After weeks of going after each other in commercials and through surrogates, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall and Republican challenger Rick Goddard went after each other in person tonight at the Georgia National Fair.
Goddard called for change in Washington, calling the current Democratic Congress the "most dismal failure" of leadership "in our American history."
"In the end, this is all about how you feel about your Congress," said the retired Air Force major general, the crowd favorite here in Houston County.
Marshall defended his record, calling it consistent with the 8th Congressional District he has represented for three terms.
"Are things perfect with the United States? No. ... " he said. "But I'm going to do whatever I possibly can to try and make things better."
As in a Senatorial debate earlier in the evening, the economy and the economic bailout -- which Marshall voted for and Goddard has opposed -- was the most popular topic.
Marshall noted that the AARP, one of the co-hosts of tonight's debate, sent him a letter thanking him for his vote on the bailout. Goddard used Marshall's own words against him noting the congressman's acknowledgement that the bailout bill wasn't perfect, and might not work.
"You know hope's not a strategy folks," Goddard said.
Goddard called the bill "reckless" and said congressional leaders should have stayed in Washington and hammered out a better bill. He said Marshall has taken hundreds of thousands in campaign funding from Wall Street corporations.
Marshall noted that Republican and Democratic leadership supported the bill, as did President Bush, both of Georgia's Republican senators and other notables, including famous billionaire Warren Buffet.
"Who thinks Warren Buffet could get bought?" Marshall asked.
Marshall also noted that it took two days for Goddard to publicly announce his position on the bailout, and that he did so after taking a poll on the issue. Goddard said he didn't need a poll to tell him how to feel on the issue, but he didn't deny taking one.
Both men were allowed to ask each other one question. Marshall asked Goddard his position on the Fair Tax, a national sales tax, and whether he favors privatizing Social Security. Goddard said he hasn't taken a position on the Fair Tax or the Flat Tax, but that the current system is "broken" and "impossible to understand." He did not take a position on Social Security, leading Marshall to try and cede some of his own speaking time to Goddard "so he can answer."
"We have got to have solutions. ..." Goddard responded. "My first plan is stop spending that money (meant for Social Security)."
Goddard's question for Marshall noted the congressman's six-figure salary, excellent health care package and pension plan, all funded by the taxpayers. Then he asked whether failures in Congress were a "firable offense." Marshall again asked to cede time to Goddard for an answer on Social Security.
"Apparently he is in favor of privatizing social security," Marshall said at an event put on, in part, by an organization of retirees.
Responded Goddard: "First of all you can't put words in my mouth. I don't accept that. You're not the moderator."
Goddard did not give a yes or no answer on Social Security.
Both candidates were asked if they fully support their party's nominee for president's position on the Iraq war. Marshall, who has not publicly endorsed Democratic nominee Barack Obama, said no. He added that he is against a timetable for withdrawal and that the new president will be constrained by "realities on the ground."
Goddard said he "absolutely" supports Republican nominee John McCain's position.
"Unlike Mr. Marshall, I do support my presidential candidate, " Goddard said.