Senate candidates spar during final debate

4 hours ago • By Don Walton / Lee Enterprises

NORTH PLATTE — An intellectual discussion about foreign policy veered into sharp differences about hot-button domestic issues Sunday night with a few missiles lobbed at the front runner before Nebraska's Senate candidates completed their final debate.

The debate, sponsored by NET and televised live statewide from North Platte High School, framed a couple of sharp policy differences between Republican nominee Ben Sasse and Democratic nominee Dave Domina while allowing two independent candidates equal time to make their cases.

Domina said it's time to provide "a prompt pathway to complete citizenship" for immigrants who have illegally settled in the United States and lived here as law-abiding residents.

Sasse said border security must come first and then he might be open to the same sentiment he hears from most Nebraskans to consider a pathway to legal status, but not citizenship or voting rights.

On another controversial issue, Domina said he and most Americans "favor reasonable regulations" for gun purchases, including universal background checks.

"The NRA (National Rifle Association) is over the top" in its opposition to all gun regulation, Domina said, "and the American people have had enough with the NRA."

Sasse, who has the endorsement of the NRA, said he would be a staunch defender of Second Amendment rights.

Independent candidates Jim Jenkins and Todd Watson argued that the time has come for a nonpartisan U.S. senator from Nebraska who could try to help bridge the partisan gap in the Senate that has resulted in gridlock and lack of progress on major challenges like debt reduction, tax reforrm, infrastructure investment and comprehensive immigration reform.

"We incentivize partisanship," Jenkins said. "We continue to elect the most partisan people."

"The challenge is on the voter," Watson said. "Why are you still listening to the money? I'm proud to have the least amount of money" in the Senate race.

Differences on foreign policy issues, which dominated the first half of the debate, were largely marginal.

The candidates expressed general support for President Barack Obama's decision to launch sustained military air attacks against Islamic State (ISIL) forces in Iraq, and perhaps in Syria, while sending more U.S. military support personnel — as distinguished from ground troops — to Iraq.

And the foursome pledged their strong support for Israel.

Sasse occasionally aimed criticism at the Obama administration while Domina and Jenkins zeroed in on Sasse during the last half-hour of the 90-minute debate.

Watson raised the possibility of "a registered provisional immigrant" classification as an intermediary step to possible future legal status for immigrants illegally settled in the United States.

Jenkins said Sasse is "at the far right" on the immigration issue and therefore "an advocate for gridlock."

Domina said "we've seen extremism in this campaign already (exemplified) by who comes to the state."

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is among a number of high-profile conservatives who have campaigned for Sasse in Nebraska.

"Sasse brings in millions of dollars from outside," Jenkins said. "Running out of Custer County is a lot different than running out of Washington."

That remark prompted a quick rebuttal from Sasse, who said he has the support of 3,200 Nebraska campaign donors while 20 Nebraskans have contributed to the Jenkins campaign.

Sunday's debate concluded a series of four forums and debates among Senate candidates. The winner of the Nov. 4 general election will succeed Republican Sen. Mike Johanns in January.