Missouri’s two major U.S. Senate candidates clashed over international trade tariffs, tax cuts, the minimum wage and gun regulations during a televised debate Thursday night in St. Louis. Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and GOP Senate nominee Josh Hawley debated before a live studio audience of Missourians at the KETC-TV studios.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley debate at KETC-TV in St. Louis on October 18, 2018, as people watch in an outdoor public viewing area. (Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

Some analysts believe Missouri’s race could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate beginning in January.

The Trump Administration’s tariffs highlighted a key difference between the two candidates, a difference both highlighted during separate August presentations to the Missouri Farm Bureau in Jefferson City.

Senator McCaskill said tariffs are “brutal” for Missouri and the state’s bean farmers will not break even this year.

“Our economy is so dependent on the exporting of agricultural goods,” McCaskill said. “These tariffs have killed commodity prices.”

McCaskill added that tariffs have hurt manufacturers. She said Mid-Continent nail factory in southeast Missouri’s Poplar Bluff is “hanging on by a fingernail”.

Hawley, the Attorney General, noted that he’s been endorsed by the Missouri Farm Bureau and McCaskill won’t return President Blake Hurst’s phone calls.

“We are in a trade war,” said Hawley. “It’s a trade war that we did not start. Certainly our farmers didn’t start it, China started it many years ago. But if we’re going to be in the war, I’m for winning it.”

Hawley also praised President Trump’s recent trade deals with Canada and Mexico and says 75% of America’s ag exports go to the countries.

The two candidates agree on one key issue: both oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare.

That was the first issue that PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff, the moderator, asked about during the debate. Hawley says Americans have paid into the system.

“I don’t support any changes to those programs for anyone who is currently receiving benefits or who is going to be receiving benefits,” Hawley said.

Hawley told the audience that Senator McCaskill voted to cut $716 billion from Medicare in order to pay for the Affordable Care Act. McCaskill responded by saying that was not a Medicare cut, but instead was a cut to the profits of health insurance companies.

“And what did we do with that $715 billion, we filled the donut hole for Medicare prescription program part D,” said McCaskill.

McCaskill said Missouri seniors can now enjoy more prescription benefits.

While both say they support the Second Amendment, McCaskill and Hawley also disagree about the issue of guns during the debate.

McCaskill noted she was raised in rural Missouri, and that her father was a hunter. She said she supports universal background checks and a ban on bump stocks, which make semi-automatic weapons fire more rapidly.

“But what the NRA (National Rifle Association) has peddled for years is that you can’t support the Second Amendment and gun safety at the same time, and you can,” McCaskill said.

Hawley favors legislation to include health records in the background check system, and said McCaskill voted against that.

“I think we need to fix the national background check system,” said Hawley. “We have a background check system, a national system, but it doesn’t work that well because there’s a giant loophole right in the middle of it. And that is, it doesn’t include mental health records.”

Hawley also called for guns to be kept out of the hands of criminals and “dangerous people.”

The two candidates also clashed on the federal tax cut and on the minimum wage. Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Brett Kavanaugh hearings came up during the debate.

The “Missouri 2018 Senate Debate” was presented by KETC, St. Louis Public Radio KWMU and KSDK Channel 5. KETC is St. Louis’ PBS affiliate.

In addition to facing questions from Woodruff, KSDK’s Mike Bush and KWMU’s Jo Mannies, McCaskill and Hawley also took questions from the audience.

McCaskill and Hawley also debated near St. Louis in September, at the Missouri Press Association’s candidate forum.

(audio is courtesy of St. Louis Public Radio, KWMU)

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