COLUMBIA -- Laughter reigned Saturday as incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings and Republican challenger Bob Inglis met in their final televised debate before voters choose their next senator on Election Day.
Mr. Hollings, a 32-year Senate veteran, chuckled when Mr. Inglis said he had been told that a Hollings campaign commercial saying Mr. Inglis tried to "loot" the Social Security fund had scared an elderly nursing home patient so much she was taken to a hospital.
"I'm sure you laugh because I know you don't care about her," Mr. Inglis said. "You really don't care if her health is affected. So laugh if you wish, because you want to use fear. That's all you have left to sell South Carolinians, isn't it? Fear."
Mr. Hollings said he stands by the commercial.
"They should be afraid of this congressman here, because he's got them frightened to death," he said. "His crowd is the one that really tried to get rid of Social Security back in 1986. More recently, he has voted ... to loot the Social Security fund. Wouldn't you be frightened too? I know I am."
Both candidates laughed at a Republican Party commercial about the senator's votes on retirement benefits with a cartoon Mr. Hollings sipping a drink while wearing a Bermuda shirt and a straw hat.
"It's ridiculous," said Mr. Hollings, noting that the cartoon made him look like he was drunk. "He has to laugh, too."
Mr. Inglis said the commercial "leaves a lot to be desired."
This is the two men's second debate. They debated each other Monday in Greenville at WYFF-TV.
Saturday's debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, South Carolina Educational TV and WIS-TV.
The two men threw accusations at each other all night. Mr. Hollings appropriated one of Mr. Inglis' catch phrases, "Expect more," as much as possible when talking about his opponent's record.
"We ought to expect more from a congressman, Bob," Mr. Hollings said.
Mr. Inglis called Mr. Hollings' attacks on his Social Security record "selfish, cynical and political."
Both men agreed that the Confederate battle flag should come off the Statehouse dome.
"He was governor when it went up," Mr. Inglis said. Mr. Hollings pointed out that the banner was put up by concurrent resolution, which a governor has no power over.
Mr. Hollings also said he would vote for a state-run lottery, while Mr. Inglis called it "a tax on the poor." The 39-year-old congressman also said he wanted to eliminate the U.S. departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, while Mr. Hollings said all of those federal agencies are needed.
"At every turn you vote to cut public education," the 76-year-old Mr. Hollings said. "You have two children in public school. Why don't you want to help them?"
Mr. Inglis said eliminating the Education Department would return power and control to the states.
Mr. Inglis questioned statements Mr. Hollings has made about the government needing more revenue. "Do you still support raising taxes?" Mr. Inglis said.
Mr. Hollings said that to reduce the federal deficit the government must freeze the budget, raise revenue or cut spending. "You continue to distort," the senator said.
Both men agreed there should be prayer in schools. Also, the tax system needs to be reformed to close all of the loopholes, Mr. Hollings said. Mr. Inglis said the system should be scrapped and replaced with a flat tax or a national sales tax.