U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall and State Sen. Barbara Bollier squared off in the first U.S. Senate debate Saturday, with the pair clashing over abortion, agriculture and the future of the federal judiciary following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The virtual incarnation of the State Fair debate, a staple of the yearly event in election years, was the first time the pair had met face-to-face amid an increasingly contentious race.
Stakes were further heightened with Ginsburg’s death Friday evening, prompting a showdown in Washington over whether her replacement should be confirmed before or after a new president has been sworn in.
President Donald Trump has indicated he will nominate a replacement for Ginsburg in the coming days and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Friday evening that whoever that person is will receive a vote on the Senate floor.
With polling showing the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts as competitive for Democratic nominee Bollier, the hot button issue has bled into Kansas as well.
Marshall, a Republican who currently represents the state’s First Congressional District, said he supported that decision and advocated for a pro-life justice who has a strict interpretation of the constitution.
That view echoes the perspective of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, whose office said Friday that he backed McConnell’s plan.
"This is an important time in history and one we can’t get wrong, that’s why the stakes for this election are so high," he said.
But Bollier said the Senate should be more focused on passing as COVID-19 aid package.
Rushing a replacement for Ginsburg, she said, was not the answer.
"Now is not the time to politicize the Supreme Court," Bollier said.
The temperature in the race has heated up in recent weeks, with Marshall’s campaign rolling out an ad which appeared to take prior remarks from Bollier out of context to show her saying she wanted to restrict gun sales.
Both candidates were not afraid to go on the offensive Saturday as well, with Bollier saying Marshall’s fiscal policy was "as reckless as his driving."
The remark was a reference to 2008 reckless driving charges brought against the congressman, which were later dropped.
She later criticized Marshall for holding in-person campaign events where attendees do not wear masks.
"It is concerning to see a doctor more concerned with his political health than the health of Kansans," Bollier said.
Marshall praised the federal government’s COVID-19 response, skewering economic shutdowns by saying that more would die from shutting down the economy than because of the virus itself.
"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Marshall said. "We are winning the war against this invisible enemy."
While the debate did not take place in Hutchinson on the State Fair grounds, agriculture was still a prominent theme throughout the questions.
Both candidates said they would seek a spot on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which Roberts currently chairs.
But Marshall accused Bollier of working against a bill to exempt the Kansas Farm Bureau’s health insurance plan from Affordable Care Act requirements.
"She’s out of touch with Kansas agriculture values," Marshall said.
In a theme that reoccurred throughout the debate, Marshall also attempted to tie Bollier to more liberal policies--most notably the Green New Deal.
While Bollier has said she opposes the sweeping spending package to address climate change, Marshall said her decision to switch parties in 2018 was a tacit endorsement of its values.
"When [Democrats] invest $15 or $20 million they are going to come after her vote and she is going to give it up," he said.
Bollier touted her voting record on transportation and telemedicine as a sign she understands rural issues.
She also repeatedly said she had a record of working across the aisle in the state Senate, a staple of her television advertisements.
When Marshall said she voted with Democrats "90 percent of the time," she countered that she acted with the GOP floor leader in 86 percent of votes.
"Gosh, is he a Democrat too," she said.
Both candidates claimed victory after the debate, which comes roughly six weeks until election day. The most recent poll from Aug. 9 shows Marshall with a two-point lead over Bollier.
Analysis from the political news outlet Five Thirty Eight released this week found that Marshall would win the race 80 percent of the time.