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Republican candidates spar in U.S. Senate debate

May 25, 2010 |  6:14 pm

Outside, girls in bikinis were sunning poolside, oblivious to the feisty political debate occurring a few steps away at a Costa Mesa hotel Tuesday. Inside, about 200 people gathered in the air-conditioned chill of a meeting room to hear KFI AM 640’s John Kobylt and Ken Champiou conduct what they hoped would be a no-holds-barred debate among the three Republican candidates for U.S. Senate -- Tom Campbell, Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore. In case the candidates didn’t quite understand the loosey-goosey nature of the event, the hosts helpfully dubbed part of the hourlong encounter “Mudslinging.”

“We interrupt each other all the time, we interrupt guests,” said Champiou. “We invite you to do that.”

With two weeks to go until the June 8 primary, and more than one-third of Republican voters still undecided, the candidates were more willing to pull the gloves off than they were earlier this month when they met at the Museum of Tolerance for a more restrained debate.

This time, Campbell attacked Fiorina for her sparse voting record and questioned her party loyalty. DeVore pounded Fiorina for supporting a proposition that would have made it easier to pass school bonds. Fiorina chided Campbell for backing tax increases to help balance the state’s budget.

Campbell and DeVore also ganged up on Fiorina, whose spotty voting record has left her open to accusations of less-than-stellar citizenship. DeVore got in a two-fer when he noted that in 2000, while Fiorina was chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, she co-authored an op-ed with Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr calling for voters to pass Proposition 26, which would have changed one of the tenets of Proposition 13 by lowering the constitutional requirement to pass school bonds from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority of the electorate. “And you didn’t even bother voting in the election in which it was defeated narrowly!” he exclaimed.

(According to the Santa Clara Registrar of Voters, Fiorina failed to vote in at least five of 10 elections after moving to California in 1999. In the past, Fiorina has expressed remorse for not voting.)

In one of the afternoon’s funniest exchanges, Campbell asked Fiorina whether she’d voted for him when he unsuccessfully ran against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2000.

Fiorina hesitated, then confessed: “No, I didn’t.”

DeVore chimed in: “I did!”

Campbell, who was seated between the two, turned to DeVore and pumped his hand.

Fiorina added, “I didn’t vote for Dianne Feinstein, either.”

-- Robin Abcarian and Maeve Reston