On Monday night, Rep. Rob Bishop (R) and Dr. Peter Clemens (D) took the debate stage at the Val A. Browning Center. Each is running for the First Congressional District in Utah. The debate started at 6 p.m. and was moderated by the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, Jennifer Napier-Pearce.
The two candidates were selected by the Utah Debate Commission based on poll numbers.
Libertarian candidate Craig Bowden waited outside the Browning Center with his own table. He was excluded from the debate. Bowden said that “every vote counts” and to not ignore him simply because the UDC didn’t allow him participate. “I am 100 percent disappointed with the UDC’s decision. They set things up and have all the control, so I have to wait outside,” continued Bowden.
The candidates started off with opening statements, 90 seconds per round. Clemens began with his goal to “get out of bed and defend freedom” while Bishop reminded the audience about his previous seven terms and the time he spent as a teacher in Utah.
The first question sparked spirited debate when candidates were asked which Presidential candidate they would support. Clemens is adamantly against voting for Trump but has not decided who to support, including third parties.
Bishop, who supports Donald Trump, is a minority among leading Republicans in the State. Bishop was quick to note that he “cannot condone” the things Trump says, or the ideas he proposes, but finds it “unacceptable to stand four years of Clinton’s administration.” Bishop also insists that a third party candidate is not a feasible option.
Unlike recent national debates, candidates refrained from interrupting each other, even when the discussion got heated.
Questions involved some of the hottest topics in politics today, including national security, climate change, race relations and immigration. They also talked about their stances on legislation regarding the opioid epidemic and the legalization of medical cannabis.
For the most part, both candidates adhered to party lines.
The debate commission asked for questions online from the public and from students. Communication major Nick Carver was selected to ask a question that addressed diversity to the candidates. Unlike other questions, Carver’s question was used for jabs at the other political candidate.
“It really was a good debate when the candidates would address each other in rebuttal,” Carver said. “But I was a little disappointed that their answers were not very clear,” he continued.
In their closing statements, Bishop talked about his conservative values, less federal control and the need increase military funding. Clemens promised to “work with those across the aisle.” He also promised that he would “not serve more than three terms.”
Both candidates were optimistic about their performance. Bishop stressed the urgency that Hillary Clinton was unfit to be president. Clemens expressed that the questions addressed most of the issues he hoped to talk about, but he was disappointed that he was not able to talk about LGBT issues.