Budd, Manning clash over campaign accusations in debate for closely watched House race

Rep. Ted Budd and Democratic challenger Kathy Manning took their biggest debate swings Tuesday, not on expected political and policy differences, but on increasingly personal attacks in the final weeks of their 13th Congressional District campaign.

The candidates sparred over Budd’s claims that Manning and her family are personally profiting from a to-be-built Greensboro parking deck and Manning’s claims that Budd’s voting record has been dictated by corporate interests donating to his campaign — charges that have been fodder for television ads in the district. Manning’s harshest critique came in the final moments.

“Congressman Budd will say anything or do anything to keep his job, including lying about me and my family,” Manning said in her closing statement. “He’s run false ads to cover up the fact that he’s sold us out. ... He promised to turn Washington inside out, but he became a Washington insider and he sold us out.”

Manning’s finishing flourish capped the hour-long sitdown at Spectrum News studios in Raleigh where the candidates explained why voters should choose them to represent the 13th district in the U.S. House.

“It’s been a privilege to serve. I’ve done a good job,” Budd said. “There’s so much more to do. There’s more to grow in the economy, there’s more people to get into the work force, there’s more opioid issues to work on.”

Said Manning: “We can do better. I promise to put country ahead of party. I promise to work hard for the people of North Carolina and I will not be bought by special interests.”

Budd, a 47-year-old gun store and shooting range owner from Davie County, won the seat with more than with more than 56 percent of the vote in 2016. Manning, 61-year-old Greensboro lawyer and community fundraiser, has mounted a well-funded challenge in a district that President Donald Trump won by more than nine points.

The 13th district includes parts or all of Davidson, Davie, Guilford, Iredell and Rowan counties. Libertarian Party candidate Tom Bailey and Green party candidate Robert Corriher are also on the ballot in November.

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The debate focused on key mid-term issues like tax cuts, health care, pre-existing conditions, immigration, tariffs, Trump’s policies and style, and climate change.

But the toughest language of the event came over personal attacks in campaign ads, including one from Budd accusing Manning and her husband of collecting $30 million to build a parking deck in Greensboro in connection with a hotel project.

“She talks about being an outsider. This is an insider deal that hurts the city of Greensboro. Parking rates are going to have go up in order to support this,” Budd said. “It’s a shady deal.”

Politifact rated Budd’s claims that “$30 million of your tax dollars plus $2.3 million a year to Kathy Manning and her husband, filling the Manning’s swanky hotel and their own French castle” as false. The Manning campaign said two Greensboro television stations stopped running similar ads from an outside group.

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“My opponent has lied about everything involving the parking deck,” Manning replied. “The ads my opponent has on have those exact same false allegations on them. Those are despicable. There is no truth to those ads. My husband and I have not taken one penny of government money.”

Budd defended himself against claims made in a Manning campaign ad that he has hired lobbyists for his staff and traveled to swanky destinations on travel paid for by interest groups, like Club For Growth.

Budd said he would not apologize for hiring staff from the conservative Heritage Foundation. He said the trips were about important policies, such as energy, and the only reason Manning knows about them is because he filed the required ethics forms in the House, a sign that there is nothing wrong with the travel.

“If anybody wants to support me, that’s great. They’re supporting me and what I believe in, not the other way around,” Budd said.

But Manning said accepting political donations from corporate interests means you’re not going to use “independent thinking.”

“When a corporation or corporate special interest makes a campaign contribution, they do it because they’re looking for you to support legislation that will help (its) bottom line,” Manning said. “That’s why I’m not taking any corporate PAC money. I don’t want to be beholden to corporations. I want to go to Washington to fight for the people of our district.”

“Like EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood, perhaps,” Budd shot back, referencing two liberal groups that have backed Manning’s campaign.

“I am proud to have investments from people who represent people, like the League of Conservation Voters, like End Citizens United, an organization which is working to take some of the money out of politics because there’s too much money and not enough transparency,” Manning replied.

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Budd touted strong economic numbers, citing low unemployment figures for women, minorities and the country as a whole several times. Budd said there are 7.1 million unfilled jobs in the country, a sign that the Republican-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was working. He said a growing economy would help save programs such as Social Security.

But Manning said the tax bill gave breaks to the wealthy, exploded the national debt and put Social Security at risk.

“Imagine what they could have done if their priority had been middle-class families, working families instead of big corporations and the ultra-wealthy,” she said.

Both candidates insisted they would — and could — work across the aisle to solve big problems. Budd referenced a bill he co-sponsored with Missouri Democrat Lacy Clay and his work with Rep. Alma Adams to help Bennett College, an historically black women’s college in Greensboro.

Manning pointed to her work in the Greensboro community, bringing together large groups for a common purpose.

“I believe I have an obligation to give back to my community. I have worked for years on a volunteer basis to make my community a better place,” Manning said.

Added Budd: “I think that’s very noble. And one of my goals in competing in this race is to allow her to continue to do that sort of community work.”

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Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC