Republican Keith Rothfus and Democratic incumbent Mark Critz faced off in a brief debate in Beaver County tonight, which is the key battleground to the newly formed 12th congressional district.
At a similar debate in the same Penn State-Beaver auditorium two years ago, Rothfus strained to show meaningful differences with conservative Democratic congressman Jason Altmire, as both men were against Obamacare, against federal bailouts and against Barack Obama. With Altmire out of the picture after being forced (by GOP redistricting) into a primary against Critz, this time Rothfus had another shot.
He's still against Obamacare and Obama, but so is Critz – the incumbent started his remarks by pointing to battles against EPA regulations on the coal industry. The Democrat tried to strike a moderate balance with the crowd of 200+ by repeatedly saying he works with Republicans and Democrats alike and warned against letting Congress be driven by ideology.
"We're elected to lead, we're not elected to draw a line in the sand like my opponent," Critz said.
At the debate only two years ago, the Marcellus Shale boom was hardly mentioned, but in Beaver County (home to a proposed $1 billion Shell petrochemical cracking plant) Democrats and Republicans alike are feeling some hope for the region after decades of economic agony. So Rothfus – while attacking the Obama administration – instead repeated his proposed cures for small business. That means his "3 Rs" – repealing Obamacare, reforming spending, and rolling back regulations. He repeated GOP claims that Obamacare will slice $716 billion from Medicare (at which point a union guy near me held up a paper plate with "LIE" in big red letters, drawing a rebuke from the debate moderator) and he chided Critz for claiming his Americans For Tax Reform pledge to not raise taxes protects job outsourcers.
In the end (the candidates faced only four questions due to several state government candidates awaiting their turn on stage) Rothfus struck a milder tone. Speaking at the college campus a couple dozen miles up Rt. 65 from his home in Sewickley, he said he worried about the effect of the nation's debt on his young daughter and whether Medicare will be fiscally healthy enough to care for his mother.
Both are named Alice.
"I looked at my mom and my daughter Alice, and I decided something had to be done, and [that's why] I'm running," he told the crowd.
Critz returned to his bipartisan message in his closing (which was before his opponent's).
"Working together we can come up with solutions," the former district director to Jack Murtha said. Warning again against the brinksmanship currently in vogue in Washington he said "we have to be smarter and better than that for this country."