Stark differences punctuate the race between U.S. Rep. John Kline and Steve Sarvi in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District.
A shared background in military service is one of few similarities between the candidates: Kline, a Republican anti-earmark crusader, and his challenger Sarvi, a Democrat who says state and local projects deserve special consideration at the federal level.
Sarvi said that includes transportation projects, including the Hastings bridge, which underwent improvements last summer.
"That's a project I believe would stand up against any other transportation project in the U.S.," the Watertown resident said in an interview with the Republican Eagle, adding that federal projects can create jobs, especially in the energy sector.
Kline, who is seeking his fourth term in the House, deeply opposes earmark funding - commonly referred to as pork-barrel spending - which he says is too often doled out arbitrarily. Critics of earmark funding complain that congressional leaders hold the ability to steer pet projects into legislation.
"It ought to be based on merit," said Kline, whose campaign added that he has been an ardent supporter of the Hastings bridge project.
The candidates agree that the economy weighs most heavily on voters' minds.
Kline voted in favor of the $700 billion government bailout of Wall Street firms following a mortgage and credit market crisis. The Lakeville resident said in an interview with the R-E that the decision was difficult, but necessary.
The massive bill won Republican support after slush-fund provisions were drained and some measure of security was added, Kline said. Government bears responsibility for the mortgage crisis, he said, which allowed institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to become "monsters."
"Time will tell if this was enough," he said of the bailout bill.
In an Oct. 13 debate in Chaska, Sarvi said he would have voted for the bill that passed - not the first, unsuccessful measure - saying it did more for the middle class.
"We've got to make sure whatever we do, we put into effect and execute quickly," he said.
Sarvi said years of recklessness on Wall Street allowed the mortgage crisis "to fester and explode."
"We need to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.
Taxpayers need to be made whole, Sarvi said. He supports mechanisms to support homeowners in jeopardy of foreclosure.
Both candidates also feature foreign policy as issues central to the campaigns, with each man having visited or served in Iraq.
Sarvi, who served in the Army in Iraq, favors a "responsible" removal of United States forces from the country. Meanwhile, he said the United States took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. He supports an increase in American and NATO forces there.
Kline said that while the number of American troops in Iraq will be reduced, withdrawal should not be undertaken precipitously. He also supports shifting troop levels to Afghanistan.
On health care, Kline offers a plan similar to U.S. Sen. John McCain's, where citizens would receive a tax credit that goes toward insurance policies of their choosing.
Like Kline, Sarvi opposes a single-payer health care system. Sarvi says health care should be a right, though he doesn't propose a specific plan.
Sarvi endorses diverse energy policy, but said off-shore domestic oil drilling shouldn't be leaned on for the long term. He also would remove billions in oil company subsidies and invest the money in renewable energy projects.
While Sarvi says the United States should consider adopting next-generation nuclear plant-technology - like that found in Europe - Kline's plan is more expansive. He proposes a major expansion of nuclear power generation.
"It's one of the areas where France has got it all over us," Kline said of nuclear reliance.
But like Sarvi, he said America will need a mix of energy sources, from clean coal to wind and solar. Kline supports off-shore drilling, saying more domestic oil resources mean less reliance on rogue oil-producing countries.
Kline backs Nevada's Yucca Mountain, the proposed repository for the nation's nuclear waste. Sarvi has not taken a position on the controversial site, but said more study needs to be done on transporting the waste.