Ideological Differences Revealed As Santorum And Wofford Debate Santorum Called His Foe A Relic Of Another Era. And Wofford Said Past Gop Policies Hurt Pennsylvania.

Posted: October 11, 1994

WILKINSBURG, Pa. — Republican Rick Santorum and Democrat Harris Wofford turned the only one- on-one debate in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race into an ideological brawl yesterday, sparring on subjects ranging from Republican obstructionism to Democratic inability to govern.

Santorum, who has been agitating for the opportunity to go face to face with Wofford, went after his opponent during a two-hour radio debate with sound-bite precision and an instinct for the jugular that left the incumbent at times unable to get a word in edgewise.

Wofford, who has resisted requests to debate Santorum on television without minor-party candidates on board, revealed the logic of that strategy, struggling frequently to force his discursive, courtly manner into the fast pace of a live electronic encounter.

The two argued over pay raises, welfare and whether Wofford is a millionaire. They dickered over what were facts and what were lies, and they were reluctant to admit to being either a conservative or a liberal.

But for all the bombast, they at last revealed what people have long expected from this race: a deep ideological and generational split.

In the face-off at WTAE-AM radio studios near Pittsburgh, Santorum called Wofford a relic of another era and was none too polite doing it, mixing disbelief with condescension.

"We can't have the 1960s solutions you've been promoting for the last 30 years - more government control of our lives," said the two-term Pittsburgh congressman. "It's a failure, senator, it doesn't work."

Wofford gave his foe a history lesson himself, linking him philosophically with the seven-point, Republican-agenda "contract" signed this fall by GOP candidates for the U.S. House.

"That will take us back to the Reagan-Bush policies that landed Pennsylvania on its back," Wofford said. "As labor and industry secretary, I dealt with the wreckage of those policies that led us from $1 trillion to $4 trillion in debt, left people unemployed, factories closed and families broken."

He accused Santorum of being part of the Republican exercise in "petty bickering partisanship that has quashed one thing after another" in the closing days of Congress this month - and he revealed his newest bipartisan role model.

Fully six times in two hours - and again in his post-debate news conference - Wofford cited the example of Republican Arlen Specter as the kind of senator he admired, along with the late John Heinz, also a Republican.

Despite the death of health-care reform in Congress, the amount of time spent on the issue made yesterday's encounter seem like time travel to Wofford's first campaign.

Wofford said that "having failed" to persuade his colleagues to make even a modest first step toward toward reform, he would now seek to take away the federal subsidy that pays part of senators' own health-care plans.

Santorum jumped on that, questioning whether it was merely a "gimmick" to divert attention from inaction.

Wofford countered that he considered it a strategy to put "a stick of dynamite under the roadblock" in the Senate and get it moving toward offering the public a menu of private health plans similar to those now offered members of Congress.

Santorum said he would not give up the government-paid portion of his congressional health plan and "deprive my family of that benefit."

The real issue, Santorum said, was Wofford's intention to foist a government-run, single-payer health plan on the public. "Your bill specifies all the money would be paid to Washington," Santorum said. "That is what your bill does."

On taxes, Santorum offered a Bush-like "I'm not going to raise your taxes," and reminded listeners that Wofford had voted for the Clinton budget and its increase in taxes designed to reduce the deficit.

Wofford said the increase was on the top 1.5 percent, affecting 50,000 Pennsylvanians, and cut the taxes of 500,000 middle-class residents in the state.

Many of those wealthiest Pennsylvanians would come from Wofford's Montgomery County base - the state's wealthiest county by some measures - and Santorum pointed out that the 4 percent increase on gas taxes would affect everyone.

"The tax increase is part of a five-year deficit-reduction plan," Wofford said. "It is the first to take us back from the Reagan-Bush years. It would be patriotic rather than political for people to share in the gas tax. I think people in Pennsylvania want to do something for the common good."

"Then how come the National Taxpayers Union rates you a hostile, fat F," Santorum said.

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