The four men running for South Dakota's open U.S. Senate seat didn't hold back during their first debate of the season.
Republican Mike Rounds, Democrat Rick Weiland, and independents Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie all squared off for more than an hour at Dakotafest in Mitchell Wednesday afternoon.
Rounds and Weiland say the race comes down to big government versus big money.
"I think there's a big difference up here,” Rounds said. “I think big government is the biggest challenge we've got and we want big government out of South Dakota. We want it out of your backyards.”
"They (members of Congress) lose their way. They're not representing the voters of the state they're representing their donors when they get on the floor of the United States Senate," Weiland said.
The independents in the race, former state lawmaker Gordon Howie and former U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, say the race is about breaking the gridlock between Democrats and Republicans.
"The problem is we have this childish competition between both sides that its just fighting and fighting," Pressler said.
"The problem is we have a bloated government and we need to reign it in and we aren't going to reign it in unless - or until - we send principled men and women who will talk straight to you instead of giving you political platitudes," Howie said.
Rounds says he's about smaller government and pointed out that he balanced the budget when he was governor. He believes his style of governing is needed in the Senate.
"We can get it done but we've got to start now at Washington's level as well. You can't allow the federal government to continue to grow," Rounds said.
But Weiland countered by saying Rounds couldn't have balanced the budget when he was governor without the federal government.
"He took money from the federal government to balance the South Dakota budget. As a matter of fact South Dakota couldn't balance it's budget if it didn't take 47 percent of its money from the federal government," Weiland said.
"We can't go on doing this is my theme. So, when I walk into the United States Senate I'm going to work with both sides," independent candidate Larry Pressler added.
"If you're wanting more of the same there are certainly other choices in this race but if you want a voice for change and a return to principle and a foundation of faith, freedom and purpose then I'd ask for your support," Howie said.
EB-5 Investigation Addressed
The candidates were also asked about the ongoing debate over South Dakota's EB-5 program and the suicide of Rounds' former Tourism Secretary Richard Benda.
Last month it was revealed that state authorities were prepared to file embezzlement charges against Benda for his connections to the program.
Previous Story: AG: Benda Suicide Came Days Prior To Possible Indictment
"If I would have known what he did when I was governor I would have fired him." Rounds said.
But Rounds’ opponents used the opportunity to criticize the program.
"We lost millions of dollars and we do have a gentleman who apparently took his life. This is a tragedy. This is big money gone wild." Weiland said.
"It's a program that fosters crony capitalism and corruption. It's bad from start to finish the way it was administered in South Dakota.” Howie said.
Pressler believes the issue could hamper Rounds and his bid for U.S. Senate if he doesn’t address the issue soon.
"We could well have a weakened United States Senator for six years if there's something there. However, if he disclosed it all this year we will not have that problem." Pressler said.
All four candidates are scheduled to take part in at least three more debates this campaign season with the next one coming next week at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron.