MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters said on Wednesday that his Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land could not be trusted as Michigan's next senator because of her opposition to the 2009 federal auto bailout.
Land countered that Washington has declared "economic war" on Michigan and she would work to repeal and replace the federal health care law.
The candidates appeared separately, one after the other, at a forum hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber political action committee at the Mackinac Policy Conference. It was not a debate; neither candidate was present while the other spoke and answered questions from an audience of roughly 100.
Just once did one of the candidates — Peters — directly allude to his opponent, citing Land's 2012 comments on the auto rescue package.
"That's going to be a big difference ... between where I am and my opponent is," he said. "You can't be a senator from Michigan and not support something that is so important for our No. 1 industry and really the lifeblood of who we are."
Asked later by reporters if she opposed the bailout, Land declined to say, adding that it is important to "support our auto workers" and make sure the companies never end up on the brink of financial disaster again.
Peters previously has drawn attention to recorded statements Land made at a Republican National Convention event two years ago in which she backed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's anti-bailout position. Asked about Romney and the bailout, she told the Washington Times then, "I'm with him on that" and noted that Ford survived without the rescue package that went to General Motors and Chrysler.
While Land did not mention Peters Wednesday, she often criticized "Washington" — for the health care law and the failure of President Barack Obama's administration to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which she wants and Peters — a third-term congressman — opposes.
"Too often bad policies are coming from Washington, D.C., and are going to slow our comeback. ... I believe Washington has declared economic war on Michigan with high taxes, overregulation and gridlock," she said.
The three-day conference is hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber and brings together more than 1,500 leaders in business, politics, education and other fields. It costs roughly $2,000 for a Chamber member to attend. An extra $150-per-person fee to attend the candidate forum went to the Chamber's PAC.
Both candidates talked up their business credentials and agreed that the U.S. government should pay for a customs plaza for a second bridge connecting Detroit with Canada.
Land told of her immigrant grandparents building a motel and trailer park in the 1950s, and said she learned in the family business that listening to people is crucial to making sound decisions. She said as secretary of state, she instituted a leadership training program to put more women on a management path.
"Apparently some call that a war on women," Land said in reference to Democrats' criticism for her stance on federal pay equity legislation.
Peters, meanwhile, said he was a financial adviser for 20 years.
"I'm a business person. When I've come to public service, I want to bring that approach — it's really about practical problem solving," he said.
Land and Peters are locked in a tight race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. Michigan is usually considered a Democratic state in federal elections but GOP hopes have been raised by Land's showing so far in a non-presidential election year.
An EPIC-MRA poll released Tuesday showed Peters slightly ahead of Land, 44 percent to 38 percent, among 600 likely Michigan voters with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll was done for the Detroit Free Press and Detroit's WXYZ-TV. Eighteen percent were undecided; Peters was up 14 percentage points among women.
Groups not affiliated directly with the candidates are dominating advertising in the race. Through Monday, they had spent $6.8 million of nearly $9 million expended on TV ads — $4.6 million to help Land, $2.2 million to assist Peters, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Land's largest independent backer was Americans for Prosperity, a group affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers, which spent $3.6 million. It also launched a new $750,000 ad on Wednesday attacking Peters for his support of the health care law.
The Senate Majority PAC, which is run by former aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, was the biggest supporter of Peters, spending $1.5 million.
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