Less than six weeks before an election in which Republicans believe Minnesota's 8th District seat can be flipped in their favor, three candidates for the open job met in Duluth for their first debate.
Republican Pete Stauber and Democrat Joe Radinovich saved their criticism for each other rather than picking at Independence Party candidate Skip Sandman.
The two tangled over a number of issues, including proposed new precious metal mining.
Stauber challenged Radinovich's professed support for copper-nickel mining with environmental protections.
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"You've been doing the Texas two-step in this entire campaign," Stauber said. "Either you support copper-nickel mining or you don't."
"I've said consistently that as long as they can meet the standards that are on the books, those projects can go forward," Radinovich responded.
"They will," said Stauber.
"How do you know they will? You're not in a position to evaluate it," Radinovich said.
Sandman is a staunch opponent of copper-nickel mining, saying it would threaten water resources.
The Duluth Chamber of Commerce and the Duluth News Tribune sponsored the debate. Moderators gave Stauber and Radinovich opportunities to set the record straight on allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Radinovich acknowledged past speeding and parking tickets and a marijuana-related citation.
"There were a lot of them and some were paid late, but they're parking and traffic tickets and everybody has them," he said. "The marijuana paraphernalia ticket was, when I was 18 years old, I was pulled over in Deerwood, Minn. I was respectful and cooperative with the officer and the judge and the court saw fit to dismiss the ticket."
Stauber denied wrongly using his St. Louis County commissioner e-mail to campaign for Congress.
"The county had the responsibility to look into the emails," he said. "They did so, and they determined there was no wrongdoing and cleared the matter."
Sandman and Radinovich both called for single-payer, universal health care. Radinovich called the cost of health care in the U.S. a national crisis.
"Our health care money is going to too many places that are not care-related. It's going to executive bonuses, advertising, it's going to lobbyists," Radinovich said.
Stauber referred to universal health care as 'Medicare for all,' and predicted it would be disastrous.
"The Medicare-for-all scheme is a $33 trillion full-throttle government takeover of health care," Stauber said. "People on Social Security and our veterans would be kicked off their health care all together. You shake your head, Joe, but that's the fact. You don't even know how you're going to pay for it."
Radinovich said there would be a lot more money to fund important government spending if Republicans didn't pursue tax policies that favor the wealthy. He cited the Republican tax law enacted last year.
"We passed a tax bill that gives most of the money to corporations and the rich and, at the same time it's going to drive the deficit," Radinovich said.
Stauber has been campaigning in support of the tax law, saying it amounts to a $2,500 yearly tax cut for an average family in the district.
"That's real money. I understand for the coastal elites and the Hollywood liberals that $2,500 isn't a lot of money. But that can be house payments, car payments," Stauber said.
All three candidates agreed more needs to be done to keep guns away from violent people, but Radinovich and Stauber stopped well short of calling for a ban on assault weapons, which Sandman supports.
On immigration, Stauber underscored the need to secure borders to include walls in some places.
Radinovich said the U.S. doesn't need the wall President Trump is proposing. Sandman said the nation needs to do a better job vetting immigrants and should stop targeting certain people.
"If you're brown, you're going down, and that's got to stop because that's not what America is about," Sandman said. "Every last one of you people sitting here in this audience, if you're not Native American, you are immigrants."