Congressional candidates debate in Tunbridge

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(Host) Vermont’s congressional candidates met Friday in their first general election debate.

Democrat Peter Welch and Republican Martha Rainville disagreed about how the United States should proceed in Iraq and on a number of key domestic issues.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The two candidates debated a host of issues at a special forum at the Tunbridge World’s Fair sponsored by WDEV.

The war in Iraq emerged as one of the biggest policy differences.

Democrat Peter Welch says he would have voted against President Bush’s resolution to go to war in Iraq in late 2002 and he says the president’s current policy of “staying the course” makes no sense at all:

(Welch) “We now find ourselves bogged down in a civil war where, essentially, the American military is in the middle of it and where the American taxpayer is being asked to pay $250 million a day. And that is coming at great expense to our country, not just in the money that it takes, but in how it diverts our attention from addressing some of these other very serious issues about terrorism. We need a new direction.”

(Kinzel) Rainville believes that U.S. forces can succeed in Iraq. She says it does little good to argue about the original war resolution:

(Rainville)”I believe that the United States, although very challenged in Iraq, has an opportunity to follow through to complete the achievement of military objectives. Some major ones have been completed and achieved. There still are some left.”

(Kinzel) Both candidates agreed that the most important vote they will cast in Congress is to elect a House Speaker.

Rainville says that while it’s important to change the culture of Congress, that doesn’t necessarily mean replacing any current leaders:

(Rainville) “I think it’s critical for Vermont that we have a speaker from the Republican Party that will support the interests of small business, that will not allow taxes to be raised, and that will give us an environment where we can grow jobs in this state, where we can allow our businesses to flourish. And we can help make an environment where we can provide health care to our citizens.”

(Kinzel) Welch strongly disagrees. He says it’s critical to elect a Democrat so that Congress can adopt new priorities:

(Welch) “We’ve had Congress in one party in rule for the past six years. It’s been in Republican rule since 1994 and there’s a record of extreme policies that have been extremely damaging to Vermont. I believe we can change that. I believe we can make progress on paying down our debt. I believe we can make progress in restoring our place in the world.”

(Kinzel) Both candidates did agree that it would be a mistake for the United States, at this time, to attack Iran to prevent that country from developing a nuclear weapon. They said that option should be considered only after all diplomatic efforts have failed.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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