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The U.S. Senate race between independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican challenger John MacGovern is lopsided in terms of name-recognition and campaign finances, but you wouldn’t know that from the fiery tone of their debate Friday.

Sanders and MacGovern sat across the table from each other in a VPR studio, and they did not hold back when they were given the opportunity to question each other directly.

MacGovern accused Sanders of voting against the interests of small businesses and Sanders argued that MacGovern is shielding the wealthy from taxes, at the expense of the poor, leading to a tense exchange:  

MacGovern: "I find your whole rhetoric abhorrent and un-American. I mean it’s – your rhetoric is all about attacking those with money."

Sanders: "What did I say that was inaccurate?"

MacGovern: "I didn’t say inaccurate, I said abhorrent.  You’re attacking wealthy people, as if taxing them more is the solution to all our problems."

Sanders: "You are such a —"

MacGovern: "I find that whole approach objectionable."

The two leading candidates for U.S. Senate are philosophically polar opposites.  Sanders is a left-leaning independent who does not shy from the label ‘socialist.’ MacGovern is a conservative Republican who has signed a national pledge against tax increases.

In the debate on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Sanders went after MacGovern’s position on estate taxes in this exchange:

Sanders:  "You want to repeal the estate tax, a $30 billion reduction in taxes for the wealthiest family in America [the Walton family], worth $100 billion. And then you want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. That, Mr. MacGovern, in my view is attacking people, the most vulnerable people."

MacGovern: "But that’s simply a smear."

MacGovern insisted he does not want to cut Social Security, as the two political opponents argued over each other.

There are four other candidates for U.S. Senate besides Sanders and MacGovern:  Peter Diamondstone, Cris Ericson, Laurel LaFramboise and Peter Moss will all be on the November ballot.


"Click here" to listen to the full audio of the debate, or choose select topics that were addressed.

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