The five Democratic Second District Congressional candidates met at the University of Central Arkansas Tuesday night for another round of debates.
The topics ranged from recent news – the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and terrorism in New York – to the economy, healthcare and favorite political icon.
Rep. Vic Snyder’s former chief of staff David Boling, who released his green plan this week, said that President Obama did the right thing on the current spill and disaster. But he said the administration should “hit the pause button and investigate this and see what kind of regulation we need on this.” Tax attorney John Adams said that it was smart for Obama to encourage off-shore drilling although “the cost may be huge.”
State Senator Joyce Elliott said, “Sometimes in the moment, we sacrifice our natural resources.” She encouraged breaking away from fossil fuels to renewable energies.
Patrick Kennedy flat out said the oil spill was “unacceptable.”
But Speaker of the House Robbie Wills said that drilling should continue and that the 170 rigs currently in the Gulf should be inspected for safety shut-off valves.
“We didn’t cancel the space program after Apollo when those astronauts got killed,” he said. "And we didn’t cancel the space shuttle after the Challenger disaster."
On terrorism, Elliott said the country had become complacent. Wills sharply disagreed, saying the country had become more vigilant in recent years to look out for suspicious events. Adams, too, said that “it’s not fair to say we’ve taken our eye off the ball.”
Boling took a different slant, pointing to how the courts should handle terrorism cases – military tribunals or domestic courts. He pointed to the Arkansas case regarding the recruitment office shooting that killed one and injured one as an example where domestic courts work.
Elliott and Wills had boisterous disagreements throughout the night. Both cited their legislative records, especially in the area of healthcare. Elliott challenged Wills on the increase of Medicaid costs because of healthcare reform. “To challenge something is not negative campaigning and I will continue to do that,” she said.
Last week, Wills sent out a press release saying he would avoid negative campaigning in the Democratic primary.
The most enlightening answers came near the end when the questions became more personal. Asked if they would support Obama campaigning for them in the fall if they were the nominee, Adams said yes. Boling said it would be “a great honor.”
“Yes and I’d invite all of you,” Elliott added.
Wills said yes, too. “I don’t know if he will, but that doesn’t happen everyday," he said.
The candidates were also asked who they considered their political heroes. Kennedy said his grandfather, William Jennings Bryan Dorn, a 13-term South Carolina congressman. Wills said former Senator Dale Bumpers and recalled meeting him at a crafts fair when he was a child.
Adams said, “I don’t have pictures of politicians on my wall.” But what he does have are plenty of books about two politicians – Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton. He chose Bill Clinton because the former president always had the interests of working Arkansans.
Elliott preferred “sheroes” – Eleanor Roosevelt and former Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
Boling chose one obscure politician – former Montana Senator and ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield – a humble man who never wanted buildings named for him. He also picked his former boss, Snyder, for the same reasons. He said Snyder has no pictures of himself in his Washington office foyer.
“It’s not about you, it’s about what you do when you’re elected,” he said.
The candidates were also asked if they would campaign for the nominee this fall. Kennedy hedged saying he might not feel the passion. Elliott said she planned to win the race but if not, she would but with conditions.
“Hypothetically, of course, I would stand up and be supportive if they didn’t engage in wishy-washy statements and appeal to Republicans for the sake of votes. I’m not looking for someone to be down the middle for the sake of being the middle.”
Adams said any of the Democratic candidates is “vastly preferable to the Republican nominee.”
Boling stressed that the district could see “a dramatic swing in quality of representation if one of the two Republicans won.”
Wills said he would support the nominee regardless because Democrats need solidarity to win in November. “I don’t have to have a sit-down or a litmus test because I’m a Democrat.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face either Republican Scott Wallace or Tim Griffin in the November general election.
This article was written by Suzi Parker. She is a Talk Business contributor who freelances for The Economist, U.S. News & World Report’s Washington Whisperscolumn, The Christian Science Monitor and Politics Daily. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/suziparker.