COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.-- In just two weeks, Democratic congressional candidates in the 19th district will face off in a primary. The winner will then challenge incumbent Republican, Rep. John Faso, in November's general election.
The man who funded Tuesday night's debate between the seven candidates in Cooperstown knew exactly what he wanted the night to provide for voters.
"People had a chance to see all of them individually, but now they have a chance to see them all together and see how they interact with each other," Richard Sternberg, the debate's coordinator said. "The purpose here is really to find out who's going to be the best candidate to compete against John Faso."
With that premise, each of the seven Democrats vying for the 19th district seat wrote a question to ask of their competitors. The candidates appeared to stick with topics that fell within their expertise.
"Please name one or two specific programs within the defense budget, which is now almost $700 billion dollars, that you would cut," asked Iraq War veteran Patrick Ryan. "We need a leader in Congress who can stand up and say 'I have served and we need to cut our defense spending.' That is for the good of this whole country."
"When it comes to our defense spending, $125 billion in waste," Antonio Delgado, another candidate answered. "Because we're spending money on wars of the past, as opposed to thinking about how we can allocate our resources to defend ourselves from conflict of the future, particularly when it comes to matters of cyber security."
Ryan commended Delgado and candidate Jeff Beals for their ability to cite specific figures and programs.
Erin Collier, an economist and product of a family farm followed suit with a question related to her past: agriculture.
"We have to put in place better funding for the milk program that is going to support dairy farmers," Collier said. "The amount that dairy farmers are receiving from that program has not increased since the 1990s. So their costs are going up and they're not receiving any additional support."
Others highlighted their deep connections to the region.
"What community volunteer service have you done to district 19 communities?" candidate David Clegg asked. "John Faso is somebody who has violated every rule that I can think of as a politician. He's betrayed us on all the issues we care about, whether it be women's rights or the environment or Wall Street regulation."
Beals continued with this theme, arguing that only he and Clegg actually lived in the district in 2016 to vote against Faso.
"My family's had a farm in the Hudson Valley since childhood and if you would have caught me just a few years ago, I was spending my days raising Bourbon Red Heritage turkeys," Beals, who is also a teacher, said. "I'm going to step forward, out of my classroom to run for Congress because I believe we have a moment now where we must address the defining issue of our time, and that is income inequality.'
"It'll tell the voters what's really important to the candidate," debate moderator and SUNY Poly political science professor Steve Schneider said. "I think this is one of the top 20 most competitive house races in the country."
That competitive element meant the candidates criticized President Donald Trump as much as their Republican opponent, Faso.
"It's not about Donald Trump, it's about the reasons Donald Trump was allowed to happen," candidate Brian Flynn said. "My campaign is about a plan, a plan to address those things that allowed Donald Trump to happen. It's a plan for the American worker."
"John Faso actually sits on the budget committee," candidate Gareth Rhodes said. "When Trump was proposing to slash the state department budget and increase the defense department budget, he praised it."
"Trump, I think that's what it's all about," democratic voter George Hymas said. "People want a change."
"I'm sure there's a group of people who are energized by their dislike of him rather than genuine interest in politics," Rick Jagels, a Republican voter, said.
The Democratic primary is June 26.
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