Romney, Kennedy Debate

Candidates Spar Over Experience

BOSTON--Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 attacked W. Mitt Romney's business record and touted his own legislative accomplishments in a heated debate last night here in historic Faneuil Hall.

Kennedy, who has served in the Senate for 32 years, frequently kept Romney, a political newcomer, off-balance by demanding specifics on such issues as the national budget and the costs of his proposed health care plan.

The Bay State's senior Senator and his GOP challenger sparred over this campaign's hot-button issues--crime, welfare and the economy--when questioned by the panel of journalists. But they saved their most potent barbs for when they questioned each other directly.

In one of the testiest moments the debate, Romney criticized Kennedy for attacking him on not providing health-care coverage for part-time workers. In turn, Romney said Kennedy did just the same at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, a Kennedy family enterprise.

"You don't provide health insurance for your part-time workers," Romney told Kennedy.

During the debate, Kennedy, 62, said that all the workers at the Mart had access to health insurance through the company.

After the debate, however, Kennedy campaign officials said that Merchandise Mart provides health insurance to all employees and that only seven part-time employees did not have health insurance. Kennedy spokespeople said these seven were working at Merchandise Mart as their second job and came to the company with health insurance from their full-time employers.

Kennedy frequently tried to paint his challenger as a wealthy businessperson who made millions telling companies to lay off workers.

And Romney, chief executive officer of venture capital firm Bain Capital, attacked Kennedy's liberal legislative record, saying his solutions were out-of-date and ineffective in dealing with today's societal problems.

Questioned about his position on abortion, Romney--who has painted himself as a moderate on social issues--said although he was personally opposed to abortion, he would not impose his personal beliefs on the public.

"I believe abortion should be made safe and legal in the U.S.," Romney said. "My personal beliefs should not be brought into this campaign."

Kennedy dismissed his opponent's comment and retorted, "I am prochoice, my opponent is multiple choice."

On the issue of gay rights, Romney--who is on the board of directors of Boy Scouts of America--said he supports allowing gay children into the group.

The two candidates also sparred over the issue of crime, each trying to label himself as a tough crime fighter.

"I'm a leader in getting guns off the street in this country," Kennedy said.

"Police all across the state support my candidacy because they know I'm tough on crime," Romney responded.

The overflow audience quieted when Kennedy, whose personal life has been the topic of much debate, was asked to name his greatest personal failing.

Although Kennedy admitted that he "had not lived up to all the expectations of the people in Massachusetts," he said his 1992 marriage to Washington lawyer Victoria Reggie, has changed him.

Romney answered the same question by saying he regretted not being able to spend more than one day a week helping people in the community.

"[My greatest personal failing] is my inability to fulfill my God-given obligation to help other people," Romney said.

After the debate, each side claimed victory, saying its candidate articulated his position and clearly emphasized his differences with the other.

"[Kennedy] was in command," Kennedy's campaign manager and nephew Michael L. Kennedy '80 said. "He was focused on the real issues."

"They both landed some punches tonight, but Sen. Kennedy clearly won the debate tonight," said the candidate's nephew, U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. "It was a very good night for Sen. Kennedy's campaign."

Romney's campaign officials said their candidate was calm and presented himself well to the state's voters.

"People saw a Mitt Romney who was smart, strong on crime, strong on welfare," said Charlie Manning, Romney's political consultant.

Manning added, "When you're wrong, you yell and shout, and Ted Kennedy was yelling and shouting."

Although the race is considered Kennedy's toughest in memorey, a weekend poll showed he had an 18-point lead over Romney.

Campaign observers say if Romney wants to narrow the gap, he must deliver a great performance in tomorrow's debate at Holyoke Community College--the last meeting between the two before the Nov. 8 election.

At tomorrow's debate, 12 citizens will ask questions to each candidate.

Outside historic Faneuil Hall, 5,000 supporters of both Kennedy and Romney turned out before the debate, loudly exhorting their respective candidates.

Romney supporters cheered, "Let's Go Mitt," and the Kennedy faithful replied "Go Home Mitt."

A brief skirmish even broke out between the candidates' supporters after the debate