Republican Congressman Don Bacon and Democratic challenger Kara Eastman found almost no common ground in their first debate of the political season.
They clashed over every issue, including Russia and taxes.
The candidates also repeated their disagreement over the future of health care in the country, one of the major differences between the two campaigns.
Eastman repeatedly sought to portray Bacon as unable to stand up to national Republicans to fight for the district.
Bacon said that her statements were examples of problematic vitriol in politics today.
The 2nd District, covering much of the Omaha area, is Nebraska’s most competitive congressional district by party registration and, it was reported Monday, in fundraising.
Bacon is finishing his first term in office. The retired Air Force brigadier general beat former Rep. Brad Ashford after his first term.
Eastman, a former nonprofit executive, upset Ashford in this year’s primary by unapologetically embracing more of the Democratic Party’s national platform.
During the debate, the candidates briefly agreed on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump suspended. Both Bacon and Eastman said that young people who were brought illegally into the country as young children should have permanent residency or a pathway to citizenship.
But they disagreed on other measures designed to increase immigration security, such as building a wall along the southern border. (Bacon has voted to fund a wall; Eastman said it’s unaffordable.)
They agreed that the federal government should decriminalize marijuana. Eastman embraced the measure fully, saying it’s especially important to allow medicinal marijuana use. Bacon said that he personally opposes the legalization of marijuana but that the decision should be left to the states.
But on every other major issue, the two had serious disagreements:
- Eastman says the solution to the Social Security funding worries is to raise the cap on taxable income, while Bacon says he wants to raise the full retirement age for those under 40. (During the debate, he said those under 30, but an aide later said he misspoke.)
- Bacon opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother, and Eastman opposes government restrictions on abortion.
- Bacon thinks Congress should focus on funding military priorities while Eastman wants to see those resources go to the State Department.
On Russia, Eastman said she believes that President Donald Trump committed treason at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is a time when we need to stand together as a nation and say we can’t allow any country to interfere with our elections,” she said.
Bacon responded that he’s “critiqued” the president on his comments. And he criticized Democrats for pushing an impeachment vote over Russia before special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter is completed.
“To say ‘act of treason,’ that’s the kind of vitriol that’s undermining our country,” he said.
He added that he would vote to impeach the president if the evidence shows that’s appropriate.
On taxes, the two candidates disagreed on the recent tax overhaul, with Bacon saying it has spurred economic growth and Eastman arguing that it didn’t help most Americans.
Bacon: “We needed this tax reform.”
Eastman: “We know that trickle-down economics doesn’t work.”
On health care, Eastman supports a single-payer “Medicare-for-all” system.
“We need to look at the economic burden” of employer-sponsored health care on small businesses and big corporations alike, Eastman said.
Bacon touted the Republican House’s health care measures, though most did not pass through the Senate. And he called Eastman’s proposal a “government takeover of health care.”
The candidates will meet again Thursday at the Press Club for the second of three planned debates before the Nov. 6 election.
Photos: Don Bacon and Kara Eastman face off in 2nd District debate
U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Metropolitan Community College board member Kara Eastman, a Democrat, face off in the World-Herald-KMTV 2nd Congressional District debate at the KMTV Studios in Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.