Freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer and 13-term U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm took issue with each other's voting records Tuesday night during a debate between candidates for Congressional District 19.
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Stenholm labeled as false an ad in which Neugebauer says Stenholm, a Democrat, votes with his party while Neugebauer, a Republican, votes his conscience. "The facts are I support my party a little under 60% of the time," Stenholm said. "I support the president 67% of the time. You support Tom DeLay and your party 98% of the time."
Neugebauer countered, "It's not about who I vote with but how I vote."
The candidates also talked about the farm bill, agriculture issues and Social Security in the hour-long debate that at times became contentious.
Both are vying for the newly drawn 19th District, a centerpiece of the GOP-led redistricting plan approved by state legislators last fall. The two were asked about redistricting and each candidate's response brought loud applause from their supporters.
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Stenholm said it was "Something that should never have happened." It was the result of House Majority Leader DeLay's decision to try to consolidate power in Congress, he said. "I have a difference of opinion of whether he'll be successful or not."
Neugebauer said he and others weren't planning on redistricting but that it's time to move on. "We're talking about the future and which one of these candidates is in the best position to represent the people in the 19th District as we move forward in the next five, 10 and 15 years," he said.
Stenholm attacked Neugebauer on action taken last weekend in the $2.8 billion approved for national agriculture disaster assistance. The bill also cut $3 billion from the Conservation Security Program across the country.
"I know it's a lack of experience on your part of not understanding baseline as part of the budget and all but that's part of the problem we've got," Stenholm said.
Neugebauer said there's plenty of money remaining for the security program, a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life to those who develop conservation plans on their working lands.
"There's still $6 billion left for that very important conservation program," he said.
Some of the about 500 who attended the debate came as undecided voters. One was Texas Tech student Ryan Worley from Temple, who said he typically is a "die-hard Republican." He left the debate feeling differently.
Stenholm "has conservative views," Worley, 19, said. "He's not a liberal by any means."
Koby Reed, a farmer is nearby Gaines County, said he came knowing who he'd be voting for and the debate wouldn't change his mind: Neugebauer.
"I want to see someone new in there," Reed, 25 said.
Libertarian candidate Richard "Chip" Peterson, a professor emeritus in finance at Texas Tech University, also participated in the debate.
Neugebauer, 54, of Lubbock, won the District 19 seat in a runoff in June 2003 after Larry Combest retired. He touts his ties to the party in power in Washington, saying he can tackle issues more effectively through a GOP-driven agenda and accomplish what a Democrat can't.
Stenholm, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, points to his 25 years of experience on Capitol Hill and what he calls his independent record to woo voters in a district that is more Republican leaning than his previous district.
No matter which candidate wins the election, West Texas will lose a member of the House Agriculture Committee.
A second debate was scheduled Thursday night in Abilene.
Stenholm's 17th District stretched from near the New Mexico border to the outskirts of Fort Worth.
Stenholm, 65, chose to run in District 19, situated in the High Plains, the Panhandle and other counties in eastern West Texas. He faces Neugebauer in one of the most closely watched and expensive House races in the country.
The two District 19 candidates have raised a combined $3.45 million, which ranks seventh in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which based its numbers on Federal Election Commission campaign finance data released Oct. 1.
Together the two campaigns have spent $2 million, which ranks ninth nationally, according to the center.