In their only debate before next Tuesday’s election, the two men vying to represent a Midlands congressional district offered starkly differing visions of where the country and the 2nd District are going, and where they are now.
For U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, the country is moving in the right direction. He credits a booming economy and low jobless rates to the tax cuts passed last year by a Republican Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.
“It’s a situation of promises made, promises kept,” Wilson said.
Democratic candidate Sean Carrigan, on the other hand, argued Tuesday that Wilson’s seniority — he has represented the 2nd District since 2001 — has not produced tangible improvements for the district, which includes all of Lexington County and part of Richland County.
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“It’s clear Joe votes with big corporate donors and special interests,” Carrigan said. “The 2nd District is in worse shape than it was 17 years ago. … It’s time for Joe to go.”
The candidates faced off at River Bluff High School in a forum organized by the students in the school’s Center for Law and Global Policy Development. It was the only head-to-head contest scheduled between Carrigan and Wilson before Election Day.
The two clashed right off the bat over one of the most controversial issues in the closing weeks of the election — the migrant caravan approaching the U.S. border from Mexico.
Wilson said Trump was right to deploy soldiers to the border to deny the caravan entry into the United States. The roughly 4,000 migrants, 1,000 miles south of the U.S. border, could include “MS-13 gang members and narco-terrorists,” the Republican said.
But Carrigan, an Army veteran and Chapin real estate agent, said the people in the caravan are fleeing violence in Central America in hopes of asylum, and the United States should react to them humanely.
“It’s premature to tout that kind of rhetoric to bring up fear in our electoral season,” Carrigan said, referring to Wilson. “To get Americans to think there is some kind of problem is just wrong.”
Carrigan also said he thinks Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and is attempting to intervene in the 2018 election as well. He said Wilson and other Republicans have not taken the Russian threat seriously enough, citing a lack of action to improve voter security by the Republican-controlled Congress.
Wilson said he thinks the Russians interfered, but their efforts did not ultimately affect the outcome of the Trump-won election, adding the Russians were not “uniformly for one candidate.”
Carrigan said Wilson was “muddying the waters” around Russia’s intent — supporting Trump.
“We have made every effort to make sure if there are any violations, we have fair elections that are honestly conducted and fairly counted,” Wilson said.
On tariffs, Carrigan argued the president’s trade policies targeting other nations are hurting S.C. businesses and workers.
Wilson said he does not agree with the tariffs but thinks they have been a successful negotiating tactic for Trump, winning new trade deals with Canada and Mexico, and forcing European Union officials to say they would move away from tariffs all together.
On other issues, Carrigan said he would support national efforts to create a universal “Medicare-for-All” health-care option and, gradually, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
However, Wilson said he worries a higher minimum wage only would speed the move toward mechanization to replace more costly workers. On health care, he touted “free market” approaches, including buying health insurance across state lines.
He also reminded the audience, “We came within one vote of repealing Obamacare.”
The two candidates had some less contentious moments as well.
Both said they support arms sanctions against Saudi Arabia in response to the apparent state-backed killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and frequent critic of the Saudi government.
“That’s not amazing,” Wilson said of the two men’s agreement. “We’re Americans, and we want what’s best. We’re both Army veterans ourselves.”