U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Wednesday painted Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis as too extreme for Illinois, while the GOP challenger argued that the U.S. Senate's No. 2 Democrat has been in Washington too long and is out-of-touch with his constituents.
Meeting for their first debate of the U.S. Senate race, the candidates also tussled over same-sex marriage, services for veterans and a ban on assault weapons.
Durbin, of Springfield, is seeking his fourth U.S. Senate term after also serving in the U.S. House. He worked to tie Oberweis to the tea party, which he said is "wrecking Capitol Hill," saying Oberweis was quoted in a newspaper telling a tea party group that they should "take over" the Illinois Republican Party.
Oberweis said his comments were directed at Republicans who were dissatisfied that their views weren't represented at the state level. He said he was simply encouraging the group to get involved rather than complain.
The Sugar Grove Republican repeatedly referred to Durbin as a "smooth" career politician who has lost touch "with people in the streets."
"He's not the same man that he was 32 years ago when he first ran for Congress," Oberweis said.
Durbin said his tenure in Washington has helped him deliver billions in federal funding and other help for Illinois.
Here's a look at some of the topics covered during the debate, which was sponsored by ABC 7, the League of Women Voters and Univision Chicago:
Durbin supports same-sex marriage, and said he believes it should be legal in every state. He said a federal law making it legal nationwide is "not unreasonable and I would support it."
Oberweis, who voted against Illinois' same-sex marriage law, said Wednesday he would prefer that the issue be decided at the state level. But he said recent court decisions cleared the way for gay marriage in several states and he would now support a federal law.
"Time has passed and I believe courts have said that that is the law and I will uphold the law of the land," he said.
When reporters noted in a post-debate session that there is not a federal same-sex marriage law in place and asked him to clarify his statement, Oberweis declined to discuss it further.
Asked how the U.S. could better help homeless veterans, Durbin pointed to new housing development in Chicago funded through federal grants. He said if re-elected he would push for additional money for similar projects, which also provide counseling and other services.
Oberweis said Durbin has had years to fix the problem and hasn't done so. Oberweis said he volunteers to build homes for the homeless, and said he'd like to see what can be done through private support first, but would support federal funding as well.
Oberweis said he doesn't believe a ban on military-style assault weapons would reduce crime, adding that he's a strong supporter of gun rights because his sister-in-law was shot to death in a robbery. He said if she'd had a gun she could have protected herself.
Durbin supports a ban on the weapons.