SBT: Walorski, Hall trade predictable political jabs in first 2nd District Congressional debate

Incumbent Republican Jackie Walorski and Democratic challenger Mel Hall tried to portray each other as being out of touch with 2nd District Hoosiers during their first debate Monday night.

Hall, who said he advocates for limiting congressional representatives to three terms, repeated two accusations most often: That Walorski, seeking her fourth term in the U.S. House, is a “career politician;” and she has voted 11 times to deny health care to those with pre-existing conditions.

Walorski often repeated a claim, as she has done in a TV ad, that Hall, before moving back to South Bend last summer, lived for five years in a million-dollar Ritz-Carlton condominium in Washington, which she repeatedly called “an ivory tower,” while he worked for a “D.C. lobbying firm.”

“I would say to him, welcome to the Indiana 2nd District,” she said. “You don’t know it, you’ll have to learn it, but I am everywhere.”

Although she didn’t name the firm in the debate, Walorski was referring to Dentons, a global law firm whose services include lobbying, with offices in Washington. Hall said he has “never lobbied a day in my life,” and, “I did not work for a lobbying firm.”

Earlier Monday, in response to The Tribune’s request for comment, a Dentons spokeswoman issued a statement that read, “Through March 2014, Mel Hall served as a senior advisor to our law firm. During his time with our law firm, Mel was not a registered lobbyist.”

Hall has told The Tribune that he lived in a Ritz-Carlton condominium in Washington, but said he was not paid for his work with Dentons. Hall advised hospitals on patient engagement and health care delivery with Dentons, his campaign spokesman told The Tribune earlier Monday.

As he has often in the campaign, Hall criticized Walorski for not having held a town hall meeting in the district.

“Five years and not a single town hall meeting,” he said. “That’s not representation, that’s absentee landlordism. No one sees her. Her goal is to make sure she meets with business owners and those that will line her pockets. That’s not what we need in our district. I think folks in the second district are awfully tired of someone who jets in and jets out, and doesn’t show up.”

While the candidates resembled each other in trying to paint the other as out of touch with voters, they staked out distinctly differing positions in answering some questions from WSBT anchor and moderator Bob Montgomery.

On gun control, Montgomery asked whether there should be a ban on the AR-15 or bump stocks. Hall called for a ban on any devices, such as bump stocks, that can allow semi-automatic guns to fire faster. Walorski didn’t specifically answer, saying, “I look at every single thing that comes in front of me and carefully consider both sides of that issue, and I’ll continue to do the same.”

On immigration, Montgomery asked whether the United States should build a wall on the Mexican border, as President Trump has advocated, and he asked whether immigrants who have lived here illegally for decades should be given amnesty or a path to citizenship.

Walorski said she supports building the wall while “protecting DACA children,” a reference to the 11 to 12 million people who immigrated to the U.S. as children of illegal immigrants. Hall said immigrants who have been in the country for a long time should be “at the front of the line” for citizenship, but he didn’t know whether a wall is “the best approach.”

The debate, the first of three planned, was televised live by WSBT-TV. The next debate is scheduled for Oct. 16 on WNDU-TV. The campaigns have yet to finalize details for the third debate.

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