SALT LAKE CITY -- Health care, government spending and birthright citizenship dominated the final U.S. Senate debate between Utah Republican Mike Lee and Democrat Sam Granato.
Lee and Granato are vying to fill the seat held by GOP U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, who failed to advance to the Republican primary this spring.
In the debate Thursday on KSL Radio, Lee pledged to reject earmarks, repeal President Barack Obama's health care program and to prevent the children of illegal immigrants from becoming U.S. citizens, while Granato took opposing positions.
Lee won the GOP nomination with Tea Party support by promising to be more conservative than Bennett.
Bennett was pilloried by Lee and other conservatives for supporting a bailout of the nation's financial system and proposing a health care bill that would have mandated health insurance coverage.
Lee kept up his attack on mandated health insurance coverage Thursday and suggested that states, not the federal government, should be responsible for managing health care and making it affordable.
"States are in charge of regulating almost every aspect of the medical profession. It ought to be the states that cover the social welfare net, including that portion of that net that deals with providing health insurance to the poor," he said.
Granato responded by saying he would work to rein in the costs of Obama's health care program, but said it shouldn't be completely scrapped because it contains good things like coverage of patients with pre-existing medical conditions.
Lee said Thursday that government has grown too intrusive, is too expensive and suggested that across-the-board cuts as high as 40 percent might be necessary to balance the federal budget.
"One methodology to get there would be to ask each federal agency, each federal department to propose a budget that would be slashed by a certain amount, maybe as high as 40 percent, and then examine that and figure out what impact it would have," said Lee, an attorney.
"There is no single formula that could carry the magic bullet, but we do know is, if we don't try anything, we're never going to get there."
Granato, a restaurateur and chairman of the state liquor commission, countered by saying Lee's positions are too extreme and that 40 percent budget cuts could cost millions of jobs and threaten Social Security.
"We need to save Social Security and put it into perpetuity," he said.
Lee has proposed scaling back Social Security benefits and suggested it won't be available for younger workers currently paying into it.
Lee is heavily favored to win his first bid for public office. A Democrat hasn't won a U.S. Senate race in Utah since 1970 ,and a recent poll showed Lee with a 22 percentage point lead.
Federal Election Commission reports through Sept. 30 show Lee has spent more than $1.2 million on his campaign, although most of that was spent to secure the Republican nomination.
Granato has spent about $219,000 this election cycle and has had difficulty drawing attention to his campaign in this highly conservative state.
On Thursday, Granato tried to turn one of the arguments Lee used against Bennett against him.
Lee and other Republicans had said that Bennett had been in office too long after serving three terms and initially promising to only serve two terms.
Lee says he favors term limits, but won't abide by them unless there's a constitutional amendment.
"You're 39 years old. I think that you're looking to be the next Orrin Hatch from Utah," Granato said, referencing the state's senior U.S. senator, who was first elected in 1976.
Granato said he would serve no more than 12 years.