ATLANTA - U.S. Sen. Zell Miller sought to put some distance between himself and more liberal Senate Democratic colleagues Sunday night, while attacking Republican challenger Mack Mattingly's voting record when he was a senator during the 1980s.
In one of the few testy exchanges during a debate broadcast live statewide by Georgia Public Television, Mr. Mattingly accused Mr. Miller of joining other Democrats to block legislation aimed at setting aside a portion of the federal budget surplus to protect Social Security.
"You blocked it, you and (Sen.) Ted Kennedy, (D-Mass.)," Mr. Mattingly told Mr. Miller, as the five other candidates for the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Paul Coverdell looked on.
"I didn't block it," Mr. Miller shot back. "I'm not Ted Kennedy."
Democrat Mr. Miller, a former two-term governor appointed to the seat in July by Gov. Roy Barnes, has his party's backing in the Nov. 7 nonpartisan election to complete the remaining four years of Mr. Coverdell's term.
Mr. Mattingly, who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1986, is being supported by the Republicans.
Sharing the stage with the two veteran politicians were attorney Jeff Gates, the endorsed candidate of the Green Party; Paul MacGregor, a high-tech CEO with the backing of the Libertarian Party; and three candidates running as independents: Ben Ballenger, an attorney; Bobby Wood, a real estate broker; and Winnie Walsh, a free-lance writer.
A central theme of Mr. Mattingly's campaign has been to link Mr. Miller with President Clinton, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and Senate Democrats such as Mr. Kennedy, all too liberal in the Republican's estimate to appeal to mainstream Georgia voters.
On Sunday night, Mr. Mattingly said he will cast his vote for president for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who is running ahead of Mr. Gore in several Georgia polls. Mr. Mattingly then asked Mr. Miller who he's supporting.
Mr. Miller said he will vote for Mr. Gore because the vice president helped him on several issues while he was governor, including drought relief, welfare reform and staging the Atlanta Olympics.
"That does not mean I agree with all of his policies," Mr. Miller said.
Counterattacking, Mr. Miller slammed Mr. Mattingly for voting to raise the retirement age for Social Security eligibility and opposing cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients five times.
Mr. Mattingly said those votes came at a time when the federal government was facing the double burden of building up the military during the Cold War and mounting budget deficits.
"It was different circumstances at a different time," he said.
Mr. Gates took exception to the exchanges between Mr. Miller and Mr. Mattingly, which he characterized as a "partisan pigpen." Both Mr. Gates and Mr. MacGregor said political partisanship in Washington has soured voters on the system, depressing voter turnout in recent years.
The panel of questioners asked Mr. Miller and Mr. Mattingly their views on abortion. Mr. Miller said he is pro-choice but favors parental consent and restrictions on "partial-birth" abortions. Mr. Mattingly said he is opposed to abortion and, if given the opportunity, would vote to limit or overturn the recent Food and Drug Administration approval of RU-486, a prescription drug that induces abortions.
All seven candidates said they would not use their power as a senator to advocate removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia flag, but would leave the decision up to the state government and Georgia voters.
"As governor, I learned my lesson the hard way," said Mr. Miller, who led an ill-fated move to change the flag in 1993. "Every day you spend fighting about the flag is a day you don't spend fighting for Georgia families."
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.
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