KALAMAZOO, Mich.-- Toxic partisanship, student debt and gun control caused sparks in a debate Wednesday night between three otherwise mild-mannered candidates running for Michigan's 6th Congressional District.
Incumbent Congressman Fred Upton (R) has been comfortably reelected in the area, even through redistricting, for the past three decades. Dr. Matt Longjohn (D) is a first-time candidate who beat out three other Democrats for the nomination in the August primary. Third-party candidate Stephen Young also appeared in the debate, sticking to his religiously purist interpretation of the Constitution.
Upton wore an old John McCain campaign pin on his lapel. His goal Wednesday night was clear: to separate himself from the modern GOP.
“I’ve taken the Reagan model, whether it be John McCain or President Reagan, of working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get things done," Upton tells FOX 17.
Longjohn says he doesn't buy Upton's claim to work across the aisle.
“I’m not surprised by the fact that Mr. Upton can talk about one or two things that he’s done on a bipartisan basis compared to a record that doesn’t speak to bipartisanship," Longjohn tells FOX 17.
However, a place where Upton and Longjohn showed similarities on the debate stage was on the topic of student debt. Longjohn says profit should not be made on student loans, interest rates should be lowered and supports more debt-forgiveness programs. Upton says he wants there to be more support for middle-class families sending their children to college.
When the candidates were asked about how they would work to prevent gun violence, Young was bold about his interpretation of the Second Amendment. He went as far as using a reporter microphone as an example to make his point.
“You’re holding a weapon in front of me," says Young. "You can hit me with it and give me a black eye. You’re in control of that weapon and I trust you with it. It is not a weapon problem. It is a people problem.”
Another issue which Upton and Longjohn appeared to have similar stances was how to prevent gun violence. Both candidates expressed their support for "Red Flag" gun laws that would prevent criminals, specifically with a history of domestic violence, from possessing firearms. However, the major difference between Upton and Longjohn off the debate stage is that Upton has earned an "A" rating from the NRA.
“He’s kind of cherry-picking to make it seem more moderate than his voting record actually would be if you look at the voting record," says Longjohn. "He’s voted more than 98 percent of the time with President Trump and Speaker Ryan.”
Still, Upton stayed on his message of being above political gridlock on Capitol Hill and harsh attitudes exemplified by President Trump. Upton tells FOX 17 that he disagrees with President Trump's recent remarks about adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
“If I worked at the White House, I would take his phone and drop it in a bucket," says Upton.
In the August primary elections, Upton ran unopposed and earned over 4,000 more votes than Longjohn and his three Democratic opponents combined.
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