Presidential race trickles into Delaware U.S. House debate

(Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

(Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not running for Delaware’s U.S. House seat, but the presidential candidates were mentioned over and over at Thursday’s debate sponsored by WHYY and WDEL.

Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle met at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, Thursday morning, to debate the issues in the election of Delaware’s next member of the U.S. House of Representatives. But as it turns out, the candidates at the top of the ticket are having a trickle down effect on this congressional race.

Early in the debate, Blunt Rochester was asked about Trump’s comments released late last week about grabbing women. “They are weighing heavily on me,” she said of Trump’s comments implying sexual assault. “The implications that that has, both from a policy perspective, a Supreme Court perspective and a global perspective in terms of danger that it might cause … that shows about his judgment, and it also shows about his temperament.”

Reigle tried to distance himself from Trump, saying he originally backed Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. “There’s nothing I can say that would defend his quote ‘locker room banter,'” he said. “At this point, I would still vote for Donald Trump.”

Blunt Rochester returned to Trump while answering a question about American diplomacy efforts around the world and the fight against terrorism. “It kind of goes back to the original question also about Donald Trump and about how we talk about people whether they’re Muslim or whether they’re from other countries. All of that plays a role in the building and growth of groups like ISIS.”

And while Donald Trump has said he knows more than the generals, Reigle said he would defer to their expertise when it comes to fighting ISIS. “I would also support if we needed to put boots on the ground,” he said. “Whatever the generals need, that’s who I’d listen to.”

Blunt Rochester said she was concerned about the possible influence of Russia in the U.S. election process through hacking and leaks. “I also would love to see more information on the connection between Mr. Trump and also the Russians,” she said. “It would be nice to see the tax returns because maybe there’s something in there that also would lead us to understand his connections.”

Reigle said he wished Trump would release his tax returns. “I don’t talk to Mr. Trump, and he doesn’t talk to me, so I could encourage him to release them, but good luck with that,” Reigle said, getting a chuckle from the crowd.

The candidates disagreed on domestic issues, particularly school safety. Reigle said he would allow former police officers who become teachers to carry weapons in the classroom. “I’m not saying arm every teacher on any level, I’m just saying let’s use some common sense also and get some safety back into the classrooms.”

Blunt Rochester disagreed with that idea, “I definitely don’t support guns in classrooms.”

There did seem to be some agreement on the issue of which bathroom transgender people are allowed to use. Blunt Rochester said she supports the Obama Administration policy to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. Reigle said while it’s more of a state’s rights issue, “Every person is entitled to rights under the Constitution, I would be open minded to solutions that aren’t going to cause businesses and the economy a lot of money.”

The state of North Carolina is facing a number of boycotts and lost business following the passage of legislation that requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex and not their gender identity.

But Reigle added, “I have a daughter, so I want to be respectful of her opinions and who is in the bathroom with her.”

As the debate neared its end, the candidates were asked more personal questions so voters could get to know them better. They were asked to describe an activity that you do with your family that no one else would know. Hans Reigle admitted his score on a popular Nintendo game app. “I’m a level 10 on Pokemon Go.” Blunt Rochester confessed that she had a sweet spot for chocolate. “I’m a big choca-holic, I like every form of it. I usually keep it in my nightstand.”

Delaware’s current Congressman John Carney (D) is running for governor.

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This debate will air on WHYY-TV Thursday night at 5 p.m. 

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