For weeks, Amie Hoeber (R) has complained that her main rival in the race for the open congressional seat in Maryland’s 6th District, David J. Trone (D), wouldn’t debate her.
Tuesday night, with Trone seated just four feet away and C-SPAN cameras beaming their first face-to-face encounter to a nationwide audience, she seemed reluctant to engage him in a sustained, meaningful way.
Trone, meantime, appeared to relish the opportunity to launch a full-frontal attack on President Trump, accusing him of engaging in divisive rhetoric, backing tax policy whose spoils accrue to the wealthiest 1 percent, and pushing for a border wall that won’t solve the immigration problem.
“We have a leadership in Washington that encourages the nastiness, the bigotry,” he said to applause. “We’ve seen President Trump lash out at women, we’ve seen President Trump denigrate Muslims, we’ve seen President Trump separate parents from their children at the border. We’ve seen a total lack of leadership.”
Hoeber did not explicitly defend the president, who is unpopular in many parts of Maryland, but she did seek to establish herself as someone who knows government from the inside and who would put her district first.
“I’m an independent thinker. I have never been a partisan,” she said. “I have fought against presidents of both parties when I disagreed with what they’ve done. I will continue to stand up for what I believe.”
Trone, the CEO of Total Wine & More, and Hoeber, a national security consultant and author, are seeking the seat being vacated by Rep. John K. Delaney (D), who is leaving Congress after six years to run for president.
They appeared Tuesday before an audience of more than 100 at Shaare Torah Synagogue in Gaithersburg. Green Party candidate George Gluck and Libertarian Kevin Caldwell also took part.
The event was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and was moderated by Meredith R. Weisel, head of community relations for the JCRC.
The 90-minute debate focused on a handful of issues, including health care, gun control and Israel.
On immigration, Hoeber said “we in fact need to secure our borders. ..,We can in fact secure our borders without building a brick wall, although the brick wall in Israel seems to work very well.” She advocated for greater use of “technology” to track visitors who overstay their visas.
Trone called the Trump border wall with Mexico “wrong.”
“We need a path to citizenship for the 11 million folks that are here,” he said. “We have to address this. … We need more immigrants.”
All four candidates declared themselves to be strong supporters of Israel.
Trone and Hoeber, who have both traveled to Israel, came out against the BDS movement, an effort to “boycott, divest from and sanction” Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.
“BDS is BS,” Trone said. “We absolutely need a two-state solution, but it’s hard to achieve that when you don’t have a partner that you can negotiate with… on the other side.”
“I am part of the team that put together the technology that became the Iron Dome,” Hoeber said, referring to an air defense system. “Israel would not be nearly in as good shape today without the work that I cosponsored when I was deputy undersecretary of the Army.”
Asked about gun violence, Hoeber said she is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment but supports efforts to take weapons from people who have mental illness. She recommended that schools and synagogues “lock their doors” to keep out armed attackers.
“We have to change this gun culture,” Trone countered. He said the National Rifle Association’s influence in Congress has stymied efforts to rein in the proliferation of military-style weaponry.
“High capacity magazines, we need to fix. Assault-style rifles, bump stocks, gun-show loophole, all those things have to get fixed. Trigger locks — what’s wrong with that?”
On health care, Hoeber called for more “price transparency” and for “insurance company reform. They shouldn’t be profit-making bodies,” she said.
Trone called health care “a human right” and blamed the pharmaceutical lobby for blocking needed reforms.
Hoeber said tax hikes of any kind “would destroy not only our county but the economic benefits that this administration has brought this country.”
Trone said a repeal of the “carried-interest rule,” which governs how investment profits are distributed and taxed, would fund free community college, expanded pre-kindergarten and a 10-year, $100 billion crusade to fight opioid abuse – which both candidates called a national emergency.
During one of the rare moments of direct engagement between the candidates, Trone accused Hoeber of wanting to roll back protections for people with pre-existing health conditions and to defund Planned Parenthood. Hoeber denied the accusations without elaboration, urging the audience to go to her website for more details.
Caldwell and Gluck struggled to connect with the audience, frequently offering disjointed answers.
Caldwell, a military veteran and the Libertarian candidate, chided Trone, a wealthy self-funder who is pouring millions into his campaign.
“One thing I am not is one of the millionaires from outside the district who can afford a multimillion-dollar Madison Avenue-style advertising campaign to sell you a political image,” he said.
In his closing statement, Gluck asked, “Who would you rather have represent you — a Democrat who spreads green or a Green who spreads democracy?” The remark was met with conspicuous silence and a few groans.
Trone, who is making his second run for Congress, has blanketed the airwaves with ads touting what he calls his three c’s — civility, compassion and competence. Consciously or otherwise, as the debate wore on, Hoeber adopted the same words as her own.
Though she is running with the support of Maryland’s popular governor, she did not mention Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) until the 64th minute of the debate.
She did manage a jab at Benjamin T. Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor, who she called “extreme,” but she did not attempt to tie Jealous to Trone.
The candidates will debate for a second and final time Wednesday morning, before the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, one day before the start of early voting in Maryland.