The candidates in the tightening Congressional District 7 race gave voters some clear choices in a nearly two-hour debate in Rio Rico on Wednesday night.

Republican hopeful Ruth McClung would support privatizing Social Security, saying people deserve a choice in how they invest their money, whether they choose the current program, savings bonds or the stock market. U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva wouldn't, saying it's too risky and pointing to the recent meltdown in investment portfolios as evidence.

McClung supports school vouchers, saying parents deserve a choice. Grijalva doesn't. "That will further rob our public schools of the resources they need to educate our children," he said.

McClung supports a permanent Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 19 near Tubac, while Grijalva said mobility is important in making the checkpoint effective.

And while Grijalva said the border is more secure now than it has been in the past, McClung said the border is far from safe. "So far, all we seem to be getting from the federal government is lawsuits, and on top of that, we're getting boycotts," she said, contending her opponent's early call for economic sanctions over Arizona's new immigration law damaged the state.

The debate, which also included independent Harley Meyer, came as the nationally respected, nonpartisan Cook Political Report dubbed the race a "tossup" and as the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been forced to spend money in a district that had long been considered safe.

Grijalva, other than saying the state's economic woes cannot be laid exclusively at his feet, did not directly address his decision earlier this year to call for a limited boycott of conventions and conferences in the wake of the passage of the state's controversial immigration law.

But he did make oblique references to it, telling the polite and attentive audience of about 120 that representation is different from being "a potted plant." He said it means taking risks, and he'll face judgment day on Nov. 2. "That's the process and I respect it," he said. "But as a representative, you can't just put your finger in the wind and decide what your position is going to be at that moment."

The two parted ways on congressional earmarks as well. McClung said more control over the state's resources should be placed at the local level, since the money tends to be funneled to areas of the state with larger voting blocs. She said that's why Tucson gets money for a trolley, while other areas can't get funds for water-treatment plants or railroad underpasses to speed access for ambulances.

Grijalva said earmarks have allowed him to bring home money to support veterans, schools and university projects. And he disagreed with McClung about more of the control being at the local level, saying schools are begging for money through overrides, and cities are scrambling to maintain core services.

Asked whether they would support changing the 14th Amendment to withhold citizenship from children born to illegal immigrants, McClung said she wasn't sure, that it would need more study and that it ultimately would be a court decision.

Grijalva said the issue already has been litigated in the courts and that it's merely a further attempt to divide voters.

While both said they would try to work with the other party, Meyer said his role as an independent allows him the flexibility to truly work in a nonpartisan fashion and to avoid being pressured by leadership to support legislation he didn't like.

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Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or