ST. PAUL (AP) -- It was appropriate that perhaps the most common theme of this year's election dominated Minnesota's final U.S. Senate debate of the season Sunday evening: Social Security.
Sen. Rod Grams advocates allowing people to invest some of their retirement money into personal accounts, a plan supported by Independence Party candidate James Gibson, but vehemently opposed by DFLer Mark Dayton.
"Your approach is we must destroy Social Security in order to save it," Dayton said, to groans from Grams supporters in the audience at the Fitzgerald Theater. "You're jeopardizing the security of this fund."
Dayton criticized Grams for proposing a system similar to one being used in Chile.
Grams quickly defended his plan.
"Chile is doing very well," the freshman senator said. "You go to Chile and ask a cab driver how he's doing."
Grams said Dayton wasn't as concerned about Social Security as he was because the department store heir wouldn't need to rely on it for himself when he retires.
"I don't know when the last time was that Mark paid into Social Security," Grams said, to the boos and hissing of Dayton supporters in the crowd.
A woman in the crowd asked how people who know little or nothing about investing would know where to put their money under Grams' plan.
"You would pick the money manager who you think would best make those decisions for you," Grams said.
Dayton said it could be dangerous to allow people to invest their own Social Security money.
"Where is the recourse for people?" Dayton said, adding that if people lost their money, they would come running to the government to "bail them out."
A caller questioned the way Grams has proposed funding the switchover to privatization of the system, which could include selling federal land or buildings.
"If we're going to make Social Security our No. 1 priority ... the government needs to look at many different ways to solve this problem," Grams said.
The federal government owns about one-third of every acre in the United States, he said. Some of that land, as well as buildings, could be sold into the private sector.
He compared it to making the choice to sell a prize lot planned for a retirement home on a lake due to a family crisis.
"We might have to make some tough decisions and one of those might be to sell that land," he said.
Gibson said some of those assets likely were generating revenue for the federal government.
"This sort of has the ring 'If you can't pay the mortgage, sell the driveway,"' Gibson said, drawing laughs.
In the last several forums, Gibson has been the crowd pleaser, interspersing serious policy debate with witty comments or clever turns of phrase. He played a similar role in the final debate.
"I'm going to miss you guys," he said in his closing statement, turning to grin at his opponents. "Maybe we can get together for a mock debate."
The debate was sponsored by the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio.
According to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll published Sunday, Grams has chipped away at Dayton's lead, but he still trailed by 9 percentage points heading into the final weekend of the campaign. Dayton was supported by 46 percent of the respondents, while Grams had 37 percent and Gibson had 5 percent. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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