GOP Rep. Mark Kirk and Democratic Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias went back and forth on the issues, and it got personal, sparring in a debate that could be critical in the tight race for the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama formerly held.
Within minutes, the Giannoulias family's failed bank and Kirk's past embellishment of his military record came up.
"I misstated part of my military record. It is a painful process. I learned a big lesson from that. I apologized to the people of Illinois. I then released all 21 years of my officer fitness reports," Kirk said.
Kirk also called Giannoulias a mob banker.
"Betting his bank's future on risky real estate loans, brokered hot money deposits and loans to well-known convicted felons and mobsters," Kirk alleged.
Giannoulias hit back, calling the congressman a liar.
"Why would you make all this stuff up, congressman, it's a simple question, were you shot at or not?" he said. "I am very proud of the community bank that my father started 30 years ago. No one has ever suggested that the bank has done anything illegal, illicit or improper, never."
Everything was up for grabs in the hour-long debate, from the deficits to immigration. Kirk said he is still convinced that the economic stimulus was an expensive mistake.
"The lasting legacy of the stimulus will be a near-trillion-dollar debt leveled on the financial future of our kids," he said.
"Economists across the board will tell you the recovery act helped stem a second Great Depression," Giannoulias said.
"We should spend less and borrow less and tax less," Kirk said of the Tea Party, a far right movement in the Republican Party gaining momentum this election season.
Issues of character have dominated the campaign and filled the airwaves with a rash of negative ads from both sides. Election Day is Tuesday, November 2.
"Good Morning America" host George Stephanopoulos moderated the debate.