TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) – Kansas 2nd District Republican Congressman Jake LaTurner and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Schmidt, clashed Thursday on issues ranging from the economy to election security during their only televised debate of the campaign.
Schmidt went on the attack early in the hour-long debate aired on Topeka public television station KTWU, accusing LaTurner of siding with the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“He gave the criminals exactly what they wanted,” Schmidt said. “Without any evidence (of voter fraud), he voted to overturn the election results.”
LaTurner, as he did on the day of the attack, condemned the violence but defended his vote against certifying the results of the 2020 election. He said last-minute changes to election laws in some battleground states raised legitimate questions. But unlike many Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump, LaTurner stopped short of disputing the results.
“Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States,” LaTurner said.
Schmidt, a retired Navy intelligence officer making his first bid for elective office, stayed on the attack, accusing LaTurner of supporting Republican budget proposals that would “end Social Security” and “cut trillions of dollars from Medicare.”
LaTurner called Schmidt’s allegations “reckless.”
“My opponent is lying, I will protect Social Security,” he said.
If they regain the majority in Congress, Republican leaders have plans to make changes to Medicare and Social Security as part of a plan to rein in federal spending. Those changes could include raising eligibility ages and giving seniors a choice between traditional Medicare and receiving a subsidy to purchase competing private coverage.
Responding to questions on foreign policy, both candidates said the U.S. needed to be on guard against Chinese aggression and continue to support Ukraine’s battle against Russia.
Recent comments by U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy raised questions about whether Republicans would continue to support financial and military aid to Ukraine if they win control of Congress.
However, LaTurner said he would buck GOP leaders if necessary to support continued aid to the embattled country.
“It is important that we stop Vladmir Putin where he is,” LaTurner said.
Hoping to capitalize on momentum generated in August by the defeat of a state constitutional amendment on abortion, Schmidt made frequent references to LaTurner’s support of the measure.
“On Aug. 2nd, Kansans spoke loudly and clearly by rejecting an abortion ban,” Schmidt said. “Jake LaTurner supports a full federal abortion ban.”
The defeated amendment would have allowed Kansas lawmakers to impose further restrictions on abortion up to and including a ban.
Making no apology for his anti-abortion voting record in Congress and the Kansas Legislature, LaTurner said he supports “common sense” restrictions on the procedure.
“What’s really radical,” he said, “is what my opponent supports and what Democrats on Capitol Hill support, which is abortion up to the moment of birth for any reason.”
On the economy, LaTurner said if elected to a second term he would work to “end the reckless federal spending that’s fueling inflation.”
Schmidt said he would support tax cuts for working Americans and back the Biden administration’s efforts to expand health care and modernize the nation’s infrastructure.
The Kansas 2nd Congressional District covers roughly the eastern third of the state, including parts of heavily Democratic Wyandotte County, but does not include the largely Democratic city of Lawrence or the city of Emporia.
Jim Mclean is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for Kansas Public Radio and the senior political reporter for the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories air on NPR stations across the state and on some commercial radio stations, reaching about 600,000 listeners every week. The news service also posts articles on NPR station websites. Those articles are published more than 2,000 times a year by Kansas newspapers and other news outlets.