A large crowd at the Congressional District 1 debate Monday night revived the raucous spirit of 2010 when the candidates discussed the inflammatory issue of health care.
Republican Jonathan Paton initially drew cheers when he said the Affordable Care Act "is more responsible for tearing apart our economy across this state and the country than almost any other action."
But his critics in the crowd increasingly jeered as he stated his support for repealing and replacing the act.
"Replace it with what?" one man in the crowd repeatedly shouted.
The debate at Legacy Traditional School reflected the partisan divisions in this hotly contested congressional district, which stretches from Marana through Pinal County to the New Mexico and Utah borders, including Casa Grande, Flagstaff and the Navajo reservation.
Democrats account for about 39 percent of registered voters in the district, while Republicans make up 31 percent and independents constitute 30 percent.
The campaigns and outside groups have already spent millions trying to capture the seat, left open when U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar chose to run in the new Congressional District 4.
As Paton went on to call the Affordable Care Act "one of the largest tax increases in the nation's history," jeers and shouts of "You're lying!" came from the crowd.
Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick defended her vote for the act, when she was in Congress in 2010, by saying "It's not perfect, but kids with pre-existing conditions like asthma can get on their parents' health insurance."
Libertarian Kim Allen said he prefers a "single-payer" health plan and therefore would have voted against the bill in Congress, but does not support repealing it now.
As the debate progressed and turned testy at times, Allen often provided comic relief. Asked about a solution to "the $5 per gallon gas crisis," Allen said, "I'd go out and buy a car that got better gas mileage."
Asked whether they have taken the "no-new-taxes" pledge requested by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Paton said he had.
"I have signed the pledge to my district that I will not raise taxes," he said.
"The only pledge I take is the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag," Kirkpatrick retorted.
Allen said he considers it "wrong" to make a pledge to anyone other than his constituents.
Throughout the debate, the major-party candidates hammered home images of themselves.
For Paton, it was the image of him as a man who will serve as a check against the power of the executive branch.
For Kirkpatrick, it was the image of her as a moderate who will ignore party labels in pursuing the good of the district.
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Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org