Ahead of the July 17 GOP runoff election to determine who will face Democrat Hayden Rogers in the fall contest for the 11th Congressional District seat, candidates Mark Meadows and Vance Patterson debated in Asheville. The hourlong July 9 forum was moderated by Matt Mittan and broadcast on WZGM 1350 AM during the "Take a Stand" show.
Despite a tense undertone between the candidates as they met in the studio, both candidates were largely in agreement that getting the economy back on track by cutting taxes and government spending should be the top priority in Washington.
Energy reform is key, they said. Both praised the North Carolina General Assembly for recently overriding Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of a bill that could pave the way toward legalizing fracking — a controversial form of natural gas mining — in the state. And both maintained that it can be done safely, with Patterson asserting that fears from environmentalists are unfounded.
However, they disagreed on how important natural gas was to the country's overall energy picture. Patterson emphasized that coal is a more cost effective source of power.
Both agreed that nuclear energy should also be expanded in the country. Asked by Mittan if they're worried about possible accidents transporting nuclear waste through Western North Carolina, both maintained that it can be done safely.
Later, Patterson declared, "The budget deficit is the demise of the economy." Although he said that amending the U.S. Constitution shouldn't be taken lightly, he argued that a balanced budget amendment was needed to keep spending in check.
Meanwhile, Meadows also advocated for cuts and fiscal restraint, but added that cuts at the federal level shouldn't be made "on the backs of state and local governments." If not done properly, federal spending cuts end up causing states or county commissioners to raise taxes to make up the difference, he said.
Asked about the proper role of elected officials in relation to social issues, Meadows asserted: "Our government is set up on moral absolutes." Accordingly, he said he wouldn't hesitate to act on a number of issues, including abortion, which he said should be banned in all forms. Life begins at conception, he asserted.
Paterson began by taking a slightly more libertarian approach, saying, "You've got to be very careful legislating morals." However, he quickly added that he's completely against allowing abortion, supports DOMA, and thinks Amendment One was necessary to maintain "balance."
Meadows said he thinks the Supreme Court's recent decision to maintain the legality of the Affordable Health Care Act is helping energize the GOP base. Both candidates agreed that it should be repealed.
Both candidates also appealed to supporters to come out to the polls and vote. Patterson noted that because turnout is expected to be light, each voter has a lot of power. Meanwhile, Meadows said his campaign has already made 21,000 calls to voters and knocked on 4,000 doors across the district ahead of the runoff. Encompassing wide swaths of western and northern Buncombe County, the 11th District stretches southwest all the way to Cherokee County. It's considered to be one of the most conservative areas in the state.
During the debate, the Meadows campaign sent out an email announcing the endorsement of Brevard District Attorney Jeff Hunt. Hunt finished third in the May 8 primary, garnering 14 percent of the vote compared to 38 percent for Meadows and Patterson's 24 percent.
Earlier in the day, the Rogers campaign announced that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added the race to its competitive Red to Blue program, paving the way to funnel national resources into his effort.