U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson and his 19th Congressional District opponent, Sean Eldridge, squared off Thursday in a televised debate at WMHT in North Greenbush, with the challenger questioning the Republican incumbent’s moderate credentials and Gibson attacking the Democrat as a newcomer who is misleading voters.
“He doesn’t want to talk about his voting record,” said Eldridge, a 28-year-old from Shokan, Ulster County.
“He is spending millions of dollars of his own family fortune running these ads that are false,” charged Gibson, 50, of Kinderhook, Columbia County.
A flashpoint arose over the issue of gay marriage — the first time in this campaign the question has risen in a public forum. The late emergence is somewhat of a surprise since Eldridge is openly gay and married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, publisher of the New Republic.
Gibson said he favors “civil unions for all. I’m for upholding equal protection for all.” Eldridge has been a vocal advocate of same-sex marriage.
“If it was up to Chris Gibson, I wouldn’t be married today,” Eldridge said. “If you want to be a moderate, you have to fight for everyone.”
After the debate, Gibson said he thinks all marriages should be left for religious institutions, and governments should recognize civil unions.
“It sounds like 2005, not 2014,” Eldridge said afterward of the civil unions position.
WMHT hosted the debate as a special episode of the series “New York NOW.” Matt Ryan served as moderator alongside panelists Karen DeWitt, Casey Seiler and Dan Levy.
In one exchange, the candidates were asked to rate President Obama’s job performance. Gibson, the Republican, gave the president a 6. Eldridge, the Democrat, gave him a “4 or 5,” but Congress a zero.
Gibson is a decorated Army veteran and academic seeking a third two-year term. Eldridge is running for office for the first time. The incumbent has repeatedly pointed out that Eldridge recently relocated to the district and is inexperienced in public service.
“It’s a clear contrast of roots, experience and results,” Gibson said.
Gibson attacked Eldridge for saying he would not have voted for the Farm Bill, which the challenger said cut nutritional assistance too much. The two found common ground in questioning Common Core. Both favor raising the federal minimum wage, although Gibson believes $9 is doable.
“This Congress seems happy with the status quo — with inaction,” Eldridge said. “I want to bring some new energy, some new blood.”
Gibson countered: “Look at the bills that I have introduced that have Democratic co-sponsors,” stating he has provided “leadership that gets things done.”
Polls show Gibson with a sizable lead over Eldridge in a congressional district that covers Sullivan, Ulster, Delaware, Otsego, Greene, Columbia and Schoharie counties, as well as parts of Dutchess, Rensselaer and Montgomery counties. An internal Gibson poll released Thursday has the incumbent leading by 26 points, nearly mirroring a mid-September Siena Research Institute poll that had Gibson up 57-33 percent. The Siena polls also had Gibson boasting a 62 percent favorable rating.