessee's U.S. Senate race on Thursday attacked each other as unsuited to hold the office.
Alexander, a former governor and who is seeking a third Senate term, directly went on the offensive at the start of the one-hour forum hosted by the Farm Bureau at Tennessee Tech University, returning often to his familiar criticism of Ball as being "one more vote for the Obama agenda."
Ball, a Knoxville attorney, insisted he's a centrist Democrat and pledged that if elected he wouldn't vote for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada for another term in charge.
"My party has left me and gone to the left," Ball said. "And that's why I'm running, because I'm tired of being stuck in the middle."
Alexander said it was a hollow promise for Ball to vote against Reid because Democrats would still hold sway in the Senate. The GOP would need to pick up six seats to gain control of the Senate.
"He's trying to fool you about what he'd do," Alexander said at the early morning event on the outskirts of Cookeville. "If you want change, you have to have a new Republican majority."
Ball laid the blame for partisan gridlock with incumbents like Alexander.
"If you want to change things in Washington, you've got to change the people in Washington," he said.
The candidates disagreed on Obama's health care law and minimum wage, and they accused each other of supporting "amnesty" for people in the country illegally.
Alexander stressed that the Senate bill on immigration he voted for was also supported by the Farm Bureau.
"A dairy farmer, a tobacco farmer and a tomato farmer knows you've got to be able — without going through a big bureaucratic mess — to hire workers who can come in for a period to time, go from farm to farm, be legally here, and go home," Alexander said.
Alexander said the bill he voted for would fine people for violating immigration laws, while Ball would not impose any penalties.
"He keeps talking about amnesty — he's the one who's for amnesty," he said.
Ball said he supports increasing the minimum wage because "a person who works should not live in poverty." Meanwhile, Alexander opposes abolishing a minimum wage altogether, he said.
Alexander also criticized environmental regulators and labor policies for farms.
"We should spend all of our time getting rid of regulations, like the regulation of child labor on farms, like the proposed regulation to have (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspect small farms," he said.
On health care, Alexander said the biggest contrast between the two candidates is that he wants to do away with the Affordable Care Act, while Ball wants to work to fix it.
"I believe that everybody in this country deserves health care," Ball said. "I believe it's a right. Mr. Alexander believes it's a privilege."
Early voting began Wednesday and runs through Oct. 30.