SOUTH BEND – Residents of the 2nd Congressional District tuned in Monday night to the first debate between incumbent U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski and Democratic challenger Mel Hall.
Moderated by Bob Montgomery and broadcast live from WSBT in South Bend, the debate focused on issues including immigration, health care and gun laws.
Both candidates accused one another of caring more about special interests than Indiana constituents. The district includes most of La Porte County (except for a narrow strip down the western edge including Michigan City, Westville, Wanatah and LaCrosse.)
“Five years and not a single town hall meeting. That’s not representation, that’s absentee landlordism,” said Hall, claiming Walorski does not spend enough time talking to people in the district.
“I’ve never stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, let alone lived there,” said Walorski, who attacked Hall for living and voting in Washington, D.C., for five years and working for the global law firm Dentons, which she claimed is a lobbying firm.
Walorski said she is working to allow health care insurance competition across state borders, which some hope will bring down prices.
Hall blamed Walorski for not putting children and people with pre-existing conditions first so they would not have to live in what he called health care limbo.
Another big issue was immigration, including President Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.
“I don’t know whether the border wall is the best approach,” said Hall, who said he would like to examine more options.
“I do believe in building a border wall, absolutely,” Walorski said. “I support the president in that.”
The Las Vegas shooting of Oct. 1, 2017, which killed 58 people, also came up, as Montgomery asked the candidates their opinions on banning bump stocks.
“I’ve always supported and still support the ban of automatic weapons,” Walorski said, not giving a direct answer.
“I fully support the 2nd Amendment,” said Hall, who also said bump stocks “should be banned immediately.”
Elkhart County Republican Party Secretary Debbie Johnson said after the debate that she did not think Hall was fair in accusing Walorski of not being in her district.
“I got a little bit tired of hearing the words ‘career politician’ a lot,” Johnson said. “She’s out and about and I know that for a fact.”
She liked the Republican tax cuts, which Hall said do not make a big difference for middle-class and working-class people.
“I’m not rich, but to me every dollar helps,” Johnson said.
Andrew Galo, Hall’s communications director, had a different take.
“It’s clear that she’s got a failed record,” Galo said of the incumbent. “There’s a clear choice in this election, and it was on full display tonight. Throughout the debate he’s shown he’s a pragmatic person who’s going to listen to his constituents, and he’s not gonna tow the party line. Every answer he had tonight showed he’s gonna take input from local voters.”
Both sides claimed victory in the debate.
“Without a doubt, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski won tonight’s debate against Mel Hall,” said Michael Joyce, Republican National Committee spokesman for Indiana. “Walorski continues to serve Hoosiers well because she is constantly visiting and listening to them and understands that her constituents want someone who will deliver results for them in Washington as opposed to obstructing and resisting everything in sight.
“Make no mistake about it; if Mel Hall wins in November he will repeal your tax cut, raise your taxes, proceed with impeachment hearings for President Trump and Judge Kavanaugh, and go along with everything else currently sitting on the Nancy Pelosi agenda.”
Hall’s campaign manager Max Harris, countered, “This debate clearly showed that Hall’s vision of protecting health care, protecting your privacy, and cleaning up Congress is the future that Hoosiers in the 2nd District want.
“There’s a clear choice in this election between Jackie Walorski, a career politician with a failed record on health care, and Mel Hall, a proven problem solver who will work across the aisle and get results. That choice was on full display tonight.”