OLYMPIA — Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Republican challenger Susan Hutchison sparred on topics ranging from tax cuts and trade wars to gun policy Monday in the first of two debates before next month’s election.
The one-hour debate, sponsored by the Washington State Debate Coalition, was held at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.
In opening statements, Cantwell said that that the state doesn’t need a “rubber stamp of the Trump agenda.” Hutchison countered by criticizing Cantwell’s vote against the recent tax-cut package, saying she’s “out of touch with working men and women.”
Cantwell is seeking her fourth term. Hutchison spent two decades as a Seattle TV news anchor before leading the state Republican party for five years before stepping down earlier this year.
Cantwell captured more than 54 percent of the vote on August’s primary ballot, in which she appeared with 28 challengers. Hutchison secured her spot in the general election with 24 percent of the vote.
Both women spoke in support of the #MeToo movement, but were split on their view of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in high school.
“We didn’t have a full investigation,” Cantwell said. “Given the challenges we face in society with institutions ignoring this evidence, I wanted to make sure we did not rush to curtail that investigation.”
Hutchison called the confirmation hearings a “national disgrace.”
“I blame squarely the Democrats who used this game for their own political ends,” she said.
The two candidates also differed on health care, with Hutchison saying that the Affordable Care Act has raised costs and that “the only way to lower the cost of medical care is the free market system.” Cantwell expressed concern about legal protections on pre-existing medical conditions being in jeopardy and said Republicans don’t have adequate ideas for what should replace the current law.
“No one should get cut off of health care because they don’t have insurance,” she said. “Uncompensated care runs up the cost for the rest of us.”
On the issue of trade, Cantwell criticized the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.
“We want to open up markets, not close them,” she said.
Hutchison said she’s been hearing a different sentiment from farmers who have been concerned about an uneven playing field.
“The farmers are willing to experience a little short-term pain for long-term gain,” she said.
On the issue of gun laws, Cantwell said that she supports raising the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic weapon to 21, while Hutchison said that gun control laws like those punish law-abiding gun owners. She said that more work needs to be done to address mental illness.