NORMAL — Even without seeing each other face to face, Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth traded body blows Tuesday on a farm north of Normal.

Both spoke to an Illinois Farm Bureau gathering and fielded questions from reporters with about 10 weeks left until they face off for Kirk's Senate seat in the Nov. 8 election.

Duckworth, who spoke first, hit Kirk for referring to President Barack Obama as "drug dealer in chief" after the president's $400 million payment to Iran was linked to the release of U.S. prisoners.

"I just don't think that's language befitting a United States senator," she said. "He should apologize, and let's move on and focus on what we need for the people of Illinois."

Kirk doubled down on the remark.

"I have a problem with sending $400 million in 500-euro notes directly to the ayatollah," he said.

Republicans have criticized the Obama administration after it acknowledged that the repayment of the money from a 1970s Iranian account was connected to a U.S.-Iranian prisoner exchange in January. The administration denies the money was "ransom," saying it used the money, which the Islamic Republic would have soon recouped the money one way or another, as leverage to guarantee the prisoners' release. 

Kirk also hit Duckworth for encouraging the federal government to accept 200,000 refugees, including many from Syria. Duckworth said Tuesday those refugees will go through a thorough screening process.

"She directly lied to this group by saying that the Syrian refugees are thoroughly vetted, even though the director of national intelligence and FBI say there's no screening that's meaningful," he said. "We can't lie to the American people about national security like that. It could lead to another 9/11."

Both also spoke about a variety of issues that affect farmers, including alternative fuels, immigration, infrastructure, taxation and trade.

Each spoke in favor of increasing usage of biofuels, including ethanol, which is frequently produced with corn grown in Illinois. Both said they'll push for high renewable fuel standards from the Environmental Protection Agency.

On immigration, both spoke in favor of making it easier for undocumented immigrants who serve in the military to become citizens. Kirk served in the U.S. Navy; Duckworth was in the U.S. Army.

On infrastructure, the candidates focused on the Mississippi River, a major agricultural trade artery. Duckworth said she'll fight for a $12 million U.S. Army Corp of Engineers project to improve locks and dams, while Kirk favors using private contractors for that work.

"They can go a lot faster than the slow Army Corp of Engineers," he said.

Both said they oppose the estate tax, which applies to inheritances including family farms, though Duckworth said she supports a similar measure for extremely wealthy earners. 

"I don't think people that live in Manhattan making billions of dollars should get a break," she said, referring to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Both candidates also spoke in favor of opening up new markets for farmers to sell in, but they differed on the details: Duckworth spoke in favor of expanding trade with Cuba and against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Kirk vice versa.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Staff Writer

Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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