U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, took on his democratic challenger, Bend businesswoman Aelea Christofferson, in a debate Sunday evening in Sunriver.
Topics ranged from forest health to health care during the 45-minute debate, the first between the eight-term incumbent Walden and political newcomer Christofferson, the founder and president of ATL Communications in Sunriver. They are vying for Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District seat. Both candidates said they came away feeling confident about how they did in the debate.
“I feel good,” Christofferson said, adding that she felt she made her supporters proud.
Walden was also upbeat after the debate.
“I just tried to stay positive and stay focused on what we are working on,” Walden said.
First elected to Congress in 1998, Walden had not debated a Democratic challenger since 2010. About 150 people showed up for Sunday’s debate, hosted by the Oregon Forest Industries Council. Jamie Christman of the Bend Chamber of Commerce moderated the event, which organizers styled after a presidential debate.
After opening remarks, the candidates first took questions filled out in advance by members of the audience and then asked a question each of each other before giving closing thoughts.
Walden steered many of his responses to the issue of jobs, saying many economic problems could be remedied by creating more employment opportunities.
“We can grow good jobs in America ... and Oregon can lead the way,” he said.
Christofferson said she’d also like to see more jobs created, and she wants more vocational education in schools to make it happen. She said Walden talks about creating jobs but hasn’t done it.
“Greg has had 16 years to do that and we haven’t seen much progress,” she said.
Walden said he has helped create jobs, including forestry jobs, and wants to spur more.
Given a chance to ask Walden a question, Christofferson asked whether campaign contributions sway his congressional votes. He responded that he weighs each vote and tries to make the best decision, sometimes voting against the stance of people who gave him money.
“I owe people two things,” he said. “‘Thank’ and ‘you,’ and that’s it,” he said.
Walden’s question for Christofferson was whether she would have voted for changes to the Affordable Care Act, which he called “Obamacare.” President Barack Obama signed the act into law in March 2010. Christofferson said she wouldn’t have voted for the changes.
In closing, Walden waxed patriotic.
“I commit to do everything I can to get America back on the right track,” he said.
For her final thoughts, Christofferson reminded voters that she would bring change.
“It is time to look at someone who is more moderate, (who) brings more business experience to Congress, because Washington is broken,” she said.
Whether there will be more debates between Walden and Christofferson is unclear. Christofferson, who had been calling for a debate since August, said she’d like to have more around the district — which covers the eastern two-thirds of Oregon. Walden said other groups have invited them to come and debate but he didn’t know whether there would be more.
“Campaigning is one long debate,” he said.
Among the audience, Richard Jenkins, 67, of Sunriver said the “jury is still out” on who he’ll vote for, though he typically leans to the Democratic candidate. He said the debate didn’t help him choose a candidate.
“I think it was full of sound bites and no content,” Jenkins said.