From the level of yelling, name-calling and personal attacks, observers of a Congressional District 3 debate at Rio Rico High Wednesday might have felt more like they were back in grade school.
Republican Gabriela Saucedo Mercer called Rep. Raúl Grijalva's record "pathetic" and accused him of resorting to the "race card" to win re-election.
Grijalva, the only one of the three who refrained from shouting back at his opponents, countered that Saucedo Mercer likes to dish it out, but can't take criticism.
"She loves to beat the drum of the boycott, like a dead horse," Grijalva said, referring to his 2010 call to boycott Arizona because of the state's immigration law, SB 1070.
But referencing Saucedo Mercer's recent comments about Middle Easterners being unwelcome, he said, "If we raise any question about the impropriety of a comment, suddenly it's a conspiracy by Grijalva and Obama."
When it was Libertarian Blanca Guerra's turn, she called Saucedo Mercer ignorant and intolerant toward immigrants. She also questioned Saucedo Mercer's grasp of the English language.
Saucedo Mercer, who like Guerra is an immigrant from Mexico, sometimes struggled finding the right words to convey her message. For example, at one point she said she didn't want her daughter, a Marine, or other U.S. soldiers to be "well-equipped." She meant "ill-equipped."
Saucedo Mercer responded by questioning Guerra's allegiance to the United States because she has dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship.
Between the finger-pointing, the three found little common ground but showed about 100 audience members their different positions on a few key issues.
ON HEALTH-CARE overhaul
Saucedo Mercer and Guerra said they'd vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known by detractors as Obamacare.
Grijalva said he supports the health plan and would add a strong insurance premium rate review rule, a public option to compete with private insurance and funding for doctor training programs.
ON THE BUDGET
Candidates were asked whether they support budget put forth by Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's GOP running mate.
Saucedo Mercer said the Ryan budget "makes a lot of sense."
Grijalva and Guerra said they don't support the Ryan budget.
Grijalva called the Ryan budget unfair and abusive. "It's not about austerity. It's not about a balanced budget," he said. "It is about creating a government that is minimalist and creating a government where the richest 2 percent get the biggest breaks."
ON GAS AND OIL SUBSIDIES
Grijalva said gas and oil companies "don't need a break from the American taxpayer to make those profits."
Guerra is opposed to the subsidies and asked Grijalva why he hasn't put a stop to them. Grijalva responded that he has consistently voted against them.
Saucedo Mercer denied the gas and oil industries receive any subsidies. Grijalva responded that tax breaks are subsidies.
ON THE PORT OF ENTRY
Candidates were asked how they could help Congress recognize the economic importance of the Mariposa Port of Entry and get adequate staffing for efficient movement of trade and tourism.
Guerra said she would revisit the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encourages cross-border commerce. She said she would find the money for staffing by cutting the budgets of unneeded agencies.
Saucedo Mercer blamed staffing cuts on the Obama administration.
Grijalva said: "It's been a consistent point of mine that this whole discussion of border policy and immigration has been skewed to only talk about enforcement, talk about walls, talk about sealing the border. And in the process, most of the funding from the Department of Homeland Security is added to that enforcement side, neglecting commerce and trade."
ON GUN SMUGGLING
Candidates were asked about Mexican President Felipe Calderón's request for help from the U.S. on solving the gun-smuggling problem.
Grijalva said the Obama administration's counternarcotics strategy includes a robust Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. But he said Congress should also close loopholes, such as regulations for buying guns at gun shows. He said Fast and Furious was an ill-conceived and badly implemented strategy.
Guerra said the government should focus on drug cartels as the root of the problem. She said more U.S. support should be given to Mexico to tackle gun smuggling.
Saucedo Mercer said, "The reason we have these problems is Representative Grijalva has not done his job securing our borders." She said the ATF botched the Fast and Furious program.
On StarNet: Read up on the candidates, propositions and issues at azstarnet. com/elections
CD 3 candidate forum
• When: 6 p.m. Oct. 9
• Where: Pima Community College's West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road
• On TV: On Arizona Public Media Oct. 10
Contact reporter Becky Pallack at email@example.com or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.