Congressional candidates Laura Fjeld, Mark Walker spar on ISIS, criticize Obama

In their first debate Thursday, 6th Congressional District candidates Laura Fjeld and Mark Walker both touted their bipartisan support while voicing strong criticism of each other and President Barack Obama.

The candidates are vying to succeed retiring Rep. Howard Coble in a Republican-leaning district that spans from northern Orange and Durham counties to Mount Airy.

Fjeld, a Democrat and former general counsel for the University of North Carolina system, highlighted her differences with the president on health care and the fight against the Islamic State.

“We’ve been slow to act,” Fjeld said. “This is an area where I disagree with the president very strongly.”

Fjeld argued that Walker, a Republican and former Baptist minister, is “weak on ISIS” because he didn’t name the group as America’s top threat in a primary debate. Both said the U.S. should consider a range of options, including sending soldiers to the region.

“If (military leaders) come and put a package together, we need to act on it,” Walker said, adding that his earlier comment was made when “no one was talking about ISIS.”

Fjeld also criticized Walker for his comments this summer suggesting a “laser blitz” military action in Mexico. “Bombing Mexico is way out there,” she said.

Walker clarified the comments, which he has previously said were made in jest. “I was talking about the drug cartels and going and using force,” he said, adding that Fjeld’s attacks seem inconsistent. “I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea that you can laser blitz people and be soft on them at the same time.”

Who’s bipartisan? Both touted themselves as the candidate with bipartisan support. Walker cited his endorsements from county sheriffs and a prominent Greensboro pastor who’s a Democrat. Fjeld noted support from the N.C. Farm Bureau and the Professional Firefighters of Greensboro, which Walker dismissed as a union.

On health care: Both voiced criticism of the Affordable Care Act, with Fjeld calling its bumpy launch “a disgrace” and Walker vowing to fight corporate mandates that he said are killing jobs. He said he wants to go “line by line and flip some of the damaging things.” Fjeld said she’d support changes to allow people to keep existing insurance plans and eliminate a tax on high-end plans.

On immigration: Both candidates said they oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants and hope that Congress will approve an immigration reform bill. “The president does not have the authority to bypass Congress,” Walker said of a possible executive order from Obama. Fjeld said it’s “much preferable for the president to work with the Congress” but stopped short of opposing an executive order.