BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — They talked about abortion rights, they talked about budget deficits and tax cuts, they even agreed on something.
But what generated the most heat Tuesday between the two Vermont gubernatorial candidates was an attack ad in which Republican Brian Dubie was pictured with a pointy, Pinocchio-style nose that grew every time he didn't tell the truth. Since it was pulled off the airwaves, the TV commercial has come to symbolize what's been an unusually negative political campaign by Vermont standards.
Still irate over it, Dubie repeatedly chided Democratic opponent Peter Shumlin in the live debate.
"Senator, you're the one who ran an ad that didn't talk necessarily about issues but physically distorted my nose on public television. I'm still hearing about it. I think that's over the top," Dubie said.
The ad came up again later, after one of the moderators — taking a question submitted by a Facebook user — said children who see "hurtful" things being said in political commercials wonder why that's OK, when children get in trouble for misbehaving at school or on the playground.
The question was directed at Shumlin, who previously apologized for the ad.
"It's not the way we do politics in Vermont," he replied. "I haven't. Brian misspoke about the ad that I ran. My ad stated three facts that are truthful, and that's fair," said Shumlin, listing the three Dubie misstatements cited in his ad and then countering with examples of Dubie ads that he said had been less than truthful about Shumlin positions.
"I apologize to your schoolkids for that kind of behavior," he said.
Dubie wasn't done. He noted that after Shumlin said the ad would be pulled, it continued airing for three days.
"When you distort your opponent's physical face on an ad ... you said that was over the top, you apologized," he said, before Shumlin — sitting shoulder to shoulder with him — interrupted him with an inaudible aside. "You should be apologizing to this mother. You physically distorted my nose on an ad. That is over-the-top."
Shumlin, the state Senate president pro tem, and Dubie, the lieutenant governor, are seeking to succeed incumbent Gov. Jim Douglas, a popular Republican who is not seeking a fifth term.
The debate, their twelfth since Shumlin's victory in a five-way Democratic primary Aug. 24, covered familiar turf.
Shumlin stressed his experience as a businessman, saying that's what state government — facing a $110 million budget deficit next year — needs.
Dubie pointed out his experience as a school board member, lieutenant governor and American Airlines pilot, saying he knows a thing or two about leadership.
What they agreed on was this: Asked about Vermont dairy farmers' practice of hiring immigrants because they can't find enough locals to do the work, Shumlin said he doesn't think it's a problem. What is a problem, he said, is when those people send money home to their families and they have to pay a huge fee for transferring the money.
If elected, he said, he would ask Vermont banks to set up accounts for them so the money could be transferred without gouging the workers with charges.
"Well, I'd like to join with you and set up that bank. I think that would be a great project for the lieutenant governor and the senator," Dubie said.