LOS ANGELES (AP) — The two candidates for California’s open U.S. Senate seat clashed in a series of pointed exchanges Wednesday over each other’s competence and ability to get things done, highlighting the stakes in their only televised debate.
State Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, both Democrats, dueled over issues from crime to terrorism, seeking to sway voters in a race that has been largely overshadowed by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
The tone was often sharply critical. Harris used the hour-long matchup at Cal State LA to repeatedly criticize Sanchez for her poor attendance record in Washington, saying the race is about “who shows up, and who gets things done.”
Sanchez attempted to frame Harris, a lifetime prosecutor, as ill-equipped at a time of global dangers, often referring to her own service on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees in the House. She also depicted Harris untrustworthy, a politician who “says one thing and does another.”
Sanchez entered the race trailing in polls and fundraising, while Harris is the pick of the Democratic establishment, counting endorsements from President Barack Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown.
She needed a command performance to close the gap, but “Loretta Sanchez isn’t any closer to the Senate than she was an hour ago,” said Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney. He judged Harris’ performance as adequate, and made effective arguments that Sanchez was often a no-show in Washington while campaigning in California. Sanchez argued she had never missed a crucial vote.
The contest came just a few days before mail-in ballots are distributed to millions of voters.
The race marks the first time in the modern era that a Republican will not appear on the Senate ballot, the Democrats-only runoff created by the state’s unusual primary election rules.
The TV audience is expected to be relatively small, and the debate will be competed for viewers with the playoff game between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets.
Sanchez, snubbed by her own party, has been trying to stitch together an unusual coalition that includes Republicans, Hispanics, Democrats and independents. She frequently faulted Harris for the state’s rising violent crime rates, an issue that could resonate with GOP voters.
As fellow Democrats, the two candidates share similar positions on many issues, including the $15 minimum wage, climate change and immigration reform.
The race has been invisible to many voters.
Typically, TV commercials would begin circulating widely at this stage in a high-profile campaign. They have not.
Sanchez, in particular, has struggled to raise money and it appears unlikely she will be able to finance the kind of advertising barrage typically needed to shift voters’ views.
Harris, in her second term, has run statewide campaigns and is better known.
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