Defense, security hold high places in U.S. Senate race

Sunday, September 15, 2002

WASHINGTON -- In the year since terrorist hijackers crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Sen. Jean Carnahan has visited Afghanistan to meet with political leaders and U.S. troops.

Republican challenger Jim Talent has stood alongside a president who credits him with helping to strengthen national defense.

Defense and homeland security concerns have dominated the agenda in Washington since the terrorist attacks and amid talk of war on Iraq. As a result, both candidates for Senate in Missouri are emphasizing their credentials on the issue.

His support for military spending long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is something Talent emphasizes about his eight-year record in Congress, where he served on the House Armed Services Committee.

"Everybody will work for their own little pet program, but the key is, will you fight for more funds for defense, particularly when it isn't popular," Talent said.

Boosters of Super Hornet

Not that he eschewed home-state programs. Military aircraft built at Boeing Co.'s St. Louis operations, particularly the F/A-18 Super Hornet, were top priorities for Talent. In this race, he has campaigned on his support for President Bush's defense budget and has called for more money to protect and defend the nation in a variety of ways.

Carnahan says her favorite issues probably are those handled by the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, where she, too, has been a booster of the Super Hornet. Support for the president's defense budget also is a highlight of her campaign, as is legislation she sponsored to continue military health care for reservists and National Guard Members.

"I had the opportunity to go see firsthand what we were doing in Afghanistan," she said. "I realize that it's important that our defenses be second to none and that we give troops the technology they need and the equipment they need to do their jobs."

While the ideas they promote on national security are similar, Talent and his supporters in the Missouri GOP have made Carnahan's record an issue during her 21 months in office.

Talent criticizes Carnahan for voting in committee to cut funds President Bush sought for his missile defense program.

Some congressional Democrats call the program too expensive, its technology questionable and the missile threat unclear. However, Carnahan says she supports the program and points out that she later voted for the funds.

John Petrocik, who heads the political science department at the University of Missouri, says that while voters care a lot about national security, they don't pay much attention to squabbling over votes cast by politicians.

"Voters aren't stupid, but they're not informed, and it would have to be awfully bright and clear for people to pick up something that struck them as important in this regard," Petrocik said.

Still, he maintains that Talent starts off with an advantage on defense issues. Polls show that voters tend to trust Republicans more on defense issues, Petrocik said.

Both Carnahan and Talent have supported Bush's indictment of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and both agree that he needs approval from Congress to launch attacks.

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