Their race has been cast nationally as the latest battle pitting an insurgent conservative against a favorite of the GOP establishment.
But when it came to actual policy issues, Republicans Scott Keadle and Richard Hudson agreed more than they disagreed Monday during a TV debate in which both 8th District congressional candidates tried to stake out the most conservative positions on everything from health care reform and taxes to immigration and military spending.
But the face-off was far from agreeable. So many personal attacks flew in the first part of the debate that the moderator asked Hudson and Keadle to tone it down and try to stick to issues.
Among other things, the candidates vying in a July 17 runoff to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell in November called each other liars.
My opponent has been telling flat-out lies about my record for the last two or three weeks, said Keadle, a dentist. He objected to Hudsons assertion that he would not stand up to President Barack Obama because, as an Iredell County commissioner, he accepted federal stimulus money for county projects.
Former congressional chief of staff Hudson, who charged that Keadle has been waging dishonest personal attacks on me, said his opponent had even stooped so low as to attack my dog and mock my faith during the campaign. (Hudsons dog has been featured in his TV ads.)
They also questioned each others ties to the 8th District. Hudson pointed out that Keadle lives in the neighboring 9th District. Keadle shot back that Hudson had Virginia and Texas drivers licenses in recent years, while working for members of Congress.
High stakes for district
The attacks and counterattacks are signs of the high stakes in the 8th District an area that stretches from Salisbury to Fayetteville. The GOP-controlled General Assembly redrew the districts boundaries, making it far friendlier to the Republican who emerges as Kissells fall rival.
Hudson, who worked in the district for Robin Hayes when he represented a differently drawn 8th district, is backed by the GOP establishment in North Carolina and in Washington. Hes picked up endorsements from former Gov. Jim Martin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Dot Helms, widow of former Sen. Jesse Helms. A super PAC affiliated with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has spent money in the district promoting Hudsons candidacy.
Keadle has become a darling of insurgent conservatives around the country. Hes been endorsed by RedState.com, which has declared ideological war on moderate Republicans. And Club for Growth, a group dedicated to free-market solutions, has spent about $400,000 on TV ads and other materials boosting Keadles candidacy.
Those alliances occasionally became clear Monday during the hourlong debate in a studio at Charlottes WTVI.
Keadle, for example, cast Hudson as a Washington insider who took junkets to Turkey and Africa.
Hudson later said the trips were paid for by private groups, not the taxpayers. But Keadle pointed out that he made them while he was on the federal payroll.
Hudson, meanwhile, sought to portray Keadle as ideologically out of step with the 8th District on trade policy toward China a country that has landed many of the textile jobs that have left the 8th District in recent decades.
Hudson said he backed fair trade, and charged that Keadle favors the elimination of trade barriers against China, which has been widely criticized for engaging in currency manipulation and deceptive shipping practices.
I have lived in the 8th District, and Scott hasnt, so that may be why he doesnt understand the loss of jobs, Hudson said of Keadle.
Keadles answer was that consumers and exporters in the district benefit from free trade with China and others.
If we dont support the consumers in the 8th District and consumers in the United States then were not going to have an economy, Keadle said.
He added that the economy is now in shambles, mainly due to people like Richard Hudson and other namby pamby GOP moderates who have gone along with the splurge in federal spending.
Among the other highlights:
• Both candidates tried to out-do each other in promising to go after the Environmental Protection Agency.
Keadle said he favored abolishing the agency. We should go over to the EPA and shut the lights down in their building before they shut the lights down in your home and your business, he said, adding that EPA has become more of a job protection agency for people in the federal government.
Hudson called the EPA the out-of-control federal agency poster child and said hed also shut it down if agency administrators couldnt make a case for what it does.
• If elected, both said theyd try to get seats on committees that deal with balancing the budget.
Hudson said that, as a member of the House Budget Committee, he could work for a balanced-budget amendment and look for ways to eliminate costly federal departments and programs.
Keadle said hed want to sit on a new committee that would take those in Washington who tax and those who spend, and lock them in a room until they could agree on an amount that matched money going out with money coming in. No Dominos pizza allowed in, he said. No entertainment until you decide that the budget must balance.
• Both agreed to endorse whomever wins the July 17 runoff. And both cast Kissell as a liberal Obama supporter even though he has angered Democrats by voting against Obamas health care reforms and voting to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Moderator: Calm down
Issues became more prominent in the second half of Mondays debate. But the first half was so filled with personal attacks and counterattacks that, during an off-air break, moderator Shawn Flynn implored the two candidates to focus on issues.
I just dont want this to get out of hand and it be just a Youre a liar, Youre a liar, said Flynn, managing editor of News 14 Carolina. I think weve established that both think youre lying.
Mondays debate will be telecast at 8 p.m. Tuesday and 11 a.m. Sunday on News 14 Carolina. It will also air at 10 p.m. Thursday on WTVI. It is also available at www.news14.com and on Carolina On Demand channels 199 or 1047.