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officer of venture capital firm Bain Capital, attacked Kennedy's liberal legislative record, saying his solutions were out-of-date and ineffective in dealing with today's societal problems.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