In what was likely the only debate of the campaign, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, sparred for 90 minutes with Democratic challenger Jessica Morse on Sunday. The tiny auditorium at Mariposa County High School was full with sometimes rowdy partisans from both sides. Here’s what you missed.
Connecting with voters
California’s 4th Congressional District includes Roseville and Lincoln and stretches across the Sierra from Truckee to the Sequoia National Forest. It holds over 700,000 people and is one of the largest districts in the state. And yet, each candidate attacked the other for having little connection to it.
None of the issues McClintock and Morse tackled in Sunday’s debate proved more contentious than questions surrounding their qualifications to represent the voters of the conservative region.
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“Our country’s gonna be better off if we stopped electing politicians, and instead, starting electing public servants,” Morse said. “Congressman McClintock has spent 40 years as a career politician. … Today, our voters have a choice. You have a choice between a career politician from Southern California who doesn’t live in our district and a homegrown public servant.”
Before his election to Congress in 2008, McClintock represented Southern California while serving in the Legislature for 22 years. McClintock acknowledged he lives just outside the district in Elk Grove but accused Morse of being a “carpetbagger.”
“Jessica never lived in the 4th Congressional District until she rented a house last year so she could claim residency and come here to campaign against me as a carpetbagger,” he said. “Elk Grove is actually closer to where we are now than Pollock Pines, where she’s renting a house.”
McClintock also hit Morse on her unsuccessful efforts to claim a “national security consultant” designation for the general election ballot. Morse declined to address that subject posed by the moderator, instead saying she was proud of her role as a civilian adviser to the military and disappointed in McClintock for not visiting Iraq and Afghanistan during his time in Congress.
In light of recent wildfire damage throughout the state, McClintock and Morse were asked whether they believe climate change is caused by human activity or whether the issue is a hoax.
“The planet’s been warming on and off since the last Ice Age,” McClintock responded. “The climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years. The extent to which human activity has a role to play is being hotly debated right now.” He added that “there’s a lot we still don’t know about the feedback mechanisms within or climates.”
McClintock criticized Democrats’ approach of addressing the problem by raising taxes and giving money to green energy companies such as Solyndra, the federally subsidized solar firm that went under in 2011. “The policy we hear from the left is massive taxes on fossil fuels, massive taxes on energy.”
McClintock said California should address ongoing environmental issues by building more reservoirs to store water and thinning forests to reduce the threat of wildfires.
Morse swiped back, saying climate change is a “matter of life and death” and an issue of national security.
At no point in the debate did either candidate explicitly mention President Donald Trump. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the district by 15 percentage points, and Morse resisted one major opportunity to criticize the president by name.
When the debate moderator, Mariposa Gazette Editor Greg Little, asked about Trump’s opinion of the media, McClintock said he disagrees with Trump’s declaration that it is the “enemy of the people.” He said he wishes “the president would be a little bit more careful about what he tweets.”
Morse, meanwhile, left Trump out of it. She said people have an obligation to make sure they are forwarding and promoting work by actual journalists, rather than conspiracy theory websites. “I’ve seen countries that don’t have a free press and where the government confuses and distorts people about who is right and who is real and who is fake, and those countries fall apart into autocracy.”
When discussing tax overhaul the Trump administration pushed last year, McClintock said the plan has produced “remarkable economic results.” Morse again declined to attack Trump by name, responding that “the economy does look like it’s doing better if you own a lot of stocks.”
Both candidates expressed their commitment to strengthening protection along the U.S.-Mexico border, but they had very different ideas on how to do so.
Morse said building a wall “is expensive and passive.” Instead, she wants to increase border security by expanding the use of drones and sensors.
McClintock said “the biggest problem with our immigration laws is they haven’t been enforced.” He said he is willing to consider legislation that would provide legal status to Dreamers but only “after our borders are secured and our immigration laws are enforced.”
The Mariposa Gazette streamed the event live on Facebook and the replay can be found there. At different points, the audio drops out and the video buffers. It’s always flipped oddly. Morse’s campaign streamed the full debate as well. The video is vertical, but that’s another option if you want a clearer picture.