The debate between Democratic U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and Republican Randy Altschuler in Bridgehampton on Monday turned inward when the candidates argued over their campaign tactics in a race marked by a flood of attack ads.
The two men covered well-trodden ground in what was their fourth debate on the East End, once again laying out their differing visions for economic recovery. But to a greater extent than in past debates, they expressed frustration over the tone of the race itself.
The candidates even attacked each other’s attacks during an extended exchange, with Mr. Altschuler calling the congressman’s tactics “filthy” and Mr. Bishop calling his opponent’s ads “unseemly.”
“This has been an ugly, bruising campaign,” Mr. Bishop said. “I think Mr. Altschuler regrets that. I regret that. I think even within the context of an ugly, bruising campaign, I think family should be off-limits.”
Mr. Bishop, a Democrat running for his sixth term, was referring to what he claimed were recent attacks by Mr. Altschuler’s campaign claiming Mr. Bishop’s wife, Kathy, a preschool director, and 33-year-old daughter, Molly, his political fundraiser, benefited from his political and professional connections. He has rejected the charges in the past.
Mr. Altschuler said he tried to run a positive campaign, filming an ad with his family and releasing a jobs plan, but was quickly drawn into a brawl that he claims Mr. Bishop started.
“I would say 98 percent of his money or more is spent saying negative things about me, and not at one point talking about the things he’s done in the last 10 years in Congress,” he said.
Mr. Bishop called that account “disingenuous.”
“Before we had run a single ad, before we had said anything at all, July 28, Mr. Altschuler has a press conference in front of my office in Patchogue to attack my daughter and my wife,” he said. “So, please, please don’t be the choir boy when it comes to negative campaigning.”
Mr. Altschuler also called that characterization “totally disingenuous.”
The exchange built off a similar one in Hamptons Bays last month, when a high school senior asked the candidates why they were running negative ads rather than touting their own accomplishments.
The two also discussed the role of super political action committees, or “super PACs” in the campaign. Super PACs are groups that can make unlimited amounts of political spending independent of campaigns. Both regretted the phenomenon, largely the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. But both have benefited from super PAC money in this year’s election.
Mr. Altschuler said it’s “an unfortunate situation we’re in,” and Mr. Bishop said super PACs “fundamentally threaten our democracy.”
The candidates spoke at length on a host of other issues, including unemployment and the economy, taxes and bipartisanship. The debate, which focused on jobs and the economy for the first half, kicked off with a question posed to both on whether cutting taxes creates jobs. Mr. Altschuler said he believes it does, while Mr. Bishop said there’s no evidence that proves cutting taxes alone will create jobs.
They rehashed some of the same issues from prior debates, once again addressing each other’s attacks on outsourcing and ethics, while defending themselves. Mr. Altschuler has been heavily criticized by the Bishop campaign for being an outsourcing pioneer. Mr. Bishop has had his ethics challenged on whether his campaign solicited donations from a constituent after helping him get necessary permits for a fireworks show this summer.
The two also explained their positions on abortion. The next presidential administration could appoint at least two Supreme Court justices, which could determine future decisions on issues like abortion. Mr. Altschuler said he is pro-life, with the exceptions of rape, incest and the health of the mother. Mr. Bishop said he is pro-choice, and that he shares former President Bill Clinton’s views that abortions should be “safe, legal and rare.”
The debate was the second in a series of debates sponsored by The Press News Group and the Times/Review News Group of Riverhead. It will conclude on Thursday, October 25, when the newspaper groups will cosponsor another debate with the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons. That debate will take place at the Westhampton Beach High School on Lilac Road in Westhampton Beach at 7 p.m..