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5 things to watch for in final Wisconsin US Senate debate

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican challenger Leah Vukmir meet Friday night for the third and final debate before the Nov. 6 election. With Baldwin leading in the polls , the debate at the Marquette University Law School gives Vukmir a final chance to differentiate herself from Baldwin.

Here are things to watch for:


Vukmir and Baldwin have hit the same topics hard in the first two debates, primarily health care, immigration and veterans issues. They haven’t spent as much time on foreign policy and national security. Look for that to be a focus in this final head-to-head, especially in the wake of the disappearance and alleged killing of dissident Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. As it is the final debate, it will also give Baldwin and Vukmir a chance to make their closing arguments to voters.


The debate comes just days before President Donald Trump is to campaign in Wisconsin with Vukmir, Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans on Wednesday near Wausau. Vukmir is a staunch supporter of Trump, although like many Republicans in 2016 he was not her first choice. She successfully fought against that criticism in the Republican primary, but in the general election Vukmir must also win over independent voters in a state where Trump’s approval rating is below 50 percent. Baldwin won support from Trump for her “Buy American” proposal, so she may ask Vukmir to get behind it as well.


It is a major issue in the campaign, and many other contests across the country, and Baldwin and Vukmir have starkly different views. Baldwin supports the Affordable Care Act, is a co-signer of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare-for-all” proposal and backs universal health care.

Vukmir, a nurse, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act while also arguing that she supports guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. She argues that Baldwin’s approach would turn health care over to the government. She launched a television ad this week featuring a woman with a rare lung disease who called Baldwin’s health care positions “radical.”


Vukmir has hammered Baldwin over her handling of the opioid prescription drug scandal at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, saying she was slow to respond to reports of problems and put veterans’ lives at risk. Baldwin has run a pair of television ads with the widow and parents of a veteran who died at Tomah in 2014 who praised her work on passing a bill in his name designed to reduce opioid over-prescriptions. A whistleblower who called attention to problems at Tomah is backing Vukmir.


Vukmir, a state senator, has defended her vote against a bill in the Legislature requiring coverage of oral chemotherapy drugs. Baldwin has accused Vukmir of siding with insurance companies that opposed the measure. But Vukmir argues she opposed it because it would have unintended consequences of restricting access to oral chemotherapy by charging patients higher deductibles, copayments or coinsurance. Baldwin has also gone after other Vukmir votes against expanding insurance coverage for hearing aids and cochlear implants, mental health care and substance abuse treatments.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP


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