The debate Monday night between the candidates for Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District seat was, for the most part, surprisingly tame.
Democrat, doctor and Iraq War veteran Manan Trivedi and Republican Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello agreed on several issues, from supporting medical marijuana to expanding access to birth control.
Trivedi and Costello are vying to replace retiring Rep. Jim Gerlach, a Republican who represents parts of Berks, Chester, Lehigh and Montgomery counties.
But sparks did fly at least once, when Trivedi was asked by the moderator about guns. He said he favors expanding background checks, and then hammered Costello for taking campaign cash from those opposed to tougher gun laws.
“I’m sad to say that my opponent is … I think the only Republican or Democrat in the whole Delaware Valley accepting NRA money,” Trivedi said. “It’s unfortunate that the influence of special interests like the NRA are clouding our decision on such common-sense legislation.”
Costello wasted no time shooting back at Trivedi.
“With respect to what my opponent just said about who supports me and all that sort of stuff, that’s fine, he can say that,” he said. “I have an independent mind. I think for myself. I don’t take orders from anybody.”
With Philadelphia’s relaxed pot law in effect as of this week, Trivedi and Costello were asked if they support decriminalizing possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Trivedi said he does: “There’s too many sort of nonviolent offenders and mandatory minimum sentences and throwing guys in prison for too long here. To decriminalize it, I think makes sense and it’s a cautious first step in seeing how that works out.”
Costello, meanwhile, took issue with the question.
“That’s a state-by-state issue, and even a municipal issue. I don’t think it’s a federal issue,” he said. “I think under the concepts of federalism, you have federal law. You have states that need to comply with federal law, but then they can add their own two cents to it or not. And then you can even drill down to the municipal level, which is what Philadelphia did.”
Neither candidate is backing recreational pot for now.
Trivedi and Costello were also quizzed Monday night on health care, the federal minimum wage and immigration issues at the debate at West Chester University.
Trivedi said he backs several tweaks to the Affordable Care Act, such as expanding the plan options available as well as changes aimed at reducing health care costs.
“Obamacare needs to be fixed,” said Trivedi.
Costello criticized the Affordable Care Act, but said it is unlikely that it will be repealed anytime soon. He called for revisions that he believes could pass under President Obama, such as ensuring that residents can keep their health care plan and doctor if they wish.
Both candidates said they support increasing the federal minimum wage, though Costello cautioned against raising it so high that jobs are lost.
On immigration, Trivedi said he endorses a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. Costello spoke about the need to secure the country’s borders and improve the visa program.
Earlier this year, analysts saw the Nov. 4 race between Trivedi and Costello as one of the more competitive matchups in the Philadelphia region. Now the Rothenberg Political Report describes it as “Republican-favored.”