WEST HARTFORD, CT — In what could be their final televised debate before the Aug. 14 primary, three Republicans running for U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s seat in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District embraced President Donald Trump’s trade policy and the Second Amendment on Monday.
The hour-long debate, which was hosted and aired by NBC 30 on its website and Facebook page, provided the candidates with one last attempt to capture voters attention. As of Tuesday morning it had been viewed more than 13,000 times.
None of the candidates has enough money for television ads even though the district was targeted earlier this year by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Even worse news for the Grand Ole Party is as recently as July 17 the Cook Political Report ranked the district “solid Democratic.”
There is no public polling of the race, but if money is any indication of support Ruby Corby O’Neill of Southbury has the most of the three Republican candidates.
O’Neill, a retired psychology professor from Southbury, reported just over $103,000 cash on hand. Her campaign raised just under $30,000 in the second quarter and took an $81,300 loan. Richard Dupont of Watertown, who was most recently director of the advanced manufacturing technology center at Housatonic Community College, had more than $56,000 cash on hand. His campaign raised just under $35,000 in the second quarter and had a $45,000 loan. And, former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos had just over $5,000 cash on hand. His campaign raised nearly $22,000 to date and has $1,100 in loans.
Santos received the Republican Party’s endorsement at the convention in May, but O’Neill, an immigrant from Honduras, seems to be positioning herself as the frontrunner.
On Monday, she didn’t waste any time talking about why she thinks she’s better than Dupont or Santos.
In her opening statement, O’Neill pointed to Santos and Dupont and said “neither one of these guys has any chance of winning.”
She said Jahana Hayes or Mary Glassman, the two Democratic candidates vying for the seat who were debating in Torrington Monday night, will chew them up and spit them out.
O’Neill said this race is much too important for the Republican Party. She said the Democratic Party has failed the state on immigration, healthcare, and jobs and the economy.
The Democratic Party controls all five Congressional seats and two U.S. Senate seats. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays was the last Republican to represent Connecticut in Congress. He was beat by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in 2008.
All three of the candidates defended the Second Amendment, a touchy subject in a district that includes Newtown, where 26 children and educators were murdered by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
“I’m not in favor of comprehensive gun control because it undermines the Second Amendment,” Santos said.
Dupont said gun ownership is a “privilege,” and that the laws “we have are meant to support people who do the right things.”
O’Neill said “It’s not a gun, it’s the person.”
O’Neill said the government needs to be looking at mental health, school safety, and gun trafficking, not laws that further restrict law abiding gun owners.
On international trade, they were asked what they would say to Greg Hayes, the CEO of United Technologies Corp., who complained in March about President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. All three supported the president.
“I reject the premise that these are Trump tariffs because Trump didn’t initiate the tariffs,” O’Neill said. “These are reciprocal tariffs that were slapped on American goods and American businesses that hurt the American workers.”
She said Trump is just doing a “tennis backhand” back to China for the tariffs it imposes on American goods. She said they may be painful at first, but the American worker will benefit.
Dupont said the tariffs will be painful, but they will benefit American workers in the long run. Santos agreed.
“A lot of these tariffs are as a result of trade agreements that were terrible for us,” Santos said. He added that he lost his job to Mexico because of the NAFTA agreement.
“It’s going to be painful in the beginning but in the long run it’s going to benefit the American economy,” Santos said.
As far as healthcare is concerned, the trio offered various degrees of disdain and comprehension regarding the Affordable Care Act.
While they largely agreed they don’t like the individual mandate, which no longer exists, they offered few solutions for how to provide healthcare for people whose employers don’t offer health insurance.
They offered mostly sweeping statements and Dupont and O’Neill said they would support work requirements for the more than 800,000 Connecticut residents receiving Medicaid assistance. More than 220,000 of the 800,000 were able to receive Medicaid coverage when Connecticut became the first state in 2010 to expand its Medicaid coverage under former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Santos said he would support turning Medicaid into a block grant — a concept supported by current Republicans in Congress.
Right now, because it is an entitlement, everyone who qualifies is guaranteed coverage and the states and the federal government combine funds to cover the costs. Under a block grant policy, a lump sum from the federal government would be provided to a state to use as the state sees fit. Many believe that would mean less funding for the program, which would mean fewer people getting care.
O’Neill said the state has to deal with the cost of healthcare — a problem long ignored and lost in the debate over the Affordable Care Act. She suggested a reinsurance program. A federally funded reinsurance program was part of the original ACA, but it was phased out, which led to increases in premiums.
Four states have reinsurance programs to help finance their health care systems. Wisconsin became the fourth state to receive approval this week from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a reinsurance program. The other states with such programs include Alaska, Minnesota, and Oregon.
Reinsurance may be the closest thing to a bipartisan issue when it comes to health insurance. The program helps insurers offset the cost of its most costly patients and lower premiums for the rest of the population.