DULUTH, Minn. - After months of verbal jabs via television ads the candidates for the 8th congressional seat of Minnesota met face to face hoping to land a haymaker.
Indeed, the gloves came off Tuesday morning as Chip Cravaack and his Democratic challenger, former Congressman Rick Nolan debated a variety of issues during a one hour stint on stage together.
After opening remarks that clearly spelled out philosophical differences the two candidates tackled the complex issue of Medicare. "I am as strong of a supporter of Medicare and social security as you will ever find and you're voting record shows that you voted to do away with Medicare as we know it," Nolan told Cravaack.
Cravaack disputed that claim before answering. "Medicare is insolvent in 2022. Doing nothing is actually a dereliction of duty so we have a bipartisan house plan that addresses the issue," the Republican said.
It was clear both men were respecting the moderator's rules, but they offered several rebuttals of rebuttals on a number of topics, one of which was job creation and sparking economic growth. "The key to recovery is the small business owner creating jobs throughout the United States. It cannot be artificially... we cannot create artificial demand from the government," Cravaack explained.
"You have to cut spending where you're not getting a return on your dollar and you learn that you have to spend some money where you are going to get a return on your dollar," Nolan told the enthusiastic crowd.
The budget discussion morphed into a discussion on military spending, in which the two sides clashed again. "You've been a real big spender when it comes to nation-building abroad but you're not much of a spender when it comes to building our own communities," Nolan told Cravaack.
In turn, the congressman countered that he's concerned about the cuts to the nation's military. "I believe that it is a detriment to the national defense of this country and leaves us vulnerable," he said.
One unique aspect of this race is that Rick Nolan was a member of congress in the mid and late 70s. Cravaack attacked his record. "You missed 30 percent of your votes while giving yourself a pay raise," he said. Nolan disagreed before curtly saying "stop saying that." He also said "we cast a heck of a lot more votes than your congress is casting."
Similarly, Nolan criticized Cravaack and other current members of congress for only "working 2 days a week." "In some respects, congress has got to work 5 days a week like everybody else in America," he noted. Cravaack was quick to comeback. "What you call vacation I call constituent work, coming back in the district," he said.
There were dozens of supporters of both candidates at this debate, and both thought it was a good discussion without a clear winner. Sheila Lund is a logger from Deer River; she is also a Cravaack backer. "I feel that he has a very clear plan of what needs to be done and what he's willing to do to get us there," she said post-debate.
John Goldfine, who works in the hospitality industry, was clearly supporting Nolan. "To me it's very clear who should be representing the people of Northern Minnesota and that's somebody from Northern Minnesota," he said.
Following the debate, both candidates felt energized and were ready for the final two debates before Election Day. The two men are polling very closely. "I feel very comfortable where our campaign is going. I feel that we are on the right side of the issues," Chip Cravaack concluded.
"You know, I felt good about it," Nolan remarked after the debate. "I think we showed how the two of us differ pretty dramatically."
On that, it seems, most everyone is in agreement.
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