Heated moments as Carper and Arlett face off at UD

NEWARK — Senate challenger Rob Arlett went after U.S. Sen. Tom Carper in a debate Wednesday night, attacking him for slapping his now deceased ex-wife and initially denying it.

Sen. Carper, a Democrat seeking his fourth term in the Senate, responded forcefully, driving a heated exchange that led to the moderator cutting off follow-up discussion on the subject.

“That is baloney,” Sen. Carper exclaimed in a moment that saw him lose his composure. “Let’s set the record straight, OK, my friend? Let’s set the record straight, OK? Every one of us makes mistakes. … Over 40 years ago I made a mistake. I owned it. It was public knowledge.”

Although Sen. Carper said he owned up to his action he did not publicly admit guilt until 1998. That’s when he told longtime Delaware political journalist Celia Cohen that accusations he slapped his then wife, Diane, during an argument about 20 years prior were true.

Mr. Arlett, the Republican nominee for the Senate, sought to paint it as Sen. Carper portraying himself as above the law, saying he “abused” his ex-wife and covered it up.

Contrary to claims made by some, including Donald Trump Jr. last month, Sen. Carper has never publicly confessed to anything more than a slap. Mr. Trump, the eldest son of the president, in a September tweet wrote the senator hit his ex-wife “so hard it gave her a black eye.”

Tom Carper

Sen. Carper said Wednesday he remains close with several members of his ex-wife’s family, declaring they would vouch for his character.

The issue has been brought up by political opponents before and the voters have decided, noted Sen. Carper, who has never lost an election.

Those few minutes Wednesday marked the most tense and intriguing portion of two debates hosted by the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication. The discussion between Sen. Carper and Mr. Arlett was preceded by the undercard of Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and Scott Walker, the Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively, for the House.

Moderator Ralph Begleiter, the founding director of the Center for Political Communication, posed questions first to Rep. Blunt Rochester and Mr. Walker and then to Sen. Carper and Mr. Arlett over the course of the two hourlong debates.

Mr. Arlett repeatedly criticized his opponent as out of touch, seeking to paint him as a denizen of the swamp that President Trump campaigned on draining.

“Career politicians are the biggest problem we have in this nation,” Mr. Arlett said. “They become bought and sold by corporate donors.”

Rob Arlett

To the surprise of no one the two candidates differed greatly in their views on the president: Sen. Carper said he “was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple,” while Mr. Arlett repeatedly praised President Trump and his policies.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has put money back in Americans’ wallets and has energized the economy, Mr. Arlett said. Sen. Carper, in contrast, called it a “sugar high” that will harm the national debt and mostly benefit the top earners.

Immigration also divided the two. Mr. Arlett, a harsh critic of illegal immigration, argued Americans are being ignored at the expense of individuals living in the country unlawfully.

He does not, he said, support providing college financial aid for the 700,000 or so participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a policy started under President Barack Obama that enabled some people who came to the United States as children to remain here.

“Why would I want to give an extra benefit to a DACA student when other students that are American students don’t receive the same benefit?” Mr. Arlett asked. “That would be called discrimination, would it not?”

Sen. Carper disputed that, saying the country needs more workers and should be welcoming of and perhaps provide a path toward citizenship for those who are willing to work, learn English and avoid legal trouble. Sending DACA recipients home would be “economic insanity,” he told the audience.

There was also sharp disagreement between the two on Brett Kavanaugh, who was recently confirmed to the Supreme Court amidst allegations of sexual assault.

Asked how he voted on the judge, Sen. Carper noted unprompted he backed his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2006 — and regrets it.

“He has perhaps the worst record on an environmental issues of any judge that I know of,” he said.

Mr. Arlett, who called it “appalling” to see how Democrats treated the nominee, his family and his accusers, said he would have voted in favor and accused Sen. Carper of voting based solely on partisanship.

“Your decision was all against the president of America. No matter who the nominee was you’re going to vote against him,” he said.

In response to a question about Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama for the nation’s top court in 2016 but never received a hearing from the GOP-controlled Senate, Mr. Arlett said he thought Republicans should have held a vote, prompting Sen. Carper to crack that he agreed.

Speaking on the Paris climate agreement, Sen. Carper accused President Trump of wanting to withdraw the United States from it solely to hurt President Obama’s legacy.

Climate change, he told the audience of about 350 gathered in Mitchell Hall, is a major threat, especially to Delaware, the lowest-lying state in the union.

Mr. Arlett, in contrast, criticized the Obama administration for its environmental policies, saying the Environmental Protection Agency focused too much on simply crafting regulations even though many of them did little to help the climate or hurt businesses.

The debate between the House candidates was less contentious, with neither individual choosing to directly attack the other.

Rep. Blunt Rochester, who is seeking her second term in the House, stumped for protecting the Affordable Care Act while describing universal health care as the “ultimate goal.”

Mr. Walker strongly disagreed, saying government-provided health care would lead to a less healthy population and to higher taxes.

“Free health care is not free,” he said. “We all know that we have to pay for it.”

On the subject of immigration, Rep. Blunt Rochester decried Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive reform, placing the blame on GOP leadership for blocking legislation to that end. The United States, she said, can both be compassionate and enforce security.

“The whole issue of proper immigration reform really cuts to the core of who we are as a country,” she said.

Mr. Walker, who won a primary with 53 percent of the vote against the GOP’s preferred candidate last month, described himself as someone who can appeal to the average Delawarean.

While the Delaware Republican Party has withdrawn its support from him, he sought to paint that as a positive, saying voters “should look at the Republican Party’s disavowal of me as a sign that I’m a true centrist.”

Mr. Walker has a lot of baggage that could scare potential voters away: He ran unsuccessfully for the same seat as a Democrat in 2016, has been accused by his own party of being racist and has been sued by the state, New Castle County and Wilmington for allegedly running a sham charity and housing people in “substandard and dangerous conditions.”

Despite that, Mr. Walker seemed unconcerned when asked about his history as a landlord, saying he does not believe voters care about it.

“Out of over 1,000 people who lived in my houses, nobody ever got hurt because of the condition of the houses,” he said.

Also running for the Senate are Green Party nominee Demitri Theodoropoulos and Libertarian Nadine Frost, although they were not invited to the debate. The general election is Nov. 6.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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