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Pederson, Kyl: Sharp Contrasts For Senate

Arizona senatorial candidate Jim Pederson, right, speaks as U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, left, R-Ariz., and moderator Kent Dana, center, listen during a debate at a television station Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Tom Hood, Pool)
AP Photo/Tom Hood, Pool
If Jon Kyl and Jim Pederson ever passed each other in the hallways at the University of Arizona, neither man remembers it.

Both were political science majors there in the mid-1960s — Kyl graduated in 1964 and Pederson graduated in 1965 — but even then they circulated in different crowds.

Kyl rushed a fraternity. He studied the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, occasionally taking his girlfriend on dates to the science library. "She now happens to be my wife," said Kyl, Arizona's junior senator.

Pederson, now Kyl's opponent in the Nov. 7 election, worked in the kitchen of a sorority. Though he entered college a Goldwater Republican, Pederson left a Democrat.

"There were a lot of protests in the streets," Pederson said. "It wasn't just about the (Vietnam) war ... it was about unfairness, it was about justice, social justice, criminal justice. I got caught up in all of that.

"I just made the determination that the Democratic Party was more in line with what I thought going through school."

Both men say their university experiences were key in shaping their political views. Four decades later, Kyl and Pederson are giving voters a distinct choice as Arizonans choose who should represent them in Washington.

Some examples:

  • Immigration: Kyl wants to overhaul the country's immigration policy and require illegal immigrants to return home before applying for a guest-worker program. Pederson wants to expand the U.S. guest-worker program and give some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship — a position similar to one supported by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
  • Abortion: Pederson supports a woman's right to have an abortion. He also thinks fewer women will have to make that choice if the government could reduce poverty and educate school children about contraception and abstinence. Pederson said the only time he'd ban abortion would be for late-term pregnancies. Kyl opposes abortion. He says the only time he'd allow it would be in the case of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger.
  • National Security/Iraq: Kyl was one of many lawmakers who tried to strengthen the country's security network since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the Senate, he supported changes to federal law that would allow electronic surveillance of non-U.S. citizens involved in international terrorism. On Iraq, Kyl said he believes that the only way to fight off radical Islamists is to keep troops in that country. Aside from how it was conceived, Kyl sees the war in Iraq as a battle against an evil ideology, one that is "bound to be a long and difficult struggle." Kyl would support removing American troops when the Iraqi military is strong enough to fend for itself. Pederson sees Iraq as a civil war, one with American troops in the middle and "no plan for the future." Pederson has been critical of President Bush's handling of the war, specifically how the administration has awarded no-bid contracts to military suppliers. He wants the White House to set specific conditions for bringing the military home. He wants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fired and no permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.
  • Health care: Pederson wants tax credits for small businesses that buy health insurance for their employees. He wants to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs and believes people should be able to import medication from Canada and other countries that offer lower prices. He wants to increase government funding for embryonic stem cell research. Kyl supports stem cell research, but only using cells already extracted from embryos. He's supported measures that ban government spending for research that results in the destruction of human embryos. When it comes to prescription drugs, Kyl believes that there's already sufficient competition among private insurance companies to keep drug prices low. Kyl also thinks price-fixing by Medicare and reimporting drugs from other countries would cut into profits and give pharmaceutical companies less of an incentive to research new medicines.

    Both sides have been waging expensive campaigns to sway the hefty chunk of independents and moderate voters in Arizona. Together, they've spent more than $11 million on television ads that have sometimes bent the truth. Recent polls have consistently shown Kyl in the lead.

    Pederson argues that after so many years in Congress, Kyl has lost touch with Arizona voters and doesn't recognize how the state has changed over the years. He says the incumbent senator has become too cozy with Bush, oil and pharmaceutical companies.

    Pederson says he'd inject some "business sense" into Congress and judge ideas on whether they'd work — not which party sponsored them.

    Kyl focuses on Pederson's inexperience in political office and claims his ideas simply were forwarded from Democratic Party liberals. Kyl has repeatedly pointed out that Pederson is a wealthy shopping mall developer who has bankrolled his campaign with about $8 million of his own money.

    The difference between the two candidates, Kyl says, is that after college "one made a lot of money, the other went into public service."

    As the ad war escalated after the Sept. 12 primaries, Pederson and Kyl have lobbed accusations at each other, forcing the other side to buy an ad and "set the record straight."

    In his ads, Pederson says Kyl wants to criminalize abortion, even in cases of rape, incest and when the woman's life is in danger. He cites Kyl's support for two resolutions while serving in the House of Representatives in the late 1980s. Those resolutions never came to a vote.

    Kyl disputes that claim. He has said over the years to the AP and other news organizations that he would make an exception for abortion in cases that involved rape, incest or threats to the woman's health.

    In one of Kyl's ads, the senator accuses Pederson of "pushing a trillion dollar tax hike." He supports this using a statement Pederson made while criticizing the repeal of the estate tax, a policy that Pederson says would add $1 trillion to the federal deficit.

    According to Annenberg Political Fact Check, repealing the estate tax would cost $21 billion using 2004 figures, much less than both men estimate.