Televised debates between incumbent Democratic congressmen and their Republican challengers highlighted the stark differences between candidates vying to represent Triangle residents in Washington next term.
In back-to-back events Saturday, competitors accused one another of being cagey about their positions and distorting one another's words.
The debates focused on domestic issues such as the new health care law, the federal budget, Social Security and unemployment benefits.
Republican Renee Ellmers, a registered nurse who manages her husband's medical practice in Dunn, described herself as "a citizen candidate" and "not a longtime political hack, so to speak."
She disagreed with U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Democrat and seven-term incumbent from Lillington, on the value of the new federal health care law.
A self-described tea party conservative, Ellmers said the law is too expensive, and she vowed to seeks its repeal and create free-market solutions.
The people of the 2nd U.S. House District "are going to give and give and give to keep this massive health care bill in place," she said. The largely rural 2nd District includes parts of Wake, Chatham, Harnett, Johnston and other central North Carolina counties.
Etheridge said that the law isn't perfect but repealing it would mean that insurance companies would again deny coverage to sick children and that elderly people would lose help paying for prescription drugs.
Health care costs doubled in the past seven years with insurance companies in charge, he said.
Etheridge supported the more than $1 billion the federal government sent the state to help pay for education, saying the money has helped teachers remain employed.
"Those dollars are critical dollars right now," he said, though he doubted that level of financial support could continue.
Ellmers did not support the spending.
"That's wrong," she said. "The state needs to balance its own budget."
13th District debate
In the other contest Saturday, Bill Randall, a U.S. Navy retiree who lives in Wake Forest, challenged four-term incumbent Brad Miller of Raleigh. They are vying to represent the 13th U.S. House District, which stretches from Raleigh through counties on the Virginia border and into Greensboro.
Each candidate said the other was not expressing his real views in the debate.
Miller, a Democrat, said Randall wants student loans eliminated, opposes federal small-business loans and wants to privatize Social Security.
"He has said flat-out that he wants to eliminate Pell grants and student loans" and not have people younger than 50 pay into the Social Security system, Miller said.
Randall, a Republican who won his primary with tea party backing, called Miller's student loan claim "preposterous."
"I have student loans," he said. "My children have student loans."
On Social Security, Randall said benefits for retirees and workers nearing retirement should be guaranteed, but younger workers should be able to put their Social Security tax contributions into private investment accounts.
The hourlong debates were sponsored by NBC 17 and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. Kim Genardo was the host.
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