SPOKANE - Senator Patty Murray and Republican challenger Chris Vance squared off Sunday for their first debate at Gonzaga University in Spokane, tackling a string of issues such as minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, the deficit and gun control, but not each other.
Following last week's contentious presidential debate, both candidates agreed to have a civil and respectful discourse.
"Like everyone, I'm so appalled by the behavior of this election," said Murray, who is seeking her fifth term. "We need to return respect to our dialogue."
"Absolutely, senator. I am looking forward to a terrific and respectful discussion," said Vance.
Vance made headlines earlier this year by denouncing Donald Trump shortly after he became the presumptive GOP nominee. Calling himself a “different kind of Republican,” Vance launched his campaign on a platform of overcoming congressional gridlock and blaming Murray.
"Washington, D.C. is severely broken...Patty Murray is part of the problem," said Vance. "It's time for a change."
During the debate, Vance had harsh words for Republicans, who he said has failed by not offering something to replace the federal health care law passed by President Barack Obama.
"My party, the Republicans, have not been responsible and stepped up' to offer alternative," said Vance, who decried ideas that Murray supports like a public government insurance option as too expensive. He did, however, say he backed government subsidies for needy people to buy health insurance.
Murray touted her work in 2013 with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to end a federal budget stalemate in 2013 as an example of how she gets things done in a divisive environment.
"Like most people, I get pretty frustrated with the dysfunction and gridlock," Murray said.
Minimum wage and the economy were central themes in the debate. One point of disagreement was over raising the minimum wage. Murray said she is promoting legislation that would increase the hourly federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020 so people "can get ahead in the country."
Vance agreed that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 was too low, but said raising it "too far, too fast" would hurt small businesses and didn't make sense for all areas of the country. He said he doesn't support a state measure to raise the minimum wage, but instead supports growing the economy.
Both candidates were asked questions about Social Security: Murray on what she's doing to secure the program and Vance on how his views on Social Security differ from his own party. Both candidates also addressed about how they would reduce the national deficit.
Video: Vance on Social Security
The two also fielded questions about regional issues in Eastern Washington. On whether they would protect Fairchild Airforce Base near Spokane if it was targeted for future closings, both said they would. Vance also said he would advocate for ranchers and farmers, wildfire resources, and pressure the government to clean up Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Murray spoke of investing in education in agriculture and industries.
Both were asked about admitting refugees into the United States from war-torn Syria.
"We are a country who has never turned our back on people seeking help," said Murray, adding that refugees face rigorous background checks. Vance said while he initially supported relocation efforts, he changed his mind after the Paris attacks and said the FBI has said refugees "can't be adequately vetted."
Vance is trying to become the first Republican elected to the Senate from Washington since 1992. Senator Murray led Vance in August’s primary by more than 53% of the vote. Vance took more than 27%.
Murray and Vance will meet for their second debate on October 23 at the Microsoft campus in Redmond.
Patty Murray: Incumbent, 4th ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate. First female U.S. Senator from Washington state, elected during the so-called “year of the woman” in 1992.
Murray is running for a fifth term. In a past interview with KING 5, she lists her priorities as economic security, cost of tuition and mental health.
Chris Vance: Republican challenger from Auburn whose resume includes roles as former state legislator, former King County Councilmember, former State Republican Party Chairman and political pundit.