PHOENIX — Republican congressional challenger Andy Tobin blamed incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick Wednesday for everything from higher health-care premiums to the problems in the Veterans Administration health-care system.

And he said she wants to bring terrorists to this country.

“Congresswoman Kirkpatrick voted to close Gitmo,” he said, a reference to the prison on U.S. property at the edge of Cuba, “which means we’re looking at putting terrorists on U.S. soil,” he said during Wednesday’s televised debate.

But Kirkpatrick fired back, taking Tobin to task on his record as state House speaker, including his role in cutting funds for education and legislative approval of SB 1062, which would have allowed business owners to refuse service to some based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The Tobin attack mirrored what has been the theme of both his campaign and Republican groups in their bid reclaim the sprawling 1st Congressional District: Whatever voters don’t like about President Obama they should blame on Kirkpatrick, who has been “carrying his baggage.”

“I think it’s clear that Congresswoman Kirkpatrick stands with President Obama,” he said. “And I think that’s part of the critical crisis we’re going through in rural Arizona today.”

That includes the problems within the VA health-care system, which he said “happened on her watch.” The fact that changes are being made is hardly a reason to return her to office, he said.

Tobin said the state had no choice but to cut education spending because, unlike the federal government, Arizona cannot print money.

But Kirkpatrick said Tobin and the Republicans who control the Legislature and approved both spending cuts and tax cuts that are now taking effect got it backwards. And she said the proof is that, even after all that, Arizona’s jobless rate remains much higher than the national average.

“The way you do budgeting is you set your priorities, and you build your taxes around that,” she said. “It’s not just tax cuts.”

“You refused to provide the funding for our most vulnerable children” she said, a reference to some spending cuts — since reversed — to the state’s child-welfare program, “and for education and good schools. That’s what businesses are going to look at if they’re going to come to Arizona.”

Tobin, however, insisted the reason Arizona’s economy has not recovered as well as other states is because “Washington’s got its foot on our throat.”

He cited new EPA regulations, as well as the fact that Congress has not approved the necessary land-swap legislation for the proposed Resolution Copper Co. mine near Superior.

He acknowledged Kirkpatrick has been a supporter of the measure. “But (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid won’t move it off his desk,” Tobin said.

Kirkpatrick said Tobin needs to accept blame for SB 1062, which “almost cost us the Super Bowl,” she said, with the proposal derailed only by Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto.

And Kirkpatrick said opposition by Tobin and other Republicans to comprehensive immigration reform also hurts economic development.

Tobin defended his stance, saying the bipartisan legislation that was presented to Congress and failed amounted to a “pathway to citizenship.”

He said he is unwilling to support any measure that does not require the border to be secure before there are moves to providing legal status for the estimated 11 million people in this country without papers.

“You can’t sit across the table from this president, shake his hand and believe he’s going to tell you the truth when he says he’s going to secure the border,” Tobin said. “It isn’t going to happen.”

Tobin did say he would back some method of ensuring that immigrants brought here illegally as children can remain.

“I have a problem with sending children back to countries they’ve never been from and languages they’ve never known,” he said. But he said that discussion should take place only when the border is secure.

Kirkpatrick did get in a last-minute shot at Tobin, pointing out that his home in Paulden is just outside the district, meaning “he can’t vote for himself.” There is no requirement for congressional candidates to live within the district.