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Candidates square off in debate airing tonight

ATLANTA - Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Democratic candidate Jim Martin and Libertarian challenger Allan Buckley squared off Saturday in a debate hosted by WSB-TV, marking the second round of debates for Georgia's U.S. senatorial race.

Speaking on a wide array of topics, the candidates were asked about issues ranging from the Iraqi occupation, farming subsidies and tax policy.

On the issue of farm subsidies, Buckley went on the attack, noting Chambliss' history of supporting legislation that hurt the middle class with higher food prices while large scale farmers became richer.

As the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chambliss defended a bipartisan bill passed last year extending government assistance toward farmers, asserting the importance of never becoming dependent on foreign food.

"Agriculture is the only aspect of our economy that (can) balance the trade," Chambliss said.

On the topic of FairTax - a proposal aimed towards implementing a national sales tax of 23 percent in exchange for eliminating all current federal taxes - Martin was eager to disagree.

"It is creating a tax on the middle class when we need a middle-class tax break," Martin said. "I cannot believe a 23 percent sales tax will be good for the middle class and I am very much opposed to it."

Chambliss fired back, asserting, "I am the middle class. There is nobody in this race that is more middle class than me and the FairTax is exactly what it says it is - it's fair."

When asked if he backed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's tax plan, Martin suggested he was in favor of a middle-class tax break, but admitted he was hesitant toward committing to Obama's plan due to uncertainties regarding its funding.

On energy policy, Chambliss and Martin agreed that America needs to break its dependence on foreign oil.

Chambliss pushed a balanced approach, urging the need for offshore drilling while conserving what we have and investing in alternative energies such as solar and wind power.

Martin distanced himself from the notion of offshore drilling, suggesting that it did nothing to alleviate our dependence on foreign oil.

"We need to move more quickly towards alternative fuels," Martin said.

According to Martin, letting scientists and engineers focus on alternative fuel technologies will allow America to regain its global leadership status in innovation.

To get away from America's dependence on oil, Buckley urged the creation of a new tax that punished dirtier fuel sources while rewarding alternative fuels with

tax incentives.

On the topic of immigration, Chambliss and Buckley took the offensive.

Attacking Martin for his amnesty proposal that would provide illegal immigrants with a pathway toward citizenship, Chambliss urged the need for more border patrols and the issuing of a biometric identity card for all immigrants legally allowed in the country.

Buckley railed Chambliss, saying the Republican incumbent was ready to sign the Kennedy-McCain Amnesty last year, which would have set millions of illegal immigrants on a pathway toward citizenship. Both Buckley and Martin urged for further actions against employers hiring illegal workers.

On the subject of the Iraq war, none of the candidates directly suggested the implementation of a time line, but Martin suggested it was time for Iraq to take responsibility for its own security.

"We made a mistake going into Iraq in the first place," Martin said. "It's time to let Iraq stand on its own two feet."

While agreeing that it was important for Iraq to step up their role in their own security, Chambliss warned of the consequences of leaving too early.

America can not afford to give up any of the gains as a result of the surge when the military turns control over to the Iraqis, Chambliss said.

The debates, taped Saturday, will air at 12:30 p.m. today on WSB-TV.