Painting starkly different visions for the future of health care, taxes and the country as a whole, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker and challenger Jess King faced off Monday night in a heated debate in which the candidates repeatedly took aim at each other’s policies, campaigns and levels of experience.
The debate Monday night between freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker and Democratic opponent Jess King was packed with fiery exchanges …
Smucker, offering a rigorous, economy-focused defense of his lone term in Congress, came out swinging.
From his opening remarks saying King supports “less freedom” and a “socialist agenda,” the incumbent Republican often criticized his opponent on her support for Medicare-for-all health care and the salary she receives from her campaign funds.
And King, the Democrat running an aggressive grassroots campaign to overturn the strongly Republican district, fought back — routinely ending her segments by decrying the corporate “special interests” that influence everything from gun reform to climate policy.
The 90-minute forum held at Millersville University offered 11th Congressional District voters their first chance at seeing the candidates go head-to-head before the Nov. 6 election.
It was hosted by LNP Media Group, the Lancaster Chamber and the Robert S. and Sue Walker Center for Civic Responsibility and Leadership at MU. The moderators were Barbara Hough Roda, community liaison for LNP and LancasterOnline, and Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber.
View the replay here and read more below.
Campaign finance debate
Smucker, 54, of West Lampeter Township, is seeking his second term against King, 44, of Lancaster, in the district that was redrawn this year to include all of Lancaster County and southern York County.
With the redistricting, the historically Republican seat now contains even more GOP voters —about 100,000 more than Democrats.
And in a race in which the candidates have often talked about the “values” of the voters, the candidates on Monday traded sometimes harsh words over which of their platforms best represents those values.
“What does a San Francisco socialist know about our values here in the 11th District of Pennsylvania?” Smucker asked, referring to a hefty portion of King’s campaign funds that have come from tech workers in Silicon Valley.
He also mentioned federal complaints submitted recently by the state Republican Party alleging campaign finance violations on behalf of her campaign and Lancaster Stands Up, a separate local grassroots group. Smucker, though, while referring to LSU as a “shadowy super PAC,” incorrectly implied the complaint was about LSU not disclosing its donors. The complaint instead focused on independent expenditures made by LSU to support King, as LNP reported in mid-September.
King said her campaign gets more in-state contributions than Smucker’s, and she does not take money from corporations’ political action committees. Her supporters from Silicon Valley, she countered, aren’t the leaders of companies like Google or Apple; they’re the workers who are frustrated with how their corporations direct political spending.
“Just throwing darts at people, throwing smears at people is very disingenuous,” King said.
When Smucker criticized King for paying herself a salary with her campaign funds, the Democrat said she was proud to be “paving the way” as an example of someone from a “regular, working family” running for Congress.
Health care and taxes
On topics like health care and tax cuts, the candidates sharply disagreed.
Smucker said the GOP-led tax cuts passed last year have led to a booming economy with “more wealth than ever before in the history of the world” and a shortage of workers instead of a shortage of jobs.
King said economic immobility was one of the main reasons why she decided last year to step down from her role leading the Lancaster economic development nonprofit Assets to run for Congress.
“It never trickles down,” she said of corporations’ benefits from tax cuts. “We are the most unequal rich country on Earth.”
In the discussion about taxes and health care, Smucker alleged King wants to raise taxes to pay for larger government programs — and when King said she’s never talked about raising taxes, Smucker interjected saying her “programs will double the taxes.” The topic was Medicare-for-all, the single-payer health care system that many argue would be costly to implement.
King said studies show implementing Medicare-for-all, even at a $32 trillion price tag, would be cheaper than the current health care system over the same period in the future.
“It’s not going to happen overnight because it’s 18 percent of our (gross domestic product), but we have to get to Medicare for all; we have to get to a single-payer system because it’s the only efficient, effective way to ensure that everyone has health care coverage,” she said.
Smucker reiterated his own long-held stance that “everyone should have access to health care that they deserve, to the insurance that they need and at a price that they can afford.” The best way to do that, he said, is through competition among private insurance companies and providers.
Guns and immigration
In conversations on topics like guns and immigration policies, the candidates also had some heated exchanges and at least one moment of levity.
Smucker said King wanted to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but she said she’s never taken that stance.
King said Smucker should hold the National Rifle Association accountable for not supporting stronger background check requirements for firearms purchases, and Smucker responded that he’s supported strengthening background checks.
Amid cutbacks from the Trump administration on accepting refugees into the country, King said Lancaster County should support resettling refugees and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Smucker said Congress must first address the border problems before it looks at other immigration issues.
“My ancestors to this country were Amish and Mennonite religious refugees a couple hundred years ago. So were yours,” King said, turning to Smucker. “So we’re, like, distantly related.”
Smucker, a few moments later, referred to his twice-previous Republican primary challenger Chet Beiler, who was also his second-cousin: “It’s funny, for some reason I feel like all my opponents are relatives.”