Republican Scott Walker said in Friday's governor's race debate that voters were "sick and tired" of attacks being made against him in the campaign, while his Democratic opponent Tom Barrett said Walker wasn't being honest about his plans for cutting taxes.
The lively one-hour debate, which included questions from citizens in Madison, La Crosse and Wausau, was the third and final debate before Tuesday's election. The candidates covered little new ground. Instead, they touted again their plans for turning around the economy, which has been the central issue in the race as Wisconsin is suffering under 7.8 percent unemployment.
With polls consistently showing Barrett behind, he was aggressive in going after Walker just as he was in the previous two events.
Walker said afterward that Barrett was desperate and avoided answering questions. During the debate, Walker said Barrett was only offering attacks against him and not real solutions.
"I think the voters are sick and tired of that," Walker said.
For his part, Barrett accused Walker of not being forthright with voters about his plans to cut billions of dollars in taxes, including those benefiting couples earning over $300,000 a year and large, multistate businesses. Barrett said implementing those tax cuts, and also doing away with the corporate income tax, would be an "outright assault on education, health care, and property taxes."
Walker, who largely didn't engage Barrett in his attacks during the debate, did defend himself against the charge that education would be decimated if he were elected. He said his tax cut plans would be phased in over time, not done all at once, and it was ridiculous to think he'd do anything to hurt schools given that he has two sons in high school.
"I'm not going to put my kids or anybody else's kids at risk in this state," said Walker, the Milwaukee County executive.
Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, said in the face of a $2.7 billion budget shortfall it would be irresponsible to cut taxes and he hasn't promised to do that.
"I'm going to be straight with you," Barrett said. "I'm going to give you honest plans because I think our problems are so serious, we can't do it. ... We have to get out head above water."
Walker has proposed a host of tax cuts, wants regulatory and litigation reform, and has pledged to call a special session of the Legislature his first day in office to begin working on his plans. He promised to waive the corporate income tax for two years for companies that move to Wisconsin from other states, but he told a business group that he favors eliminating the tax altogether. Doing that, he said, would lead to the creation of 250,000 jobs over four years.
Barrett's plan for creating jobs includes targeting tax cuts to businesses that create jobs, focusing economic development activities in the governor's office and creating a venture capital fund to help startup companies.
As he has throughout the campaign, Barrett tried to highlight Walker's positions on social issues that Barrett says are outside the mainstream. Specifically, Walker opposes embryonic stem cell research, received the endorsement of a group that opposes abortions even in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk, and he also opposes state laws extending benefits and legal rights to same-sex couples.
The winner Tuesday will replace retiring Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat who decided not to seek a third term and is suffering under his worst approval ratings of his tenure. The seat is open for the first time in 28 years.
The White House has shown keen interest as Wisconsin is traditionally a swing state and will be important in the 2012 presidential race. President Barack Obama has already hosted a fundraiser for Barrett as well as a rally on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus where Barrett introduced him to more than 26,000 students and others.
A number of Republican governors have come to Wisconsin to campaign for Walker. On Saturday, Walker was scheduled to campaign with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.