OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Rep. Brad Carson stressed that he is an independent Democrat and former Republican Rep. Tom Coburn hammered on the ``evil'' of excessive government spending Sunday in the first televised debate of Oklahoma's hard-fought Senate race before a national viewing audience.
The debate on NBC's ``Meet the Press'' is one in a series involving competitive Senate races around the country. Republicans now hold a 51-48 majority in the Senate, with one Democratic-leaning independent.
Carson was asked by host Tim Russert to explain what he meant by calling himself a maverick and Coburn a gadfly during the course of the Oklahoma campaign.
``A maverick is someone who breaks with his party to help our state, to help our country, who works in a bipartisan fashion to achieve constructive results,'' Carson said.
He said Coburn criticism's and votes against road funding, farm legislation and other measures has hurt Oklahoma. Carson said he would be ``a constructive force'' for Oklahoma.
Coburn denied his vote against a highway appropriation in 1999 cost his state $15 million.
``I put every project in that bill that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation asked me to put in that bill,'' he said. ``I was then offered a bribe by the committee to vote for the bill. I could have $15 million to spend wherever I wanted to. I don't believe that's the kind of government we want. That's what we're seeing in Congress now with some of the ethical problems that are there.''
Coburn denied Carson's assertion that he opposes the Patriot Act, but said he had concerns about it.
The former congressman also defended his statement that the Senate race was one of ``good versus evil'' by asking if it is good for the federal deficit spending to saddle future generations with debt that reduces their standard of living.
He said he never meant to portray himself as ``good'' and Carson as ``evil.''
Carson, who said he opposes Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's plan to roll back tax cuts to the rich and supports President Bush's war in Iraq, said Congress can move closer to a balanced budget by cutting out waste, abuse, corporate tax loopholes and streamlining government agencies.
Coburn criticized Carson's voting record, saying he voted to spend more than any other Oklahoma Congress member.
He also pointed out that Carson voted for a bill that would have cut total road funding over six years in Oklahoma by $250 million ``but it did enhance Brad's projects in his district.''
Carson defended a television ad that criticizes Coburn for voting against tornado relief in Oklahoma.
``It is fair criticism,'' Carson said. ``The people of Moore, Oklahoma, that had that tornado blow through, had a press conference on Friday where they said that that money, which is explicitly labeled in the bill as coming to Oklahoma, that it was the wrong vote.''
Coburn said at the time of the vote, the Federal Emergency Management Administration had more than a billion dollars in reserve and none of the money in the bill ended up in Oklahoma. ``That was money to replenish the reserve,'' he said.
Russert quizzed Coburn on his stance on abortion. Coburn said he would outlaw all abortions except to save the life of the mother. Asked about saying he favors the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions, he said: ``I think we have to use the law that's on the books to respond to that, I sure do.''
Coburn also said he was the victim of a smear campaign in stories about him sterilizing a woman several years ago, then not listing the procedure on a Medicaid reimbursement form.
The woman sued, saying the sterilization was done without her permission. The case was dropped, however, and there was no settlement.
``You know, in he middle of the night, I got up and saved this young woman's life. She asked me and her mother asked me on the way to the operating room to make sure it didn't happen again. She had asked me before for that. This was brought to a court of law. It was thrown out by a judge.'