Republican incumbent Phil English, Constitution Party candidate Tim Hagberg and Democrat Dr. Steven Porter debate on WPIC. English and Porter sparred about the war in Iraq.

Some people who have seen 3rd Congressional District Constitution Party candidate Tim Hagberg in action at debates and forums describe him as a man of few words.

Sitting between Republican incumbent Rep. Phil English and Democratic challenger Dr. Steven Porter, those words can at times be even fewer.

In light of that, it wasn’t surprising that Hagberg’s words to close a 90-minute debate Friday night in the studios of WPIC and WLLF radio stations in Hermitage brought unexpected laughter from everyone on hand.

“It’s a privilege to get the last word in,” Hagberg said softly, perhaps not realizing the implication of his own words.

Although he certainly had his chances to get words in throughout the evening, Hagberg often found himself in the middle of a volleyball match between English and Porter, who fired back at each other several times during the sometimes-heated event.

The debate, the second in two nights, was moderated by WPIC news director Joe Biro, whose style permitted the candidates a little more latitude to answer questions and rebut their opponents than one that was held a night earlier at WJET Radio in Erie.

That free-flowing format opened the floodgates early as English and Porter went back and forth almost immediately with a question on Iraq, which has become the No. 1 issue nationally among voters.

English admitted the country has made mistakes in Iraq and would like to see goals set for the Iraqi government to reach to allow the United States to begin removing its footprint from Iraq.

He said the Iraqi people eventually need to assume responsibility for their own security, although he is against setting an artificial timetable.

In his opening, English had used the words “independent voice,” “moderate” and “reaching across party lines” in an apparent attempt to distance himself from the administration.

When it came to the discussion on Iraq, however, Porter wasn’t buying it.

It’s very brave for English to oppose President Bush now when he’s been in lock-step with the administration on the war for years, Porter said.

“I’ve never been in lock-step with the administration,” English later argued.

But, he added, if American troops pull out too soon, leaving a vacuum, that’s going to create more problems that will lead to new terrorist attacks on the United States.

“That’s baloney!” Porter said before charging that people have died in Iraq because of English’s and the administration’s actions.

“Oh, please,” English said, noting he resented any implication that he was responsible for any deaths.

“People are dying by the thousands,” Porter added a short time later. “If you don’t agree with Bush, why haven’t we heard your voice before?”

Hagberg said in the end it’s not about cutting and running, it’s about doing the right thing.

Biro also asked the candidates about energy policy, homeland security and health care before leaving most of the last 30 minutes of the debate for callers to phone in questions.

The debate came on a somewhat historic day for WPIC, which brought its new 1,300-watt transmitter and tower on line earlier Friday, some 18 months after the old tower was leveled because of deteriorating conditions.

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