Democrat Ron Barber, left, and Republican Jesse Kelly laugh over a microphone malfunction during the opening remarks of the U.S. Congressional District 8 special election debate at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, Wed. May 23, 2012, Tucson, Ariz. 

Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star

Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly got to ask each other one question tonight in their only live debate of the campaign to fill Gabrielle Giffords’ former seat in Congress.

A full house of 450 people at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, which hosted the debate sponsored by the Arizona Daily Star, then heard the two spar over Social Security/Medicare protection and the health-care law signed by President Obama.

Barber asked Kelly why he used to say “for the past three years” that Social Security and Medicare were “Ponzi schemes” that needed to be phased out, but those suggestions have since “mysteriously” disappeared from his website.

Kelly responded that his website changed because “once again, the other camp has chosen to lie to seniors to get elected ... to lie that I would ever touch” the benefits for seniors who have earned them. Kelly said he wants future generations to have a choice between “a personal account or a government system.”

Barber commented, “Jesse, I just think it would be great if you would ... man up and say, ‘I’ve changed my position’ ... ”

When it was his turn to ask his rival a question, Kelly asked Barber to declare who he’ll vote for in November for president, and Barber — although a Democrat with an incumbent president of his party — refused, saying he’s focused on his own campaign.

Kelly used that demurral as an opportunity to say Barber won’t even admit that he supports Obama and “Obamacare,” a law that Kelly described as terrible.

“My biggest fear is Mr. Obama’s job-killing policies,” Kelly said.

Barber later retorted that his biggest fear is Kelly’s “extreme policies.”

Green Party candidate Charlie Manolakis also participated, stealing the spotlight midway through the 75-minute debate when he proposed using camels to help with border security rather than horses.

Voters will choose among the three in the June 12 special election to complete the few months left in Giffords' term. Early ballots went out a week ago.

Read more of this story Thursday in the Arizona Daily Star and on StarNet — including the candidates' comments on border security, gun rights, the proposed Rosemont Mine and much more.