SEATTLE — Republican Chris Vance blamed Sen. Patty Murray for congressional dysfunction that has driven up the national debt while the Democrat spoke of her bipartisan work to break budget impasses and her push to invest in Washington’s economy as the two sparred Sunday night in their first debate.
In an hour-long meeting at Gonzaga University in Spokane, the two candidates took questions about issues ranging from the minimum wage to Syrian refugees. Vance, a former state GOP chairman, repeatedly criticized Murray for being part of a Capitol culture that “is broken.”
“Senator Murray talks about Washington D.C. like she’s never been there,” Vance said. “Patty Murray is part of the problem.”
Vance, who made headlines earlier this year when he forcefully denounced Donald Trump, his own party’s presidential nominee, also had harsh words for Republicans. He said the GOP has failed by not offering something to replace the federal health care law passed by President Barack Obama.
“My party, the Republicans, have not been responsible and stepped up’ to offer alternative,” said Vance, who decried ideas that Murray supports like a public government insurance option as too expensive. He did, however, say he backed government subsidies for needy people to buy health insurance.
Murray, seeking her fifth term, touted her work in 2013 with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to end a federal budget stalemate in 2013 as an example of how she gets things done in a divisive environment.
“Like most people, I get pretty frustrated with the dysfunction and gridlock,” Murray said.
The Democrat said a difference between her and Vance was that she wanted to invest in the middle class to grow the state’s economy and pointed to spending money on things like education, worker retraining, ensuring paid sick leave and improving education as ways to improve people’s lives.
Vance, who has also served as a state representative and a King County Councilman, said he would work to bring down the national debt, promote international trade and reduce regulation.
One point of disagreement was over raising the minimum wage. Murray said she is promoting legislation that would increase the hourly federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020 so people “can get ahead in the country.”
Vance agreed that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 was too low, but said raising it “too far, too fast” would hurt small businesses and didn’t make sense for all areas of the country.
The two candidates also faced questions about regional issues in Eastern Washington. On the whether they would protect Fairchild Airforce Base near Spokane if it was targeted in future base closings they both said they would, saying it was strategically important. Vance said he would fight for ranchers and farmers and to force the federal government to clean up the contaminated Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Murray spoke of investments in the education, agriculture and wine industries.
Asked about admitting refugees into the United States from war-torn Syria, Murray said “we are a country who has never turned our back on people seeking help” and added refugees face rigorous background checks. Vance said he initially supported relocation efforts but changed his mind after deadly Paris terror attacks and said the FBI has said refugees “can’t be adequately vetted.”
Though they disagreed about many issues Murray and Vance engaged in a cordial debate, something they both said they hoped they’d be able to accomplish in light of the nasty presidential election.
“Like everyone I am so appalled by the behavior of this election,” Murray said. “We need to return respect to our dialogue.”
Vance, who is at a decided fundraising disadvantage against Murray, is trying to become the first Republican elected to the Senate from Washington since 1992.
Murray and Vance will meet for their second debate Oct. 23 in Redmond.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the last quote to Vance instead of Murray.