MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With Election Day less than a week away, two women vying to be Minnesota’s next United States Senator took each other on in a debate Thursday night in St. Paul.

Incumbent Democratic Senator Tina Smith is competing against Republican State Senator Karin Housley.

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Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Smith in December after Al Franken resigned.

The debate comes at a critical time in what is a close race. It also marks the first time the two nominees have gone head to head. They sparred over everything from foreign relations to farming.

Hamline University was the first Minnesota university to admit women. And on Thursday night, the school hosted two females in a historic race. This marks the first U.S. Senate race in the state between two female nominees.

Smith missed a live opportunity to debate her opponent in October, citing a “complicated schedule.” Housley was interviewed on a debate stage by herself.

(credit: CBS)

“Thank you for showing up,” Housley said.

The incumbent Senator defended her absence.

“I think the important thing is that we’re here today, and we probably shouldn’t be spending a lot of time debating about debating,” Smith said. “We should talk about the issues that matter to Minnesota.”

At Thursday night’s debate, Smith claimed she accepted debates in both August and September, which Housley declined.

On stage, Housley claimed the two camps agreed on three debates, sponsored by KSTP, WCCO Radio and MPR, respectively.

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Housley and Smith did agree on one thing: The biggest concern they have heard from voters this year is the cost of health care — although they shared very different visions and solutions.

“We really had health care choices in rural areas in Minnesota before Obamacare came in here, and a lot of our health care providers were forced to close,” Housley said.

“That is extremely important as we think about lowering costs, because the more people have insurance, the less likely we’re going to have people coming to emergency rooms or places where they don’t have insurance, and then we all end up needing to pay for that,” Smith said.

On the topic of universal background checks for gun sales.

“If you can buy a gun at Dick’s Sporting Goods and get a background check, why not if you buy a gun online?” Smith said.

“In all of the mass shootings that have happened in the last couple of years, each one of those gun, those shooters would have passed a background check,” Housley said.

Throughout the debate, Housley took jabs at what she says Smith has not done during her 10 months in office.

“All of the 25 bills that she has authored, none of them have been passed into law,” Housley said. “I get things done in the Minnesota Senate.”

But Smith boasted about what she sees as her accomplishments.

“I worked with Lisa Murkowski to expand mental health services in schools,” Smith said.

In five days, voters will decide which one of these women will finish out the final two years of Franken’s term. The former DFL Senator resigned earlier this year after allegations of sexual misconduct.

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Housley and Smith will meet again on Sunday night for a debate at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater, which starts at 5 p.m.