In a Monday debate that quickly got personal, Democrat Jennifer Roberts and Republican Robert Pittenger traded accusations and showcased their opposing views on many issues, including the role of government.
The swipes came as they taped the last debate of their 9th District congressional campaign. The debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, will air at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on WTVI.
The two are running for the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, a Charlotte Republican. The Republican-leaning district includes parts of Mecklenburg, Iredell and Union counties.
Roberts, a Mecklenburg County commissioner, sought to portray her opponent as both self-serving and beholden to special interests.
Taking credit for helping create thousands of jobs through county incentives, for example, she said her opponent has only created jobs for his investors and cronies.
Pittenger, a real estate investor, cast Roberts as a big-government liberal who twice raised property taxes and grew the size of county government.
He also accused her of a conflict of interest by voting for a 2011 bond issue when her husbands law firm served as counsel to the underwriter.
Roberts has said she disclosed Manley Roberts connection to the firm, as does the countys official statement on the bond issue. He was not involved in the bond issue.
She got very aggressive, Pittenger said after the debate. All I did was get the facts out. Shes a tax-and-spend person.
Roberts said the state cannot afford a political insider whos going to go to Washington to serve their own self-interests and that of their cronies and business colleagues.
Voters need to understand that theres a clear choice and a clear difference.
And there were clear differences.
Sparring over mass transit
Pittenger, for example, said theres no role for the federal government in education.
The best education is whats done locally, he said. And I dont believe thats the role of the federal government.
Roberts said she would refocus the education department away from areas such as testing. But she said a federal role is crucial for rural and high-poverty areas.
On transportation, Roberts repeated her support for mass transit, including light rail.
She made a not-so-veiled swipe at Pittenger, whose partnerships own land along the proposed and controversial Garden Parkway in Gaston County.
Even though I dont own any land along the (light-rail) corridor, I still support it, she said. Clearly my opponent is not listening to the voters. Hes listening to special interests.
Pittenger has said he opposes federal funding of light rail.
Transit officials are scheduled to announce Tuesday morning that the federal government has agreed to pay for half of the $1.16 billion light-rail extension to University City.
Pittenger said he supports developing Charlotte Douglas International Airport as an intermodal hub, with rail and road links. He also said his priority is roads.
Weve got to expand our roads, he said. (Interstate) 77 is a parking lot. Its a matter of whats the best use of your tax dollars.
Health care gets a hearing
Another area in which the two clearly differ is health care.
Pittenger would repeal the Affordable Care Act health-reform law. Roberts favors keeping and tweaking it. She pointed to what she called the cost of repeal. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated repeal would add $109 billion to the deficit over 10 years.
My opponent may think that that matter of money is not very much, she said, because he can pull it out of his pocket.
Pittenger said the Affordable Care Act not only includes 21 new taxes but threatens to come between patients and their doctors.
Brushing off Roberts attacks, he sounded confident on the election, which is barely three weeks away.
Were in good shape, he said.
Though Roberts campaign commissioned a September poll that showed the race deadlocked, Pittenger is favored.
No Democrat has represented the district since 1952. As redrawn by GOP lawmakers last year, its even more Republican.
Republican John McCain won the 9th District in 2008 with 54 percent while narrowly losing the state.
Pittenger, then a candidate for lieutenant governor, carried the district with an even bigger majority, 58 percent.