For most of its duration, the Pasco League of Women Voters' candidates forum Thursday was calm and cordial. The attendance, sparse because of a 2 p.m. start, had dwindled to a few dozen after County Commission and School Board candidates completed their turns.
With a few minutes remaining, however, one candidate went on the warpath.
Carl Littlefield, the Republican incumbent candidate for state House District 61, had just given his concluding remarks _ generally, that he is impressed with the League of Women Voters and that he is a strong supporter of public service.
Littlefield's Democratic opponent, Candy VanDercar, was next.
"This is an election about two very different people with two very different philosophies," VanDercar said sharply. "One an extremist, one a mainstreamer."
VanDercar went on to claim that Littlefield has waffled on such topics as school vouchers and abortion during his tenure, changing his opinion to suit his audience. On abortion, VanDercar contended, "My opponent gives the appearance of not knowing where he stands."
Since Littlefield had already made his closing statements, he did not have an opportunity for rebuttal. After the forum ended, he denied VanDercar's assertions and bemoaned her campaign tactics.
Asked if he thought there was a basis for VanDercar's claims, Littlefield replied: "The only basis is in her own mind. She has misrepresented my stance on abortion, on a school vouchers program and on education in general."
Littlefield said his stance on school vouchers has remained constant. He has voted for and continues to support them only as a pilot program to allocate money for high-risk students, he said.
On the abortion issue, "any change in abortion laws would have to come from the federal level," Littlefield said. "It really is not a state issue."
As for his personal beliefs, Littlefield said he thinks abortion should be legal only in "extenuating circumstances," such as a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or a pregnancy that could severely impair a woman's health.
Littlefield said that two years ago, after he was elected, another legislator told him to determine his specific position on abortion, write it down on an index card and never deviate from it. "And that's what I have done," he said.
Littlefield contended that VanDercar "has chosen to take the low road . . . with misrepresentations and innuendoes."
He cited a recent political advertisement by VanDercar's campaign, titled Slackers Have a New Friend, that described Littlefield's vote to decrease to 19 the number of credits high school seniors need to graduate, "a vote only slackers could love."
The advertisement, which does not mention VanDercar's name, concludes: "Vote no on Carl Littlefield. He's a politician we can't afford."
Littlefield said his vote was a sensible one for an initiative intended to reduce unnecessarily high requirements: "You can get into Harvard with 19 credit hours."
In an interview after the forum, VanDercar defended her campaign tactics and maintained that Littlefield has waffled.
"If telling the truth is negative, then so be it," VanDercar said. "I have always been a believer in people knowing what you stand for."
That goes for herself as well as Littlefield, she said. "One of the things (Littlefield) goes to great lengths to do is to not let people know" his positions, VanDercar said. "I want people to know what his voting record is."
VanDercar's contentions that Littlefield has altered his positions on the abortion and school voucher issues could not be thoroughly investigated Thursday. But she alleged that he has modified his positions for certain audiences to conceal what she described as a conservative "extremist" viewpoint.
Littlefield, who has acknowledged in previous interviews that he is quite conservative both on fiscal and social issues, denied VanDercar's allegations. "I have not changed," he said. "I'm not going to get involved in the low road to politics."