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Klobuchar, Newberger broadcast wide differences at Minnesota State Fair debate

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks at a Farmfest candidate forum in early August. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
U.S. Senate candidate Jim Newberger speaks at a Farmfest forum in early August. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn.—It would be hard to find two candidates further apart on issues than state Rep. Jim Newberger and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who are fighting for six year in the U.S. Senate.

In a Friday, Aug. 24, Minnesota State Fair debate, Republican Newberger called for a return to free-market health care, said he does not believe climate change is manmade and declared a wall is needed along the Mexican border.

Democrat Klobuchar, meanwhile, told a Minnesota Public Radio audience that federal laws such as allowing sick people to obtain insurance should be continued, said she agrees with a majority of scientists who think climate change is at least partially due to man and felt Mexican border security should be a combination of a wall, fence and personnel.

MPR political editor Mike Mulcahy asked Klobuchar if she would serve the full six-year term, a nod to the frequent suggestions by national political observers that she could be a vice presidential or presidential candidate in 2020.

"Of course I will," Klobuchar said. "I think my track record shows that."

Newberger thanked Klobuchar for her service, but said her 12 years in the Senate is enough. "Eighteen years is a long time to be in the swamp."

The state representative said Klobuchar usually votes with the "far left." He told the audience, "for more than a decade, you have not had a voice."

Klobuchar defended her record, talking like she often does about working with Republicans and getting Republican President Donald Trump to sign her bills. Even with that cooperation, she said that she is needed as "a check on the administration."

On health care, Newberger said that his 30 years as a paramedic give him a first-hand understanding of issues. He said President Barack Obama moved the country to a health care system too heavily dependent on the government. "We need to go back to a free-market system."

Additionally, he said government programs like MinnesotaCare, a state-run insurance for the working poor, need to remain in place as a "safety net for our most vulnerable," but in general, government needs to step away from health care. Opening up Medicare for anyone who wants it would cost $32 trillion, Newberger said. That is a proposal many Democrats support.

Klobuchar, meanwhile, said the federal government must keep requiring insurers to provide policies to people with pre-existing conditions. Another important provision, she added, is the ability to allow parents to keep children on their insurance until they are 26.

In a rare area of agreement, Klobuchar and Newberger said the federal government needs to find a way to keep medicine prices down.

Klobuchar said she opposes Trump's policy reducing regulations on coal-fired power plants. She said coal plants should not be ordered closed, but she believes scientists who say burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change, so the plants should be replaced with cleaner alternatives.

Newberger lives a half mile downwind from what long was Minnesota's largest coal power plant, big enough to provide electricity to half of the state, but he saw no problems. He said the sun is the major contributor to climate change, "and we cannot change how the sun operates."

Polls show Klobuchar to be the most popular current elected Minnesota official. In 2012, she received 65 percent of the vote. She won all but two of Minnesota's 87 counties.

Newberger, from Becker, has been in the state House since 2013 in a district northwest of the Twin Cities.

The Newberger-Klobuchar race is one of two Minnesotans will decided in the Nov. 6 election. Also on the ballot will be one between Karin Housley and Tina Smith for the remaining two years of Al Franken's Senate term. He resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct.

A Suffolk University-St. Cloud Times poll shows Smith leading Housley 44 percent to 37 percent, with 18 percent undecided. Klobuchar has a 54 percent to 34 percent lead over Newberger in their race, with 11 percent undecided, the early poll shows.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.