Debate Night in America kicked off two hours early Tuesday in Western New York with a downtown Buffalo faceoff in the white-hot race for the redrawn 27th Congressional District seat between Democratic Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul and Republican Chris Collins.
This local debate covered many of the same issues – taxes, job creation, Medicare and the role of the government – that have dominated the national stage in the race for the White House between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
And like the presidential race, differences between the candidates were nearly equally as stark and just as close, with a recent poll showing both Hochul and Collins sharing 47 percent support.
Hochul, who overcame a Republican voter majority to win a congressional seat over Jane Corwin in a May 2011 special election for the 26th District, said she represents “an independent voice” in Washington who has often voted against the Obama administration.
Collins, meanwhile, consistently tried to link Hochul to the president’s agenda as well as to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
With much of the debate focused on the economy, both locally and nationally, Hochul and Collins sparred over how to go about creating jobs and growing the economy as well as topics such as gas prices and alternative energy.
“It’s all about getting people in the community back to work,” Hochul said.
“If we get our people back to work, a lot of our problems get solved.”
Collins, who referenced his more than three decades of private-sector experience, pointed out he was the only candidate on the WNED-TV stage Tuesday who actually has created jobs.
His solution for creating more locally and nationally was simple: “Repeal Obamacare.”
Taxes and fees associated with the controversial federal health care law serve to stifle jobs and grow the size of the federal government, according to Collins.
“There’s not enough money in the Obama-Hochul world,” Collins said. “They need more revenue.”
Hochul said she was “one of 18 Democrats” to vote “to cut taxes on small businesses.”
She took issue with Collins’ statements on the health care law, saying she has sided with Republicans at times in opposing some aspects of the plan.
Collins, however, said Hochul supported Obama’s plan to “cut $716 million from Medicare” to pay for a program that was going to have a direct effect on current seniors including his own 85-year-old mother.
“We have to keep Medicare intact for current seniors [55 and above],” Collins said in conceding the current system is “good” but not “perfect.”
“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” he said.
Hochul, however, faulted Collins and Republican leaders for attacking the entirety of the program, which she said has already benefited many Americans.
“I don’t think the ‘all or nothing, my way or the highway’ approach works on this,” Hochul said.
The role that government plays in the lives of its citizens was another frequent theme during the debae.
When the subject arose in the context of oil, gas prices and alternative energy, Hochul pointed out she was on the floor of Congress introducing a bill to promote oil exploration and seek more energy sources.
Collins responded that Hochul has failed to “introduce a bill that passed” and suggested those efforts in Congress were just to “grab headlines.” That’s something that would change, Collins said, if he were elected.
He also linked Hochul to Obama’s “green energy” plans, which he regards as expensive and an ineffective use of taxpayer money.
Collins also said Hochul directly supports the Obama campaign and noted that her husband, William Jr., was appointed U.S. attorney by the president. He also said Hochul sought to return Pelosi as House speaker.
“That doesn’t sound very ‘independent’ to me,” Collins said.
At that point, Hochul admonished Collins.
“You’re not running against Barack Obama,” she told him. “You’re running against me and my record, so let’s get that straight.”
The debate was moderated by Jim Ranney, news director at WBFO-FM.