Education, Syria, and support (or lack) for their respective party's presidential candidate were among the issues taking center stage in the second debate between incumbent U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Republican challenger Chris Vance.
Austin Jenkins with the Northwest News Network moderated the debate, which was held at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.
Vance made headlines earlier this year by denouncing Donald Trump shortly after he became the presumptive GOP nominee.
"You have taken some grief from your fellow Republicans for this position. What do you say to those Republicans on how you fit today into the Grand Old Party, given the rise of the Tea Party and the candidacy of Donald Trump?" asked Jenkins.
"This has been a very, very difficult year to be a Republican," said Vance. "I haven't changed. I'm a Ronald Reagan, Slade Gorton, Dan Evans, Jennifer Dunn Republican. I believe in limited government. I believe in bringing down the debt...I just couldn't support Mr. Trump for two reasons. Number one, he has demonstrated over and over again he's not fit to be president. And on the most basic issues that most Republicans have always supported, such as free trade, such as entitlement reform, he hasn't taken positions that traditionally Republicans have taken."
Then Vance criticized Murray for being a "wholehearted supporter" of Hillary Clinton. "I've criticized my party over and over again. I have yet to hear Senator Murray criticize a Democrat for anything."
Jenkins then asked Murray, "In a CNN poll earlier this summer, 68 percent of respondents said 'honest and trustworthy' were no characteristics that applied to Hillary Clinton. How do you explain to Washington voters, including those who supported Bernie Sanders, your unflinching support of Hillary Clinton?"
"Well I'm very proud to support Hillary Clinton for president," said Murray, recounting her time spent working with her while she was in the White House in the 1990s. "She worked extremely hard that we passed a program that made sure all of our young kids, the CHIP program, had health insurance. I know where her heart is...And I know today she understands what's happening to middle-class families...I know that she will work hard to lift up families up around the country and I'm proud to support her in that. And I'm also proud as the grandmother of two young girls to know that she will have a woman as a president of this country."
Murray, seeking her fifth term, pointed to her work ending a 2013 budget impasse with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan as an example of how she can work with the other side.
Murray and Vance took opposing positions on education, specifically on providing financial relief for college students. Murray said she was excited about the conversation on how to make college more affordable and how Clinton's plan for free tuition for college students whose families made less than $120,000 could work.
Vance said there are things that can be done to reduce the burden of student debt, such as refinancing student loans, but the answer lies in the state and not federal level. "One of the worst things I've seen frankly during this election season is politicians making promises for things for free. We're $20 trillion in debt."
Vance argued the federal debt threatened to become a dangerous drag on the economy. He said he favors the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan that calls for raising the Social Security retirement age, to 68 by 2050, and raising the cap on taxable income for Social Security, now at $118,000.
Murray noted the federal government ran a surplus during Bill Clinton's presidency. She has said previously she opposes raising the retirement age and would instead seek a debt-reduction plan that would close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Both candidates were asked about fighting terrorism and under what circumstances would they commit more ground forces in Syria. Both admitted Syria was an extremely complex issue. Vance said we need to do whatever is necessary to destroy ISIS, then use diplomacy to try to settle the country's civil war. "If the Pentagon says that involves a few more ground troops, then that's what's necessary."
Murray countered. "We do have to fight terrorism, but terrorism is not a country. Terrorism is across the globe. We need to fight terrorists wherever they exist. The situation in Syria is extremely complex. And I know the thing we should not be doing right now is putting American troops at risk in a civil war in Syria."
Other topics they touched on the debate included the federal budget and deficit, immigration reform, cyberattacks, Supreme Court nominees and funding for veterans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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