Blunt Rochester and Murphy go head-to-head in virtual debate

Republican House nominee Lee Murphy aligned himself with President Donald Trump and the GOP orthodoxy on a range of issues Wednesday night, standing diametrically opposed to Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.

The two candidates squared off virtually for an hour in the University of Delaware’s biennial election debate, fielding questions from a moderator about key issues facing the state and the nation.

Rep. Blunt Rochester, the Democratic nominee, is seeking her third term as Delaware’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Seeking to deny her are Mr. Murphy, who won a GOP primary last month, as well as Libertarian David Rogers and Independent Party of Delaware nominee Catherine Purcell, although they were not invited to the debate.

On issues like abortion, the Affordable Care Act and COVID, Mr. Murphy took stances in line with the mainstream GOP position. He defended President Trump on several occasions while criticizing Rep. Blunt Rochester and her Democratic colleagues as being more interested in impeaching him than helping Americans.

Polarization has killed productivity in Congress, he said, a claim Rep. Blunt Rochester pushed back against.

Not everything in Washing is broken, she said, noting Congress has passed bipartisan legislation like this spring’s COVID relief. Americans need hope, and reminders of what is functioning are valuable, she told the virtual audience.

Mr. Murphy spoke in favor of states’ rights several times, arguing issues like coronavirus response and renewable energy are generally best left to the states. Seeking to paint his opponent as well to the left of the average Delawarean, he called for lifting most COVID restrictions to help grow the economy and get people back to work.

President Trump did his part with the January travel ban, which “quite frankly saved thousands if not millions of lives in this country,” he opined.

Rep. Blunt Rochester took a very different viewpoint, noting the president dismantled a pandemic response team while the lack of a broad coordinated federal response forced states to compete against one another for personal protective equipment.

Congress, she said, should place particular focus on the virus’ disproportionate impact on low-income communities, where minorities are overrepresented.

“We have seen firsthand what we already knew,” she said. “Many of us already knew that there were health disparities that existed, and COVID-19 just shined a brighter light on it.”

She defended the Affordable Care Act, which the White House is fighting in court to have struck down. A victory for the Trump administration would result in potentially millions of people losing coverage — “the worst time to get rid of health care,” Rep. Blunt Rochester said, pointing out congressional Republicans have repeatedly failed to come up with a palatable alternative.

Mr. Murphy, in contrast, described the ACA as unaffordable. While everyone deserves quality health care, the best way to provide it without bankrupting the nation is to let the free market function, he said.

Asked about electoral security, Mr. Murphy agreed foreign actors are a threat but described the biggest danger as coming “from within” in the form of mail-in-voting. The process is rife with fraud, with more people getting incorrect ballots every day, he claimed.

For her part, Rep. Blunt Rochester said intelligence officials and a congressional committee are aware Russia interfered in the 2016 election and aims to do so again, yet Republican leaders oppose measures to protect the election.

Both candidates agreed crooked or abusive police officers should not serve, but Rep. Blunt Rochester expressed support for further reforms, including limits on a program that sends surplus military equipment to law enforcement.

Mr. Murphy replied such a decision should be left up to the discretion of trained law enforcement officers, who may have good use for the items.

“I don’t think any police department is going to use military-grade equipment to go out and obliterate a neighborhood,” he said.

In response to Mr. Murphy claiming she wants to raise taxes on most Delawareans, Rep. Blunt Rochester said she wants to increase taxes only for the wealthiest 1%, who received many breaks in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

University of Delaware communication and political science professor Paul Brewer afterward noted the two candidates generally stuck with their mainstream party positions. Rep. Blunt Rochester emphasized her experience in Congress, while Mr. Murphy “kind of embraced the Trump mantle in his comments,” Dr. Brewer said.

“Whether aligning himself with Trump in a Delaware general election is a winning strategy, I’m not sold on that,” he said.

A UD poll released earlier this month gave Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester a lead of 51% to 29% over Mr. Murphy among likely voters. The election is Nov. 3.