Republican Gov. Mike Parson and Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway took the debate stage together for the first time Friday afternoon and predictably disagreed on many topics.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson and Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway took the debate stage together for the first time Friday afternoon and predictably disagreed on many topics.

Parson and Galloway clashed on issue after issue over 90 minutes of questions from journalists selected by the Missouri Press Association, with the most action coming on coronavirus and crime.

The virus kicked things off.

And as they have for months, Parson and Galloway discussed the situation in Missouri, where it has infected more than 139,000 and killed nearly 2,400, in very different ways.

Galloway, who spoke first, said the state needs to do more to lead the response, with caseloads and hospitalizations remaining stubbornly high in recent weeks.

She vowed to start with a statewide mask mandate rather than letting every city and county decide on restrictions themselves.

She pointed out the White House Coronavirus Task Force has called for such action multiple times following indications they helped slow caseload growth in other states and said Parson had failed a “test of leadership” by ignoring the experts.

Parson, on the other hand, contended he’d taken a “balanced approach” to the virus by respecting local control and focusing on things like testing, which has been a go-to topic for him in recent months.

“We went from 2,000 tests a week (at the beginning of the crisis) to over 125,000 (per week) today,” he said. “In a couple of weeks, we’ll have testing in every school in Missouri.”

He also pointed out that the percentage of confirmed cases that have resulted in death has dropped from over 8 percent in April to less than 1 percent today, though that mostly reflects an increase in testing rather than a weakening in the virus.

“We are on the right track in this state,” Parson said.

Parson pointed out that since he lifted statewide restrictions on public life in the spring, the unemployment rate in the state has dropped to 7 percent, below the national average of 7.9 percent.

He also pointed out the majority of schools have re-opened this fall after shuttering in the spring.

“We continue to bring businesses to our state,” Parson said. “You’ve got to be able to deal with the virus. You’ve got to be able to deal with the economy. You’ve gotta get kids back in school.”

But Galloway pushed back, pointing out that unemployment claims rose last week and saying that the only way to really fix the economy is to tackle the virus.

She also pointed out a good number of schools remain online-only, including those in the Columbia district, and that still more that started in-person have had to go online at least temporarily following outbreaks.

“We need a complete reset on our coronavirus strategy,” she said. “We have to take action and act urgently to contain the spread of this virus so we can get our economy open again, we can get our schools open again.”

Then the debate pivoted to the other hot-button issue this election season: crime.

Naturally, each candidate spent a significant amount of time accusing the other of trying to “defund the police” despite little indication that either really could even if they wanted to.

But they also offered various ideas of how to bring down genuinely troubling rises in violent crime in the state’s major cities.

Parson said he’s doing all he can by calling an extra legislative session to pass bills aimed at prompting a hiring binge for St. Louis police and making a state witness protection program work where it hasn’t before.

“We did the things we needed to do to give law enforcement the tools they needed,” he said.

But Galloway pointed out that the Republican-controlled legislature rejected five other things he proposed and that the new witness protection program has yet to be funded.

And she said if voters pick her in November, they’ll see a better plan focused on the “root causes” of crime such as a lack of access to jobs, education and health care in beleaguered areas.

She said she also stands with Missourians “that want to see some common-sense gun safety rules like background checks."

She then pointed out that Parson has been in government while crime has been rising. He in turn blamed “her liberal agenda” as “the cause of this problem for decades.”

Both candidates also addressed a smattering of other topics, including the upcoming vote on Amendment 3.

The amendment asks voters to reverse or blunt changes they made to the redistricting process in 2018 aimed at producing more competitive elections and an assembly that better reflects the statewide vote.

That last part irked Republicans likely to lose statehouse seats under such a plan, so they proposed Amendment 3 to blunt its effect.

Galloway said she opposes the amendment; Parson supports it.

Both candidates also promised to faithfully implement Medicaid expansion as voters approved it in August, though they took different positions on the cost.

Galloway, for her part, said the money will come from savings achieved by expansion shifting certain Medicaid costs to the federal government and additional revenue produced by billion of dollars of new federal investment, as researchers at Washington University have suggested.

But Parson said government programs just don't work like that, and said it could cost the state $200 million in the first year alone Republicans have said will guarantee cuts to education and infrastructure.

"But we’re going to put it in place," Parson said, "and we’re just going to have to do that and balance the budget at the same time."