U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney and challenger Joyce Knott launched a two-day campaign blitz Tuesday with back-to-back debates in Lancaster and York where their positions on how to overcome the nation’s debt and deficits while helping those who are still struggling came into stark contrast.
The tone of both debates was set early at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster, where Knott, a Democrat who has never run for public office but campaigned for former Congressman John Spratt, did not shy away from criticizing Mulvaney, a Republican from Indian Land serving his first term representing South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District.
In her opening statement, Knott said that Mulvaney has the backing of the “infamous Koch brothers” who have “poured money into campaigns of politicians who support their business interests.” She also criticized Mulvaney for signing lobbyist Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes.
“The nonsense about tax cuts for the wealthy creating jobs is getting old,” she said. “History has proven that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. It’s a fairy tale, it’s a joke and the joke is on all of us.”
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Mulvaney did not go on the defensive. In his opening statements, he applauded Knott for running and giving the public an opportunity to hear a Democrat and Republican have a debate about the issues facing the country. The country lacks “good people” who want to run for office and decides “too many things” in primary elections where voters seek out the most conservative and liberal candidates, he said.
“I don’t think folks realize how hard it is to do this, to put your name on a ballot and to go out and put your name on signs and recognize the fact that as soon as you do it, there’s going to be a bunch of people who don’t know you, who don’t like you.”
Despite Congress’ poor approval ratings, Mulvaney said he’s done what voters sent him to Washington to do: not to change, to return to the district, and to tell them what’s going on. He’s held 35 town halls and has contributed to changing the conversation in Washington, he said.
“At least we’re no longer talking about nationalized health care, or stimulus, or bailouts – we’re talking about debts and deficits.”
Though Republicans and Democrats have different ideas for how to address those problems, “At least we’re singing off the same page,” he said. “I consider that to be a victory and a move in the right direction.”
The next step, he said, is “to get the government back to something we can understand, help create that environment for growth.”
Mulvaney blamed gridlock partly on the “mixed messages” voters sent in 2008, in sending “one of the most liberal men to the White House,” then in 2010, sending “one of the most conservative groups of freshmen” to the U.S. House of Representatives. But he also said the president’s leadership has been lacking.
Knott disagreed, saying Obama has “taken the lead,” especially on health care and equality for women in the workplace. On how she’d approach gridlock, Knott said “I would not go there and sign a pledge before I get to Washington.”
The candidates also differed on whether Congress should renew an extension of unemployment insurance benefits.
The question should be, “Is it designed to be a permanent benefit, or is it designed as something to hold you over between jobs?” Mulvaney said, adding that almost two years of benefits “has had a terrible effect on our culture.”
Mulvaney visited a manufacturer in Gaffney that was trying to go from two to three shifts and couldn’t “because they couldn’t find people to work,” he said. When the manager would knock on doors of former employees laid off in the recession, they’d say they still had months of benefits.
“We need to get back to basics, get back to a system that does protect people, that does provide a safety net, but doesn’t discourage people from going back to work,” he said.
“The citizens of South Carolina are not lazy people,” Knott fired back. “If there were jobs ... they would take them.”
Knott said if true, the workers who pass up work “don’t need to get the benefits,” she said, “but when it comes down to a family ... looking for jobs, and they’re in rural South Carolina and they can’t pay for gas ... I would extend their unemployment. It’s not their fault. They’ve got hungry children.”
At the debate at York Middle School in York, Knott went off script of her prepared closing statement to return to the point about unemployment benefits and finished by highlighting the other major difference between the candidates.
Knott said the “wealthiest among us ... we need to ask them to pay a little more so the weakest among us are not the ones that are asked to suffer.”