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GOP Senate candidates meet in public TV debate

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VERMILLION (AP) — Five Republicans running for U.S. Senate sparred over health care, the budget deficit and Mike Rounds' record as governor in a televised debate Thursday.

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The debate, which was broadcast on South Dakota Public Broadcasting, was the second meeting for Rounds, state lawmakers Larry Rhoden and Stace Nelson, attorney and Army Reserves Maj. Jason Ravnsborg and physician Annette Bosworth.

Among the notable moments:

—AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

Nelson accused Rounds of supporting President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act, and of benefiting financially from it and serving with former Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle on a panel that studied the law's provisions.

"If Mike Rounds had opposed Obamacare with a Republican Legislature, we would not have Obamacare in South Dakota," Nelson said. He cited a 2011 story telling how Rounds was co-chairman of a health care initiative with Daschle that was to study provisions of the health care reform law.

Rounds said he never supported the overhaul and has joined Attorney General Marty Jackley in opposing it in court. He also said the state doesn't have a health exchange because of his opposition to it and that he would seek to repeal it as a member of Congress.

"We have opposed Obamacare from day one and ... never worked with Daschle," Rounds said. "Obamacare is bad for Medicare."

—BUDGETS

A question about whether the federal debt is as big of a problem as it's been made out to be prompted Nelson, Bosworth and Ravnsborg to criticize Rounds' handling of the state budget while in office.

Rounds left office with a $127 million structural deficit and forced teachers to take a pay cut, Ravnsborg said.

"Governor Rounds, I don't believe it's entirely accurate that you balanced the budget," he said.

Then Bosworth asked Rounds: "How many years did you have to dip into the (budget) reserves?"

Rounds said South Dakota law requires the state to balance its budget every year, which he did, and he said he helped create 28,000 private-sector jobs.

—GENDER

When the candidates were asked how they would compromise in order to make Congress more productive, Bosworth said she was the best qualified because she's the only female candidate.

"Women think about things differently," she said. "Men think black and white. Women think in shades of gray."

—MR. CLEAN

Rhoden was the only candidate who didn't take a shot at Rounds, instead touting his 14 years in the Legislature as proof that he can go to Washington and work with Democrats. The four fundamental qualities GOP voters should look for in a candidate are integrity, conservative values, backbone and leadership skills, he said.

"There are people in this race who have misrepresented the truth," Rhoden said.

The five Republicans are seeking the party's nomination in the June 3 primary for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson.

Sioux Falls business owner Rick Weiland is the lone Democratic candidate.

Former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler, former state lawmaker Gordon Howie and Clayton Walker are the independents on the November ballot.

The debate, which was also streamed live online, will be rebroadcast on public radio on Monday.

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