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Pittenger, Roberts Differ On Health Care, Transportation

The two candidates who aim to represent North Carolina’s 9th District Congressional seat held their first debate Wednesday. Republican Robert Pittenger and Democrat Jennifer Roberts are running to fill the open seat created by the retirement of Republican Sue Myrick.

Pittenger is a former three-term state senator, and Roberts is finishing her fourth term as a Mecklenburg County Commissioner. A small crowd turned out at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to watch the debate.

It was civil. This comment by Roberts was about as close as either candidate went toward taking a shot:

“I think that my opponent is missing a very key part of fixed rail construction, and that is the additional development it brings along the rail line,” Roberts said. (Not exactly a screaming match, right?)

But Roberts’ point there was one of several clear policy differences between the two candidates. She put a big emphasis on funding public transit (think: light rail and buses), while Pittenger said that money should be used to improve roads.

Another difference was on President Obama’s health care law. Here’s Pittenger:

“I see the Affordable Health Care Act as one that’s not going to be affordable,” he said.

He wants to repeal it. Roberts does not.   

“It’s great that you can get insured with preexisting conditions, so there are some good things,” she said. “You don’t throw out the whole process.”

But there were things they agreed on, too. Both think the nation’s fiscal cliff should absolutely be avoided. That’s the tax increases and spending cuts set for January if Congress doesn’t act, and many economists have said it would be a massive hit to the U.S. economy. Also, both agreed that too much regulation is a bad thing.

After the debate, Luther Moore, who chairs a Charlotte Chamber committee, said he likes both candidates.

“They’re both very highly competent people,” Moore said. “They have two different worldviews, and so how you vote depends on what your worldview is.”

Moore wouldn’t say whom he’ll vote for. But he did say he’s a businessman, and he likes that Pittenger is, too. The candidate started his own real estate company a few decades ago.

Pittenger said after the debate there’s a clear difference between him and Roberts.

“Ms. Roberts has been a traditional liberal, so she believes in a bigger government, as does Mr. Obama,” Pittenger said.

But Roberts said that characterization is off the mark. Here’s how she describes herself when she’s meeting people in the district:

“I say, ‘I’m an American.’ I think that one of the problems we have right now is people are just identifying with their parties and nothing else,” Roberts said.

The 9th Congressional District’s voters have sent a Republican to the U.S. House in every election of the past 50 years. After redistricting in 2010, it may be even safer for the GOP. Republican legislators got to draw the new boundaries, and they took out some registered Democrats and increased the number of independents.