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Gibson And Eldridge Debate Amid A Raucous Audience

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WAMC, Allison Dunne
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Two candidates in New York’s 19th congressional district debated in front of a vocal audience in Ulster County last night.

Republican Congressman Chris Gibson, who is running for a third term, faced off against Democrat Sean Eldridge in the M. Clifford Miller Middle School auditorium in Lake Katrine, sparing few verbal punches. Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce President and debate moderator Ward Todd several times worked to quiet the opinionated audience, tapping his microphone in an attempt to stifle jeers and partisan applauses. The following back-and-forth on campaign finance reform picks up with Gibson.

Eldridge says he is not accepting contributions from corporate political action committees, or PACs. Yet when it comes to fracking, which Eldridge opposes, Gibson calls him out.

“But he makes record profits from fracking, from the drilling, from the financing, from the transporting. Look, with all the concerns over fracking, Sean, why don’t you divest? How come it’s okay to make profits,” questions Gibson. “You’re proselytizing about it but you’re profiting from it at the same time. That’s hypocritical.”

Eldridge responds.

“You know as well I do we that have investments managed by a third party, much like any mutual fund, any pension fund,” says Eldridge. “And if I’m blessed to be elected, I will put those investments into a blind trust to make sure that there is no conflict of interest.”

There also was a difference of opinion on the minimum wage. Eldridge supports raising it to $10.10 per hour.

“Congressman Gibson opposes $10.10 and so do a number of his corporate PAC donors, so does the National Restaurant Association and Walmart who contributed to his campaign and then now he votes to block raising the minimum wage,” says Eldridge. “That’s a problem. We need to make sure that our elected officials are listening to us, and right now they’re not.”

Gibson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, says he supports raising the minimum wage, but believes only a compromise, perhaps $9 an hour, will work.

“The Democrats don’t want to come off $10.10 because they think it will fire up they’re base and they don’t want to look like they’re compromising. And Republicans don’t want to yield either,” Gibson says. “But you know what, what does that do for workers? They stick at $7.25? It hasn’t changed since 2007. Let’s compromise and move on, and then let’s index it. I think we should index it.”  

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Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne
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Gibson repeatedly portrayed Eldridge as lacking experience and credibility, while touting his own Washington Post ranking as the second-most independent Republican in Congress. Gibson noted he belongs to No Labels, a group that works across party lines to find common ground on issues and problem solve. Here’s Eldridge.

“I know we’re going to hear a lot about No Labels tonight, but Congressman, you picked a label. That label is Republican. You picked a speaker. That speaker is John Boehner. And I don’t believe it’s moderate to vote to defund Planned Parenthood and get rid of one of the largest healthcare providers for women in our region,” says Eldridge. “I don’t think it’s moderate to support fracking which could put our drinking water at risk. I oppose fracking. I’m not going to let it happen here.”

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Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne
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After the debate, Gibson said he thought he delivered his message.

“At the outset, I talked about roots, experience, and results,” says Gibson. “And I think it was clear as this debate went on that that’s exactly what I’m offering. I grew up here. I understand our needs.”

Eldridge felt he, too, accomplished his goal.

“I think it went well. I think there was a clear contrast on the issues. I think it was a good opportunity to be able to talk to Congressman Gibson about his record, whether it was de-funding Planned Parenthood or voting to sue President Obama, but also to articulate a positive vision of how I think we could grow our economy and have the federal government be a better partner for our towns and for our counties," says Eldridge. "I thought it was a good debate, a good opportunity. I thought the differences were pretty clear on a lot of issues.”

Meanwhile, a Siena College poll from early September showed Gibson with a 24 point lead.  Here’s Gibson.

“I think for his first time out he’s trying really hard, but the campaign, he undermines his own campaign with the lack of his own leadership and I think that’s evident to a lot of folks,” says Gibson. “So I’m wishing him well going forward, but I think as far as this election is concerned, we’re going to keep working every single day to… I’m fighting for every single vote.”

Eldridge says the only poll that counts comes from the voting booths Election Day.

“And I absolutely think we can win this on November 4,” says Eldridge.

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Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne
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Both of the candidates’ spouses were in attendance – Mary Jo Gibson and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

At the same time, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, the first-term Democratic incumbent in the 18th district, was debating former Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, a Republican. They are running in a rematch of the race in 2012.

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