Reps. Clay, Carnahan tout liberalism in Mo. debate

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Debating a week before their Democratic primary, U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay competed to claim the liberal mantle Monday and accused one another of telling “whoppers” about the other’s actions and legislative voting records.

The congressmen also said they want to raise the minimum wage, though they incorrectly stated the current rate.

Clay and Carnahan debated Monday on KMOX radio and, despite sometimes-tense exchanges, pledged that the loser of the Aug. 7 primary will support the Democratic ticket in the November elections.

After the 2010 census showed Missouri’s population growth failed to keep pace with the nation, the state lost one of its nine congressional seats. Carnahan, whose current 3rd District was carved up and merged with nearby districts, chose to challenge Clay in the 1st District in St. Louis.

Clay said Monday that Carnahan should have run in a reconfigured suburban St. Louis district, which leans toward Republicans. Carnahan accused Clay of “throwing Democrats under the bus” by supporting the new redistricting plan enacted by Missouri’s Republican-led state Legislature.

“What my opponent has just said is really a whopper,” Clay responded. Clay said he issued a joint news release with Carnahan urging the Legislature to keep three congressional districts in the St. Louis region and — at Carnahan’s request — had urged a state lawmaker not to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the redistricting legislation.

That led Carnahan to retort: “That is a whopper,” and to assert that Clay’s allies had actively lobbied state lawmakers to override the veto, which they ultimately did.

The two congressmen traded additional “whopper” barbs as they alleged the other had failed to support budget alternatives put forth in Congress by fellow Democrats or the Congressional Black Caucus. Clay went so far as to suggest that Carnahan’s failure to vote for a particular budget plan made him an ally of the tea party, which Carnahan called “really laughable.”

Clay, who first won election in 2000, repeatedly cited a ranking in the National Journal that lists him as tied for the most liberal member of Congress. Carnahan, an eight-year congressional officeholder, countered by touting his endorsements from labor, environmental and other liberal groups.

The quest to be seen as liberal — or progressive, as they sometimes described themselves — provided a stark contrast to Missouri’s U.S. Senate race, where the three leading Republican primary contenders have been running TV ads claiming to be the most conservative candidates.

In a debate earlier this year on KMOX, Republican Senate candidates John Brunner, Sarah Steelman and Todd Akin all were unable to correctly identify the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Asked about the minimum wage in Monday’s debate, Clay said it was $7.45 an hour but that he supports legislation increasing it to $10 an hour. Carnahan, who answered second, erroneously said Clay was correct about the current minimum wage and that he also wants to look for ways to increase it.

On other issues, Clay and Carnahan both said they support the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Carnahan defended his support for the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program as a “tough” but “responsible vote,” while Clay criticized it as “a bailout to the Wall Street barons.”

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