The two major party candidates vying to represent Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District discussed inflation, health care costs, student loans, public transportation, abortion rights and their shared love of submarines during a televised debate on Monday night.
The event gave voters in eastern Connecticut their first opportunity to watch Democratic incumbent Joe Courtney, who has served in Congress for more than 15 years, face off against his Republican challenger Mike France, who has held a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly since 2015.
The debate, which was hosted by Connecticut Public Broadcasting and sponsored by the League of Women Voters, offered both candidates opportunities to touch on issues they were eager to highlight and exploit.
For France, it was inflation and immigration policy. For Courtney, it was access to abortion and federal investments in his district, which covers more than 60 towns and cities in the eastern part of the state.
Like many Republicans running for office this year, France leapt at the first opportunity to discuss the rising costs of food, gas and other consumer items. And he quickly tried to place the blame for those inflationary effects on President Joe Biden and the Democratic majorities in Congress, which passed a stimulus bill, a large infrastructure spending package and, most recently, a bill focused on investments to combat climate change.
France argued that the current rate of inflation was due to the “infusion of trillions of dollars into the economy with no economic basis for it.”
Courtney countered by arguing that he and his party were working to alleviate the financial pain of inflation for working-class Americans by providing additional assistance through things like increased Social Security payments. He also noted the recent Inflation Reduction Act, which will offer people financial aid to help install new heating systems in their homes.
Still, Courtney said he was “not under any illusion” that the problem of inflation was solved.
France may have felt more comfortable fielding the question on inflation, but that seemed to change quickly when the issue of abortion rights was raised.
France, who celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade alongside anti-abortion groups earlier this year, denied that he supported a “complete ban on abortion.” And he said that he wanted abortion access to be something that was decided at the state level.
But he was quickly challenged on that point by Courtney, who cited an earlier interview in which France said he supported a federal bill that would prevent any abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In contrast, Courtney noted his vote in the 1990s to codify Roe vs Wade into law in the Connecticut Legislature, and he went after France for his support of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill, which would disrupt Connecticut’s pro-abortion laws.
“That’s not what the people of this state or this district wants,” Courtney added.
Many of the other topics during the debate elicited less animated responses. But they still highlighted some similarities and differences between the two men.
Neither one of them, for instance, seemed to want to weigh in on President Biden’s recent announcement that he would seek to forgive the student loans of more than 38 million Americans, including nearly half a million Connecticut residents.
Instead, they chose to discuss other issues related to higher education costs. They talked about the need to ensure that college students eventually earn a degree and ruminated about whether the federal government should be collecting interest on the student loans it continues to finance.
On health care, they stood at odds. France said he wanted to see less government involvement in health care, where Courtney promoted a bill he sponsored that would reduce the eligibility age for Medicare to 55.
When it came to energy and climate change, they both announced their support for nuclear power in the United States and opening up drilling off the coast of Alaska, which was included in recent federal legislation.
They differed, however, on the role of solar and wind energy.
France said he thought those energy sources were too expensive and received too many tax incentives. Courtney pointed out that oil and gas producers have received large government incentives for decades, and he emphasized that solar and wind would be needed to decarbonize the American economy and combat climate change.
And when it came to national security issues, the two candidates were not that far apart. They both agreed that Russia and China presented problems for the United States and its allies.
And they both had the same solution to countering those perceived threats. The country needed to pay Electric Boat, a major employer in their district, to build more nuclear submarines at its manufacturing facility in New London.
The two submarines that are currently produced every year, they agreed, is not nearly enough.