SAN FRANCISCO — In contrast to their acrimonious showdown days earlier, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Campbell, held a spirited but respectful, issues-oriented debate Friday focusing on immigration, criminal justice and the Middle East.
As a jeering crowd of Green Party supporters held a sit-in to protest their candidate's exclusion from the televised debate, Campbell used the final opportunity to debate Feinstein before a statewide audience to poke at her positions on various issues.
Specifically, the San Jose congressman took aim at Feinstein for once pushing a limit on legal immigration, accepting PAC money in her campaigns, and supporting U.S. drug interdiction efforts in Colombia.
But Feinstein, who had a 25-point lead in the most recent Times poll, defended her eight-year record as a senator and similarly criticized several of Campbell's votes and proposals. Most notably, Feinstein said she could never agree with his proposal that new anti-drug abuse efforts include an experiment in government distribution of narcotics.
"I would agree [with Campbell] that the drug war has not been won," Feinstein said near the outset of the hourlong debate at KRON-TV.
"[But] I also would say, 'Don't throw in the towel,' " Feinstein said, calling Campbell's drug distribution notion "folly."
The debate underscored the differences between Feinstein's self-described "pragmatic," bipartisan method of governing and Campbell's willingness to support, even embrace, new and often controversial initiatives.
On the Middle East, for example, Campbell, like Feinstein, lamented the recent weeks of clashes as undermining the last, best hope for peace in the near future.
But Feinstein took a more conventional Washington, D.C., view, backing Israel and questioning whether the Palestinian leadership is as committed as Israel to peace.
Campbell, however, called it a "mistake" for Congress to blame the Palestinians for the current Middle East crisis.
Later in the debate, when asked about Supreme Court appointments, Feinstein said she would insist on a justice supporting abortion rights. Campbell, a Stanford law professor and Republican who also favors abortion rights, offered a unique alternative: appointing a justice who is not an attorney.
After the debate, Feinstein and Campbell had planned to meet with reporters, but that was canceled when the pair couldn't make their way through the lobby, blocked by the Green Party protesters.