U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes fiercely attacked Republican challenger Bill Brock's congressional record in a televised debate last night, calling him a no-show legislator who voted against civil rights and the environment.
Mr. Brock, a former Tennessee senator, responded by attacking the Democratic incumbent as an invisible representative of Maryland who supports high taxes and has turned a deaf ear to his constituents.
The two political heavyweights traded blows for nearly an hour during a debate last night on Maryland Public Television that was unexpectedly spirited and aggressive.
The program opened with about 10 minutes of fairly arcane discussion on foreign affairs. Then Mr. Brock lighted the match by criticizing his opponent for proposing that Congress have greater influence on the nation's money supply.
After defending himself, Mr. Sarbanes launched into an attack on Mr. Brock's 14-year record as a congressman and senator from Tennessee, pointing out that he missed 20 percent of his votes on Capitol Hill.
"When he was in the Congress, he had one of the worst attendance records," Mr. Sarbanes said. "One out of every five votes, he was absent. I want to say to working people watching this program, if you miss one day a week of work, you're not going to last very long in your job."
Mr. Sarbanes said that when Mr. Brock did vote, he sided against the interests of many Marylanders in opposing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and received only a 14 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
While not denying the charges about his attendance record, Mr. Brock fired back with the oft-heard criticism that Mr. Sarbanes is a no-show in his own state, invisible to his constituents until he needs their votes.
Mr. Brock said that a man came up to him on the campaign trail and said, "I appreciate you running. This is the first time we've seen Paul Sarbanes in Frederick in six years."
Another businessman, he said, complained that he was being harassed by the federal labor bureaucracy. "Paul, if you were walking around talking to people in this state, you'd be hearing that," Mr. Brock said.
But Mr. Sarbanes, who has been nicknamed the "Stealth Senator" by his critics, was incensed by comments Mr. Brock had made during the campaign that he had spent more time in the senator's hometown of Salisbury than he had.
"This is an absolute falsehood," he said. "I'm in and out of Salisbury all the time. After all, my mother lives there, my brother lives there."
While both managed to land blows last night, Mr. Sarbanes was relentless and appeared comfortable when forced to defend his record. Mr. Brock seemed tired and appeared to spend more of the evening on the defensive.
A statewide poll released last week showed Mr. Brock trailing the incumbent by 25 percentage points. The election is Nov. 8.