Democratic congressional hopeful Marie Gluesenkamp Perez and her ultra MAGA Republican rival Joe Kent kicked off the final phase of a hard-fought midterm election cycle this evening, sparring for about ninety minutes over immigration, cost of living, economic security, healthcare, environmental justice, foreign policy, and fitness for office at a livestreamed debate hosted by RV INN Style Resorts.
Seated behind long tables on a stage with a brightly illuminated floor, the candidates discussed their own lived experiences and pitched their ideas for the country when they weren’t harshly criticizing each other.
The debate was well moderated, with short and simple questions, rebuttal time prudently pre-allotted for every exchange, and time limits consistently enforced.
Gluesenkamp Perez, a small business owner, skillfully and effectively used her experience as the owner of an auto repair shop throughout the debate to relate to people in the audience and invite them to relate to her, while Kent leaned hard into right wing populist rhetoric in an attempt to make his militant, dangerous ultra MAGA beliefs sound as appealing and mainstream as possible.
Kent’s extremism and embrace of conspiracy theories was on full display during the segment of the debate focusing on the America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That was when he falsely characterized the COVID-19 vaccines as “experimental gene therapy” (the vaccines are not a form of gene therapy).
Kent didn’t stop there.
“Anthony Fauci [the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President] and a lot of his underlings were running amok as unelected bureaucrats, funding gain-of-function research under the nose of our federal government,” Kent fumed.
“They were funding the very same people who cooked up the COVID-19 virus in the Wuhan Institute and Fauci must be held accountable for that.”
“Does anyone else feel like they just spent a month on YouTube?” Gluesenkamp Perez retorted when it was her turn to speak. “And that’s what we’re signing up for with Joe Kent. He thinks he can raise a lot of money saying stuff like this.”
“And maybe he can, but he’s doing nothing to heal our country.”
Gluesenkamp Perez neatly balanced rejoinders like that with stories of trying to apply for a loan with the Small Business Administration, trying to find healthcare for her employees, and replacing repeatedly broken windows as she articulated her priorities for the country’s future and vision for Southwest Washington.
Later on in the debate, having seemingly grown exasperated with debating an opponent who owns a small business and lives in a rural community in the district, Kent incorrectly described Gluesenkamp Perez’s business as an auto body shop. She slipped a delightful rejoinder into her rebuttal time, explaining she co-owns an “auto shop, not a body shop… we fix things, we don’t make ’em pretty.”
Even after being corrected, Kent persisted in calling her business a body shop.
Kent repeatedly reached for Trump’s greatest hits playbook when asked for his own positions on the issues. He engaged in round after round of hyperbolic Biden and Pelosi bashing, declared Democrats to be in league with Wall Street (even though Republicans, during Donald Trump’s regime, were responsible for the big tax giveaway to Wall Street and the ultrawealthy five years ago), and tried to project his own extremism onto Gluesenkamp Perez and her supporters.
Gluesenkamp Perez, meanwhile, made sure to bring up Kent’s frightening position on reproductive rights even though the debate organizers did not allocate time to discuss the topic. In one of her strongest moments, she told the audience:
“Joe Kent supports a national ban on abortion without an exception for rape, incest, [or] the life of the mother, despite the fact that people in Washington State have been very, very clear that we support the right of women to choose… He has said he’s going to override the will of the states and impose federal policy on us — and women will die because of it. It is not your place, Joe, to tell women to carry a baby to term. It is a slap in the face. You are not in charge.”
She was also ready to respond after Kent fired off his we need law and order bombast in response to a question about public safety.
“Joe Kent wants to defund the FBI,” Gluesenkamp Perez pointed out.
“He wants to excuse away violent people at the Capitol who attacked the Capitol and attacked the police who were defending the Capitol. He doesn’t think they should be prosecuted. He calls them political prisoners.”
“She thinks I’m an extremist,” Kent observed a few minutes later.
In an attempt to make another of his extremist positions defensible, Kent offered a curious rationale for rejecting any and all gun safety laws, warning:
“You need to have that check on any kind of crazy authoritarian, which is what you guys [Democratic voters, Gluesenkamp Perez supporters] think we [the ultra MAGA faction] are. Any kind of authoritarian tendencies that we have, we have to have the ability to have our government have a healthy fear of us, or we’re gonna end up like the Canadians or like the Australians.”
Canada and Australia, of course, are advanced, prosperous democracies with far fewer gun deaths than the United States. Mass shootings are common here but not there, because they have sensible gun safety laws and we don’t.
In another memorable moment, Kent spoke favorably of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and expressed a desire to see the populist left grow stronger.
“There used to be some bipartisan consensus with the populist left that we didn’t need to be in endless foreign interventions, that we needed to bring back our manufacturing lines, that we needed to have a tight labor market,” Kent said, replying to a question about working across the aisle.
“Bernie Sanders used to talk about this stuff all the time,” Kent continued.
“The problem is the populist left was consumed by Wall Street Democrats who now control their entire party. So I would love to rekindle the populist left so we could have some consensus on not getting involved in endless foreign wars, securing our borders and bringing back our manufacturing.”
Senator Sanders, of course, is one of the most consistent and principled members of Congress. As anyone who follows his work is aware, Sanders has not stopped talking about the themes that he ran on in either 2016 or 2020. And the movement that organized around his candidacy is hardly inactive. People in progressive politics are working every day to defend American democracy.
Other well known Democrats, meanwhile, are among the most disliked members of Congress on Wall Street, especially Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose 2020 campaign for President spooked many Streeters. Their active leadership in Congress belies the false notion that Wall Street controls the Democratic Party.
The Warren wing’s influence can be seen in the party’s recent legislative and policy wins. For example, the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act — which Kent assailed as bad policy during the debate — raised taxes on the country’s biggest corporations, not something Wall Street wanted and not something that any Republican Congress going back decades has been willing to do.
The Biden-Harris administration’s empowering student debt relief plan, which will help millions of Americans, would not have happened without the passionate advocacy of Senator Warren and the Warren wing either.
And, with respect to avoiding endless foreign wars, it must be noted that a Democratic President made the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and take the heat for the inevitable fallout. When talking about Afghanistan, Kent likes to blast Biden for how the withdrawal was implemented without giving Biden any credit whatsoever for having gotten it done, something his idol Donald Trump did not manage to do during his time in the Oval Office.
The debate ended with two very different closing statements.
Gluesenkamp Perez told those watching she wants to be a problem solver, rejecting extremism and divisiveness. “We do not have enough people in Congress who believe in fixing things, who believe in working across the aisle,” she said.
“I am not your typical candidate for Congress. I am definitely not a typical Democratic [candidate], and I am so grateful to have the support of so many independents and Republicans who are putting patriotism above partisanship because that is the only way we are gonna get out of this mess.”
“We can’t have two more years of just another vote for Nancy Pelosi and for Joe Biden,” Kent said when it was his turn. (He name checked Pelosi and Biden more than once.) “I’m going there to provide a check and a balance on that agenda.”
The dueling candidates briefly greeted each other onstage before going their separate ways. They are slated to debate again next month.