Candidates are cordial in race’s first debate

The four candidates analysts believe are long shots to defeat Jackie Speier in the contest to replace Tom Lantos stuck to the issues and declined to attack the longtime politician in the race’s only debate Tuesday.

The candidates discussed the war in Iraq, the environment, health care and several other issues during the two-hour forum and engaged in almost no mudslinging. A special primary on April 8 could determine who fills the remainder of Lantos’ seat after the longtime member of teh U.S. House of Representatives died in February.

Democrat Speier spent 18 years in the state Legislature and six as a San Mateo County supervisor, while her four San Francisco and Peninsula opponents have never been elected to office.

Republican Mike Moloney, 67, who lost to Lantos three times, had the packed crowd in stitches with his casual answers and even made Speier laugh when he referred to himself as an “old fart.” He criticized Speier’s lack of foreign policy experience in his closing, but otherwise the forum was focused on questions, which were submitted by residents inthe packed South City council chambers.

The most commonly talked about issue was the war in Iraq. Speier, Moloney, 38-year-old Democrat Michelle McMurry and Green Party candidate Barry Hermanson all said removing troops from the Middle East nation would be a top goal if elected.

Republican Greg Conlon, a former California Public Utilities Commission president, said he would continue to try to win the war if elected.

The candidates each carved a niche during the forum. McMurry chose to focus on health, science and technology issues. Conlon spoke about increasing military strength and balancing the national budget without increasing taxes. Hermanson consistently spoke about reducing Pentagon spending and repeatedly held up a graphic showing how much the nation spends on the military. Speier often referred to her experience, citing 300 pieces of legislation she helped sign into law.

If one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote on April 8, he or she will serve the remainder of Lantos’ term, which expires Jan. 3. If no candidate receives a majority, the leading vote-getter from each party will vie for the seat at the June 3 election. Many of the candidates, including Speier, will likely also compete for the seat’s next two-year term, which begins in January, in the November election. The June 3 election will also serve as the primary for the November race.

A public memorial for Lantos will be held tonight at 7 in the South San Francisco Conference Center.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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