POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and Republican challenger Jay Townsend sparred over health care, stimulus and the two-term incumbent’s record in a sometimes contentious debate Sunday night.

Townsend, a Hudson Valley political consultant far behind in the polls, came out aggressively early in the pair’s lone scheduled debate at Marist College, assailing what he called the “Obama, Pelosi, Schumer agenda.”

Answering a question about the possibility of Schumer succeeding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid if the Nevada senator loses a tight race Nov. 2, Townsend claimed that Schumer allowed the health care overhaul bill to pass with sweetheart deals for other states and costly mandates for New York so Schumer could curry favor with his colleagues.

“If this man will do this to the state of New York to climb the leadership ladder, imagine what he will do to New York to stay on the throne once he has it,” Townsend said.

Schumer said he believes Reid will win re-election. He added that he fought hard to make sure the health care bill included an additional $2.1 billion in Medicaid reimbursements for New York.

“Whenever I am in Washington, New York is first for me,” Schumer said. “It’s in my bones.”

There were some areas of broad agreement, such as on the need for renewable energy and some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. But the pair disagreed on a series of issues, including the best way to deal with China’s currency policies and gay marriage (Schumer supports it, Townsend does not).

Townsend, who has never run for public office before, denounced Schumer’s support for the recent financial regulation legislation and the stimulus bill. Schumer defended his support of the Troubled Assets Relief Program bank bailout and he said to oppose the financial regulation bill would be to risk another financial meltdown.

“I listen to my opponent,” Schumer said. “He says he wouldn’t be for the stimulus. He wouldn’t be for the TARP, he wouldn’t be for financial reform. The last time we had a leader who did that was Herbert Hoover.”

Townsend said financial reform needs to address problems at mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also accused Schumer and the Democrats in New York of doing a poor job on the economy.

“One million New Yorkers will go to bed tonight without a job to go to tomorrow morning,” Townsend said.

Schumer promoted his tuition tax credit as the kind of work he does for the middle class. He said he would would continue to work to bring high-tech jobs to New York, if elected to a third term.

Townsend had aggressively lobbied for debates and even toted a cardboard cutout of Schumer to news conferences to make his point.

Schumer, who was ahead by 28 percentage points among likely voters in a Marist poll released Friday, had largely acted before Sunday night like a candidate without an opponent. The most notable feature of Schumer’s campaign is a series of TV ads across the state promoting his work on behalf of New Yorkers.

Schumer reported $19.3 million of campaign cash on hand in his latest filing, even after giving millions to other Democrats. Townsend’s latest filing was not available, though he reported $11,000 in campaign cash before September.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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