Incumbent Republican U.S Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth covered a variety of issues, including college affordability, how to make Social Security solvent, and the Iran nuclear treaty (Duckworth voted for it, Kirk did not) Thursday in Springfield in their only downstate debate.
Both agreed that climate change is real, and caused by humans. They differed on tax policy and Syrian refugees, and, in response to a question about the Common Core, Kirk suggested expanded school days.
A continuing clash over who has best served veterans continued. Duckworth said a whistleblowers' lawsuit stemming from her time as head of Illinois Veterans Department was dismissed twice. Pointing to said whistleblowers in the audience, Kirk called her a liar.
At one point, a University of Illinois student asked the candidates about immigration.
Kirk first answered in Spanish, then went on to say, "I have voted for comprehensive immigration reform and I also wrote the Kirk Amendment, as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill."
Under that proposal, an immigrant who joins the military and earns a Combat Infantry Badge can automatically become an American citizen.
Duckworth said she doesn't support the idea because women can't earn the badge. She says once someone enlists in the military, they should get permanent status and then wait in an immigration pipeline.
More broadly, she says she supports an immigration policy that's "practical" and "humane."
"So, those who come here illegally should go to the end of the line, pay fines fees and penalties, learn a little English, and work towards citizenship," she said.
But the evening's big line came when they were asked how American should handle the Middle East.
"My family has served this nation in uniform going back to the revolution. I'm a Daughter of the American Revolution. I've bled for this nation," Duckworth answered. "But I still want to be in the Senate when the drums of war sound. Because people are quick to sound the drums of war. I want to be there to say 'this is what it costs.'"
When it was Kirk's turn for rebuttal, he said "I'd forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington."
Democratic operatives call the comment offensive, racist and unfunny.
Duckworth is of mixed heritage. Her mother is an immigrant; she says relatives on her father's side have been in the military since the 1700s.
A rare moment of levity came when Kirk said both he and Duckworth can agree that Illinois' next U.S. Senator should be someone using a wheelchair.
Both candidates do: Kirk, who was in the Navy Reserve, had a stroke in 2012; Duckworth lost her legs serving in the Iraq War.
The next debate, scheduled Nov. 4, will be broadcast on Chicago's WLS-TV.