Keyes, Obama spar in final debate

By Gus Bode

Senate candidates fight for attention during last standoff

U.S. Senate candidates Alan Keyes and Barack Obama went at each other with teeth bared during Tuesday night’s debate, tearing into the other’s positions on foreign policy, education and, most notably, gay marriage.

In perhaps the hour-long debate’s most divisive moment, Republican candidate Keyes, a former U.N. ambassador, defended his stance against civil unions for gay couples saying that children born through artificial means with no relationship to their biological parents might unknowingly commit incest when they get older.


“If you don’t know who your sister and brother are, you can’t avoid having sexual relations with them,” Keyes said.

Although Obama criticized Keyes for having taken the same stance in the past, Keyes stood his ground on the issue. Obama said he was opposed to gay marriage but supported civil unions.

The incident was one of several touchy moments during the third and final debate before the Nov. 2 election. Moderated by Phil Ponce of WTTW-TV, the evening found both candidates heatedly sparring and often fighting for time to speak as Ponce tried to keep things on track. Keyes entered into several vocal battles with Ponce, interrupting and trying to get more time for a rebuttal.

With the election drawing near, polls show Obama leading with 68 percent of the popular vote. This represents how Keyes’s campaign has come to be seen in Illinois, said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the SIU Public Policy Institute.

“He’s decided to run an ideological, very unorthodox campaign,” Jackson said of Keyes. “In some places, that appeal will work. Not in Illinois.”

The candidates also debated at length on the proper role of government in society, a topic that found Obama supporting government when it comes to improving people’s lives and Keyes saying such issues are better left to religious organizations.

The two also discussed the state of education, something Obama has made a cornerstone of his campaign.


“Some schools are doing a good job,” Obama said. “Some are not.”

Other issues the candidates split on were the legitimacy of the Electoral College, something Keyes supports and Obama said should be re-examined, and stem cell research, supported by Obama and opposed by Keyes.

In one of the debate’s most humorous moments, Obama answered yes when asked whether he supported drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, correcting himself with a laugh after thinking a second more. Ponce, who was also laughing, said he thought, “We almost made news there.”

Concluding the debate, Ponce asked both candidates to point out something they respected in their opponent. Keyes complimented Obama’s fluency with the issues and the positive impression he has made with the media, while Obama cited Keyes’s passion and intelligence and noted his singing voice.

Jackson said although Obama has the race for current Sen. Peter Fitzgerald’s seat in the bag, Keyes is running purely to build a Republican base with the media in Illinois. He also said that while Obama shows a promising future in politics, the Democratic candidate still needs to prove himself on a national level.

“He got very fortunate in his opponent,” Jackson said of Obama. “He’s a kind of a special thing that comes along once in a generation as a bright star.”