CLAREMORE (AP) — The two Republican candidates vying for an open congressional seat in eastern Oklahoma continued to snipe at each other in a debate Monday, with each trying to convince voters he is the most conservative man for the job.
George Faught, a three-term state representative from heavily-Democratic Muskogee, said he had the legislative experience to go to Washington, and said the citizens of the 2nd Congressional District deserve “someone who is proven, someone who is conservative and someone they can trust.”
Faught’s opponent, Markwayne Mullin, who owns a plumbing business, said he got into the race because he was fed up with government regulations that have directly affected his business, and told the crowd of about 150 inside a TV studio at Rogers State University in Claremore that “if we’re really going to make a change, then we’ve got to send a different type of (person) up there.”
The half-hour debate ahead of next month’s runoff election had a few sparks, with the main clash coming over a recent flap from what Faught claimed was Mullin’s lack of understanding of the health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama.
Faught recently ran a commercial that showed a clip of Mullin saying he supported a “single-payer, single-pay system” when it comes to medical care, suggesting Mullin backed changes in the nation’s health care system.
But Mullin said he misused the term “single-payer” and intended to say everyone should have their own stake in their care, not that it should be provided by the government.
The topic came up again at Monday’s debate, with Faught saying that Mullin “must have been too busy” to understand some of the health care provisions.
Some other tense moments came during a segment where the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions.
Mullin, citing President Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” to not speak ill of a fellow Republican, asked Faught to sign a pledge that he would run a positive campaign.
Faught balked at the proposal, saying voters in the district needed to thoroughly vet the candidates and that candidates’ words mean something.
“It’s not a popularity contest,” Faught said.
“You’re willing to play politics as usual,” Mullin rebutted. “It’s a shame someone can take things out of context.”
Faught asked Mullin what two bills he would introduce first once he got to Washington; Mullin shot back that instead he would be looking to cut bills that contain rampant spending.
In closing remarks, Faught once again touted his conservative credentials, saying the choice to replace the open seat “is too important to get wrong.”
“(We need) a qualified, proven conservative, and that’s me,” he said,
Mullin also emphasized his conservatism and said his dealing with several federal agencies though his business has prepared him for how government works.
“I’ve never done anything halfway,” Mullin said. “I will not let one person outwork us, and we’re going to help as many people as we can.”
Mullin and Faught were the top vote-getters in a six-way Republican primary June 26. Mullin topped the field with 42 percent of the vote, and Faught finished second with 23 percent, forcing a head-to-head matchup in an Aug. 28 primary runoff since neither topped 50 percent.
Two Democrats seeking the seat also face a runoff — longtime state and federal prosecutor Rob Wallace and Muskogee seed company owner Wayne Herriman.
Independent Michael Fulks of Heavener awaits the primary winners in the November general election.
The victor will replace Rep. Dan Boren, the lone Democrat in Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, who announced last year that he wouldn’t seek re-election from the district that sprawls across a swath of 26 counties in eastern Oklahoma.
Capitol Correspondent Sean Murphy contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.