Republican Sen. Ben Sasse and his embattled Democratic challenger, Chris Janicek of Omaha, went head-to-head Friday night in a televised debate that focused primarily on issues such as health care, trade and the prospect of long-term U.S. competition with China.
Only at the beginning and the end of the hour-long debate on NET did Janicek aggressively target Sasse with attacks charging him with alleged failure to address health care reform.
Sasse pointed to the need for a number of major policy changes, including entitlement reform that addresses "completely unsustainable" future spending commitments.
And he called for new trade and foreign policy commitments that include a "revamped and more robust" Trans-Pacific trade agreement and leadership of "an alliance that looks like NATO-plus in the Pacific."
"The Chinese Communist Party is issue 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5" leading into the future, Sasse said.
"We are not on a path to winning in the long term with the Chinese Communist Party," he said. "The future of the world is going to be U.S.-led or Communist Party of China-led."
Janicek, whose candidacy was abandoned by Nebraska Democratic Party leaders following disclosure of a sexually-charged group text message that he sent to workers in his campaign, said he is determined to proceed with his campaign.
"I made a mistake. It was wrong. And I apologized immediately," he said.
Democratic party leaders, including State Chair Jane Kleeb, are expected to announce their support for a designated write-in candidate sometime next week.
Asked about his relationship with President Donald Trump after the president recently targeted Sasse on Twitter for differing with him on a couple of issues after endorsing the senator in advance of last May's Republican primary election, Sasse said their relationship is "interesting and complicated."
"He and I have a lot of healthy wrestling in private," Sasse said.
Janicek, who is a baker in Omaha, said he is asking voters to "take a chance on me."
"Nebraska deserves a senator who cares," he said.
Both Sasse and Janicek disagreed with Trump's announced plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany.
"We have to get on top of spending," Janicek said. "We're on a highway to bankruptcy."
The debate carried on the statewide educational television network is expected to be the only Senate debate before the November general election.
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