Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jari Askins came out swinging in a debate Tuesday evening against her Republican opponent Mary Fallin.
Askins, who is trailing in polls, used her opening remarks to criticize claims by Fallin supporters that Askins is "too liberal" for Oklahoma.
"I want to make this clear: I am an Oklahoma Democrat. Oklahoma Democrats are conservative. We are not extreme," Askins said.
"Don't buy off on this vicious rhetoric that comes from Washington."
Askins was speaking specifically about advertising by the Republican Governor's Association that paints her as a liberal who supports the policies of President Barack Obama.
Askins said for more than a year she has publicly opposed health care reform and cap and trade policies of the Obama administration. She accused the governor's association and Fallin of distorting her record and branded Fallin as part of an "out-of-sync, out-of-touch" establishment in Washington.
Fallin, meanwhile, stuck mostly to the issues during the debate. She called Askins "a good friend" in her closing remarks but earlier drew groans from the audience by saying one of the main differences between she and Askins is that she is a mother who has raised children.
Askins, 57, the current lieutenant governor and a former state representative, has never married nor had children. Fallin, 55, a first-term congresswoman and former lieutenant governor, has children from her first marriage.
The debate was at the University of Central Oklahoma and moderated by television anchorwoman Linda Cavanaugh. Four journalists who cover the state Capitol were panelists.
The next debate is Oct. 28 on the Oklahoma State University campus in Tulsa.
Several questions dealt with state budget issues. Next year's state budget shortfall may approach a billion dollars by some estimates.
Neither candidate would specifically say which state services they might consider cutting to save money.
Fallin said she'll order a comprehensive review of all state agencies to see whether they're efficient or even needed. She said Oklahoma has more than 500 agencies, boards and commissions, compared with about one-fifth as many in Kansas.
"As governor, I'm going to look at the agencies themselves to look at making them smaller and more efficient," Fallin said.
Fallin also said she would explore options to form partnerships with private companies to provide state services. She touted work she did as lieutenant governor to help the Tourism Department privatize some of its services as a model to follow.
Askins said the long-term solution to budget problems is to have the Legislature focus on nothing but budget issues every other legislative session.
"I think we will make smarter decisions, legislators will be better informed and they will be able to return to their districts and explain to you, the taxpayers, how we spend your money," Askins said.