PARKLAND — Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Republican Susan Hutchison shared a stage for the first time Monday and disagreed sharply on the direction they want to take the country.
They fenced on tax cuts, health care, trade, immigration and more in an hour-long debate at Pacific Lutheran University. They’ll square off a second time in Spokane on Oct. 20.
Cantwell, who turns 60 this weekend, is seeking a fourth term. An Edmonds resident, she is a former state lawmaker and worked as an executive for RealNetworks before narrowly winning her Senate seat in 2000. She’s won re-election twice.
She’s campaigning as one who is able to work across the partisan divide to get things done. She described her opponent as “a rubber stamp of the Trump agenda.”
Hutchison, 64, of Seattle, is the former chairwoman of the Washington State Republican Party. She migrated into politics from television where she worked as a reporter and anchor for KIRO-TV. She ran unsuccessfully for King County executive in 2009.
She called the incumbent a “professional career politician” and said, “We are in desperate need of change in Washington, D.C., and Washington state.”
Cantwell collected 54.7 percent of the vote in the primary against 28 opponents. Hutchison garnered 24.3 percent.
The debate opened with questions related to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday.
Cantwell, who voted against confirmation, defended Democrats’ call for a full FBI probe of sexual assault accusations against Kavanaugh made by Dr. Christine Blasely Ford.
“I thought there were important issues to consider. We wanted to make sure we did not rush,” she said. She noted with some frustration, “We didn’t have a full investigation.”
Hutchison called the hearings a “national disgrace” and rebuked Cantwell and her Democratic colleagues with much the same language as the president and Senate Republican leaders.
“They treated (Ford) poorly. They exploited her suffering. They basically took away her right to privacy,” she said. “They besmirched a man who had an impeccable record of jurisprudence.”
Replying a moment later, Cantwell said, “I believe Dr. Ford.”
On tax cuts, Cantwell said she voted against Donald Trump’s plan enacted last year because it will wind up costing middle class families in the long run.
Hutchison said the tax cuts are spurring the economy and enabling the creation of millions of new jobs.
“This is progress,” she said, adding there “is room for more tax cuts.”
On health care, Hutchison said providing access at reasonable cost should be the goal and she endorsed less regulation. She said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was too complex and that she would have voted against it.
Cantwell voted for the health care overhaul enacted under former President Barack Obama. She has opposed Trump Administration efforts to eliminate the law’s mandate for everyone to have some level of health insurance and to end a requirement that pre-existing conditions be covered.
On immigration, Cantwell said she voted for a bipartisan bill to prevent the deportation of Dreamers, those who were brought to the country illegally as young children and have grown up and established lives in this country.
Hutchison countered that Cantwell opposed a bill to provide protection to Dreamers and bolster security with a wall along the border with Mexico.
Each was asked if a wall would save lives.
“There’s no question about it,” Hutchison said.
“Border security is very important,” Cantwell said. “Building a wall would be a waste of money.”
Another interesting exchange happened when they were asked if they trusted Trump on North Korea. The president insists he’s made a deal that will lead to that nation getting rid of its nuclear weapons.
“I can’t explain a lot about ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I haven’t read the book,” Hutchison said, a reference to a tome penned by Trump. “You have to judge him by the results. When you have North Koreans and South Koreans talking after 70 years, I think that’s progress. Our president has made America strong.”
Cantwell didn’t dismiss the significance of the president’s efforts to date. She said the U.S. will need other allies in enforcing sanctions and ensuring North Korea doesn’t produce nuclear weapons.
But, she said, when the president went out and blasted NATO, “it is hard to go back and ask for (their) help.”
In the battle for dollars, Cantwell has a huge edge.
As of mid-July, the incumbent had raised nearly $9.9 million and had $5.2 million available. The challenger had reported $543,000 in receipts with $433,000 in cash on hand as of mid-July, according to Federal Election Commission records.