The two candidates in a nationally watched suburban congressional contest on Tuesday laid out clear differences on Social Security, abortion and gay rights as they try to attract voters.
The differences between Democrat Dan Seals and Republican Robert Dold, who are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk in a district that encompasses the north and northwest suburbs, unfolded during an appearance before the Tribune editorial board.
Seals, a three-time congressional candidate from Wilmette, said he supports cutting Social Security payments to wealthier seniors because "they are less in need of those benefits."
Dold opposes cutting benefits for the wealthy -- he'd rather raise the retirement age over the coming decades instead. Seals said Congress doesn't need to address the retirement age now.
Both candidates said they oppose increasing the amount of income that can be taxed for Social Security. In Seals' case, he backed off a proposal from earlier campaigns to do just that.
Budget experts say Social Security solvency needs to be addressed in the near term. The trust fund is set to run out in 2037, when the government estimates it will only be able to cover about 75 percent of retirement checks.
Dold argues a more extensive change is needed. The Kenilworth pest control business owner would allow workers younger than 55 to divert a percentage of Social Security tax to individual accounts. That's similar to a plan pushed by House Republicans and derided by Seals as reckless.
The two candidates are facing off in the 10th Congressional District, portraying themselves as deficit and tax hawks who are more moderate on social issues.
Yet Dold and Seals noted their differences on abortion and gay rights.
Dold said he supports abortion rights, with restrictions. Dold backs parental notification for minors and opposes late-term abortions and tax money being spent on the procedure.
"Let me be clear, I'm pro-choice, while I may be more moderate than (Seals) is on this issue," Dold said.
Seals said he supports abortion rights without Dold's caveats and cited his endorsements from organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
Seals argued that limits on taxpayer-funded abortion and parental notification laws would force some women "to go to a back alley to care of this."
On gay marriage, Seals supports it, calling it a "civil rights issue." He also backs repealing military restrictions on openly gay soldiers.
Dold doesn't support gay marriage, but said same-sex couples should have similar legal protections. Dold said he will support repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy if military generals agree it won't impact combat operations.
On government spending, Seals singled out agricultural subsidies and some defense projects for cuts while Dold looked at fixing entitlement programs such as Social Security.
Both candidates said they support keeping all of the tax cuts put in place under President George W. Bush. They are set to expire at the end of year.
Seals has changed his mind about raising taxes on those making more than $200,000 a year. In his failed 2006 and 2008 bids against Kirk, Seals supported the tax increase, but now says the economy is too weak to raise taxes.
That drew a sarcastic response from Dold.
"I am delighted to hear that Mr. Seals is in favor of extending those but things change," Dold said.