KANSAS CITY STAR: KS-02 candidates face off at forum

Congressional candidate Steve Watkins evoked the image of a battle area Wednesday night and said he wants to “keep our culture” as he showed his support for President Donald Trump’s standing call for a border wall with Mexico.

“I’m proud of our country. I want to keep our culture,” Watkins said when asked about immigration during a candidate forum. “That doesn’t make us Republicans bad. It makes common sense.

“I’m a build-the-wall guy. That doesn’t make us mean-spirited or the racist bigots that some leftists would have you believe. It’s just common sense.”

In a battle space, walls aren’t even a debated issue, said Watkins, a military veteran.

The future of immigration was the first of many topics Democrat Paul Davis and the Republican Watkins talked about Wednesday as they tried to sway voters in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District during a forum in Independence, Kan.

Davis called the nation’s immigration system “a mess.”

Davis said he supports Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but added that he wanted to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era program giving children who arrived in the U.S. illegally the chance to avoid being deported.

The event was the first between the two candidates ahead of the November general election.

“I’ve never held office before,” Watkins said. “In fact, I’ve never even run for office before this. And so, if you think we could do better, then you’re not alone. If you think we must do better for the sake our children, you’re not alone.”

Davis emphasized instead that the district needs a problem solver.

“I’m running for Congress because Washington is broken and we have no choice but to fix it,” Davis said.

Questions ran the gamut from rural healthcare to immigration and the area workforce. Watkins frequently attacked “liberals” and targeted criticism at House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Davis reiterated his opposition to Pelosi during the forum’s opening comments.

Wednesday’s forum came after questions were raised recently about comments Watkins has made about his past.

A Star investigation last month found Watkins inflated his role as a defense contractor in the Middle East by telling voters he owned a company he built from scratch, when that was not the case.

In an Associated Press report on Tuesday, people from Watkins’ past cast doubt on his adventuring claims, including some facts involving his 2015 attempt to be the first person to race in the Iditarod and scale Mount Everest in the same year.

The open House seat has been in GOP hands since U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins won the seat in 2008. But the office is now seen as a tossup between Davis, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014, and Watkins, who was relatively unknown before running for office.

The district could then play a key role in deciding whether Democrats or Republicans have control of the U.S. House next year.

Watkins was not asked about the credibility questions during the forum, and organizers said he declined a pre-forum interview with reporters attending the event. He left without taking questions from reporters or attendees following his closing remarks.

The candidates showed their differences early on Wednesday. On healthcare, Watkins said, “Right now I’ve heard firsthand, my wife, my father, other physicians just straddled by unnecessary, burdensome regulations.”

Davis partly defended the Obama-era Affordable Care Act that allows for Medicaid expansion.

“We need to preserve what we like about the Affordable Care Act and we need to fix what we don’t like about the Affordable Care Act,” Davis said.

As the forum ended, the candidates weighed in on money in politics.

The issue has been a pet problem for Davis since he started his campaign for Congress.

“It’s frankly disgusting to see how much money that we have in politics,” Davis said.

Watkins’ run for office was bolstered by hundreds of thousands of SuperPAC spending funded solely by his father as he won a seven-way GOP primary in August.

In one of his final answers, Watkins said it’s hard to fathom that there’s so much money in politics.

“I look forward to working with anybody to lower the influence of big money spenders and special interests on Capitol Hill,” Watkins said.

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