Scott Murphy and James Tedisco were cordial in their first public debate before a packed crowd on Tuesday and managed to agree on most issues.
The two major-party candidates for the 20th Congressional District fielded senior-focused questions on health care, Medicare, Social Security and retirement funds in a debate sponsored by AARP at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. A special election to fill the House of Representatives seat is set for March 31.
Both Tedisco, a Republican, and Murphy, a Democrat, took turns answering questions from a moderator, AARP volunteer panelists and an audience of about 200 people who packed the room.
The crowd was so big that about 70 people who showed up weren’t allowed inside the conference room where the debate was held but were funneled into rooms downstairs to watch a live feed of the event.
Both candidates said they would support automatic payroll deductions to fund workers’ individual retirement accounts.
Neither would mandate that all Americans have health insurance or allow workers to put Social Security funds in private accounts.
“It’s too risky for everybody to be entirely on your own,” Murphy said.
Neither would support cuts in home health care funding that President Barack Obama has deemed necessary.
“We have a spending priority problem,” Tedisco said.
Both men would include “clean” nuclear energy in a slate of alternative energies to be explored, such as wind, solar and biofuels.
Murphy stressed his support for Obama’s economic recovery bill and pressed Tedisco to say how he would have voted on the law.
Tedisco ignored Murphy’s question and stuck to the script of questions from the moderator and the public.
After the debate, he said he has always been clear on his view: “I support a stimulus package with the amendment to take out the waste.”
But Tedisco didn’t say whether he would have voted for the bill that passed the House and implied that it’s irresponsible to develop an opinion on a 1,100-page bill he hasn’t read.
“I read every single bill before I’m about to vote on it,” Tedisco said.
Tedisco emphasized a minimalist style of governance.
“A lot of our constituents are saying, ‘Get out of our way,’ ” he said.
He said Congress needs to keep its hands off of Social Security funds and not use the money for other purposes.
The Murphy camp declared that their candidate won the debate, Murphy’s first ever.
Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione, one of Tedisco’s most vocal supporters, said she thought Tedisco was victorious.
Nancy Roman of Charlton said Murphy came across as more confident during the debate and Tedisco struck her as “angry” at the podium.
Roman watched the debate in one of the overflow rooms, so she wasn’t able to question the candidates. But she handed Murphy her questions as he was leaving.
Tedisco, the Assembly minority leader from Glenville, and Murphy, a venture capitalist from Glens Falls, are running to fill a seat in the House of Representatives vacated when Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Libertarian Eric Sundwall of Niverville is seeking signatures so he can get on the ballot as well, but he was not invited to the AARP debate.
The district covers all or part of 10 counties and runs as far north as Lake Placid and as far south as Poughkeepsie.