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Candidates spar over policy in Kentucky Senate debate

By Jillian Harding, CNN
  • Unlike prior debates, candidates focus on in-depth discussions
  • Paul and Conway debate the TARP program, health care reform and other topics
  • Polls show the two candidates neck and neck in the race

(CNN) -- The candidates in Kentucky's final Senate debate wasted no time in getting down to business, parsing through policy differences and touting their respective credentials.

It was a contest that almost didn't happen; Republican candidate Rand Paul threatened to pull out after an ad by his opponent, Democratic candidate Jack Conway, attacked his religious views. But with eight days left until election day, Paul decided to participate.

Monday's debate differed from earlier ones that were laced with character attacks. Instead, it involved a series of in-depth discussions over how each candidate approached major issues, including the economy, health care reform and the deficit.

"This is an example of government run amok," Paul, an eye doctor, said of the passage of the stimulus package and the TARP bailouts.

Conway, the state attorney general, agreed that the TARP program was "not a success," citing a lack of accountability.

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"I don't think that's a way to do business," Conway said.

In response to a question about whether or not TARP funds should be used to offset foreclosures for those with underwater mortgages, Paul insisted paying down the deficit was the most important task at hand.

Paul was critical of policies he said helped create the housing crisis. Low interest rates and loose lending practices "said to people it's a good idea to buy a house without a down payment," Paul said.

Asked what would happen to the people with underwater mortgages facing foreclosure, Paul said, "Well, nothing good."

"It's really a tragedy," he continued.

Conway used the moment to pounce on Paul's position and advocate for slowing the foreclosure process. He pushed for a return to "sound lending practices."

"We got away from that and we have to get back to it," Conway said.

On health care reform, Paul refuted Conway's claims that Paul wanted to enforce a "$2,000 deductible" for medicare recipients.

"When I spoke of deductibles, I spoke of ways to try to fix the problem in the future," Paul said, adding that he would not raise deductibles for current seniors.

Attacking Conway for his approval of the health care bill, Paul said the bill would cause a rise in costs. "Deductibles are already going up," he said.

Conway fought back, saying that although "it's not a perfect bill," he was in favor of many policies in the bill, including those which extended coverage and prevented insurance companies from denying individuals with pre-existing conditions.

According to recent polling, Paul and Conway are neck and neck in the race for retiring Republican Senator Jim Bunning's seat.