Debate Audio: Kevin Cramer Versus Pam Gulleson

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Below is the full audio of the debate between North Dakota House candidates Kevin Cramer and Pam Gulleson. The Senate debate between Berg and Heitkamp earlier in the day was much more easily matched than this one. But where Berg was, clearly, the weaker debate who held his own Gulleson really performed poorly throughout this event.

Here are a few notes:

- Gulleson started off with an opening speech that referred to members of the tea party as extremists and invoked accusations she’s made against her opponent Kevin Cramer for taking what she’s described as illegal and unethical campaign contributions. The slam on the tea party was probably ill-advised, and nobody seems to be taking her accusations about the contributions that seriously as her opening was the only time they really came up.

- The candidates were asked about the budget early on, and Gulleson expressed her support for passing a budget every single year. Which is funny because the obstruction to passing a budget every single year is the Democrat party Gulleson has been trying to distance herself from.

- The candidates were also asked about Social Security. Gulleson repeated something Rick Berg said about SS during his debate, which is that we should fix it by growing the economy. That’s pretty absurd, though Gulleson also wants to raise SS taxes (also absurd since we likely can’t raise them high enough to meet SS’s obligations). Cramer, for his part, talked about wanting to raise the retirement age and sort of skirted his past support for privatizing SS.

- Cramer got off a great line about success in North Dakota. He says the state has prospered because, “In North Dakota when know when not to regulate.”

- Gulleson’s comments on the economy were incongruous. She expressed her well-known support for ending the Bush tax cuts, but then also talked about wanting to create jobs. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would mean a dramatic increase in taxes on investments. Does that sound like it would grow the economy?

- Gulleson and Cramer, like Berg and Heitkamp before them, were asked about Sarah Palin’s “drill baby drill” slogan. Whereas both of the Senate candidates were downright enthusiastic about, Gulleson demured from supporting it and Cramer even called it “a little extreme.”

- Gulleson talked about her support for fossil fuels, but Cramer pointed out that her party’s President Barack Obama is making “impeding fossil fuels” part of his “second term agenda.” Gulleson also talked about the importance of needing to disclose the contents of frack fluid, apparently unaware that North Dakota has already passed regulations requiring it.

- One surprising moment was when Kevin Cramer came out against extending wind energy subsidies. “We have a $16 trillion budget debt,” he said. “Let’s see if the free market supports it.” When Gulleson spoke of her support for the subsidies, Cramer responded by saying “If wind power is doing so well why can’t it live without a subsidy?”

- On health care, Gulleson maintained her support for parts of Obamacare…and so did Cramer. He said he diverges a bit from his conservative friends by supporting the Obamacare mandate for health insurance for “children” up to age 26 on their parent’s policies. The rest of the talk about health care was pretty much as you might expect, except that Cramer also pointed out Gulleson’s vote in the ND legislature for creating a state-based universal health care program that would have cost $2 billion.

Earlier this year I wrote, based on fundraising and comments from Democrat friends about her smarts and wonkishness, that Gulleson might actually be a more formidable candidate than Heidi Heitkamp. I retract that. If Gulleson is a smart, wonkish candidate it certainly hasn’t been in evidence in her campaign or this debate. Cramer, on the other hand, is a gregarious figure on the campaign trail prone to given smart, in-depth responses to questions (sometimes too in-depth for his own good). It would shock me if Cramer doesn’t win this contest in a landslide.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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