By The Associated Press

The black vote, health care and economic issues were among the talking points that sparked clashes during debates Tuesday ahead of next month’s midterm elections. Highlights:



Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican businessman Bruce Rauner defended their records on minority hiring, public safety and gun control during a debate that focused heavily on issues affecting black voters.

Meeting for their second televised debate, Quinn said that as governor he’s hired minorities in key administration positions _ including deputy governor _ but said Rauner, a venture capitalist, didn’t hire African-Americans at the highest levels of his firm.

Rauner said he hired minorities at his firm, as did many of the hundreds of companies in which the firm invested, though he didn’t answer when asked how many of them were in executive roles. The first-time candidate also said Quinn’s policies have failed blacks in Illinois, noting high unemployment among African-American men.

“Gov. Quinn is taking the African-American vote for granted,” Rauner said.



Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu framed Louisiana’s Senate election as a referendum on her three terms in office, not the policies of unpopular President Barack Obama, in the first TV debate featuring all three major contenders in the race.

While the Democratic incumbent defended her vote for Obama’s federal health care overhaul, she suggested it needed improvement. She distanced herself from Obama’s energy policies and talked of her work with presidents over the years, both Republican and Democrat.

Landrieu’s main challenger, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, repeatedly tied Landrieu to Obama’s policies, saying a vote for her would be a vote for the president’s agenda.

GOP candidate and tea party favorite Rob Maness positioned himself as the Washington outsider. “Our future is in danger from poor leadership from career politicians,” he said.



Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton tangled over the impact of the federal health overhaul, with Pryor accusing Cotton of not having any solution for nearly 200,000 Arkansans receiving coverage under the federal law through the state’s “private option” Medicaid expansion if Cotton gets his wish to repeal the law.

Pryor also questioned what would happen to those benefiting from other parts of the law, such as its prohibition on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. “He has no answer on any of this, but he is insistent on repealing it,” Pryor said.

Cotton criticized Pryor for his vote for the overhaul and said repealing it would allow for reforming the health care system and giving states control over programs such as Medicaid. “I think we have to start over on health care reform because Obamacare is a disaster,” Cotton said.



Republican Gov. Nikki Haley touted the more than 50,000 jobs announced by her administration, while her challengers contended those numbers were not real.

Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said roughly half of the announced jobs have shown up and many of the planned openings already have fallen through. Haley countered that the promised jobs don’t happen overnight, saying “it will take a while.”

Independent candidate Tom Ervin asked Haley to post the incentives given to lure companies to South Carolina, so taxpayers can judge whether they’re worth it.

Libertarian Steve French also criticized Haley on incentives. “I look at jobs like I look at sex,” he said. “You shouldn’t brag about it if you have to pay for it.”

United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves said the answer to the state’s economy is legalizing marijuana.



Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson’s third debate was their feistiest yet, with the pair arguing over who is the better friend of the middle class.

Johnson, a county commissioner in Minneapolis, said Dayton’s roots as privileged heir to a department store fortune mean he doesn’t know what it’s like to pay a mortgage or college tuition.

Dayton pointed out he worked to freeze college tuition, signed a minimum wage hike and increased school budgets. He said Johnson would lower taxes on the rich and roll back some of the minimum wage increases.



In Utah’s 4th Congressional District race, both Democrat Doug Owens and Republican Mia Love promised to work across political divides if elected to the House.

Owens has sought to paint Love as holding extreme views while pointing to the example set by his own father, former Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens.

Love has contended that Owens has attacked her instead of the issues, saying that if more decisions were made at a local level instead of in Washington, there would be less of a partisan divide.



Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley and Republican challenger Monica Wehby stuck to familiar themes as they met in their only debate of the campaign.

Wehby repeatedly criticized Merkley as a “rubber stamp” of the Obama administration. “He is so extreme, he is even too extreme for Oregon,” she said.

Merkley accused Wehby of getting her economic plan from former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Koch brothers, businessmen who have poured millions of dollars into conservative causes, and getting her health plan from political adviser Karl Rove.


Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen and Sara Burnett in Chicago; Melinda Deslatte in Shreveport, Louisiana; Andrew DeMillo in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Seanna Adcox in Columbia, South Carolina; Brian Bakst in Duluth, Minnesota; Michelle Price in Salt Lake City; and Jeff Barnard in Medford, Oregon, contributed to this report.