BYRON - Minnesota 1st Congressional District candidates Democratic incumbent Tim Walz and Republican challenger Allen Quist quickly found themselves trading blow-for-blow attacks Thursday during their first debate of the campaign.
The Rochester Chamber of Commerce hosted the debate, which focused on jobs and the economy.
Different views of moving forward
The candidates expressed distinct views on how to move the country and economy forward.
Walz said that focusing on investing in infrastructure and research would help grow jobs and the economy by aiding the middle class. He said the best approach was to mix smart cuts with some tax increases, particularly because cuts alone could not solve the deficit.
Quist said that more freedom would grow the economy, which would be improved by rolling back burdensome regulations and taxes. He said raising any taxes took money out of the economy and discouraged investors.
The candidates also talked about improving education through better investment of education dollars. Walz said shifting funding to focus on early education would pay dividends throughout the education system. He said it also cut the severity of the education gaps.
Quist disagreed, stating he read studies that showed the early education benefit dropping off after third grade. After the debate, he said he would not cut early education, but instead put the investment into more fruitful programs like gifted and talented classes.
The two candidates were most divided over the Affordable Care Act, which was discussed in terms of its impact on the Mayo Clinic.
Quist said the law carried a "marriage penalty" that gave married couples less than unmarried couples, making it discriminatory. He said it would deprive the Mayo Clinic of funds by making married couples drop their insurance.
"Mr. Walz has to explain why he thinks discrimination against married people is OK," said Quist.
Walz said the law was not discriminatory and structured like many other laws because married couples had different needs. He said the law only forced everybody to raise to the level of places like the Mayo Clinic.
Walz, Quist quick to trade barbs
Even with the structured debate, Walz and Quist traded personal attacks. Quist provided some follow-up responses after the debate, but the Walz campaign did not respond to requests for further comment.
Quist started by criticizing Walz for making the 15-minute KSTP debate part of the three 90-minute debate challenge he issued.
"Mr. Walz consistently says one thing and does something else," said Quist.
Walz called Quist an extremist for his past controversial statements. Quist said he objected to being labeled an extremist.
Walz cited Quist's controversial 2010 campaign statement where he said that defeating Walz and other liberals was more important than fighting terrorism.
"I didn't serve this country in uniform for 24 years to be compared to a terrorist," said Walz, a National Guard veteran.
Quist somewhat walked back his 2010 statement post-debate by saying the deficit was still a national security issue and Walz had no interest in changing direction, but asserting he could not say it was the top national security threat.
Quist brought up Walz's 17-year old arrest for allegedly driving drunk in Nebraska. The charge was later dropped, but Walz pleaded guilty to an amended plea of reckless driving. After the debate, Quist said he did not regret raising the issue.
"I had no intention of bringing it up. But, I had to in order to stop his personal attack of bringing up 30-year-old statements that I may or may not have said," said Quist.
Later in the debate, Walz called Quist a hypocrite for taking approximately $600,000 in farm subsidies then railing against farm subsidies. Quist said Walz was the true hypocrite for passing the subsidies. Walz said he had chosen to turn down things he was eligible for, like veteran benefits. After the debate, Quist said farming was competitive and he was forced to take subsidies to stay in farming.
The biggest point of contention was Walz's three-time repeated claim that Quist said he would cut veteran benefits. Quist called the claim "the biggest lie of the campaign" and demanded an apology.
Walz said he had video and his campaign sent an e-mail post-debate pointing to the TPT Almanac debate between Quist and Mike Parry last April. In the video, co-host Cathy Wurzer asked Quist about entitlements during a broader discussion about cutting spending. Quist says veterans benefits should be listed as well. He then proceeds to state the only way to protect the entitlements is to balance the budget.
Quist said Walz totally distorted what he said with his claims.
"This is really sleazy politics to intentionally take somebody out of context," said Quist, "They made a huge mistake."
The two candidates will debate again on Oct. 9. The event will be hosted by Debate Minnesota in Mankato. Veterans and energy are debate topics.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)