(CN) – Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former college administrator faced off in their only English-language debate on Sunday, fielding questions on the “This Week in South Florida” television program.
The candidates are locked in a tight, closely watched race to represent 26th Congressional District, which runs from Key West to southern Miami-Dade County.
Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell tackled several hot-button issues, including immigration, taxes and gun reform. Mucarsel-Powell has spoken on the campaign trail about how her father was a victim of gun violence.
During the roughly half-hour debate on Miami’s Channel 10, Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell agreed on little and sparred on a wide range of subjects, including healthcare, tax reform, gun control and immigration.
But what immediately became clear was how little regard the two candidates have for each other.
“She is out of touch, and doesn’t share our values,” Curbelo said at one point, while Mucarsel-Powell suggested that when constituents in the district most need Curbelo to stand up for them, “he caves in.”
On healthcare, Curbelo said he still wants to see a total repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and wants to replace it with something he said would work better for everyone. Curbelo did not elaborate.
But Mucarsel- Powell immediately hit back, saying “The fact that Curbelo is trying to take away the healthcare system that provided care to more than 100,000 families in my district is very shameful.”
Later, Curbelo talked about economic growth and introducing a “deficit neutral tax reform.”
“Right now there’s no transparency. Tax payers’ money is transferred directly to pharmaceutical companies. What we want to do is give that money to tax payers,” he said.
But Mucarsel-Powell said it was Curbelo who was not being transparent, accusing him of supporting tax bills that benefit himself, his family and the rich.
”We need to pass a common sense tax reform that will benefit all of us. Policies that work for all of us,” she said.
Moderator Michael Putney, Channel 10’s senior political reporter, pointed out that the government spending was up by 17 percent this year that because of Republican tax cuts, the federal deficit has increased by $779 billion.
Mucarsel-Powell accused the Republicans of planning to pay for this deficit by cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“We have a Congressman that has called Social Security a Ponzi scheme,” she said.
In a recent political ad Curbelo accused his opponent of being associated with Ukrainian oligarch and militia leader Ihor Kolomoisky, who has been accused of “bribery, murder and embezzlement.”
Curbelo claims federal court documents show Mucarsel-Powell’s husband has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Kolomoisky.
“We have to be careful to whom we are associated with,” Curbelo said.
But Mucarsel-Powell said Curbelo was merely showing his desperation making such claims. “My husband was an attorney at a U.S.-based company,” she said. “Ihor Kolomoisky is one of the investors of a parent company. We have nothing to do with this man.”
Curbelo, who was first elected in 2014 and is running for a third term in Congress, said that he has garnered the support of families that have been victims of gun violence. He also said he has been endorsed by Everytown, a non-profit that advocates for controlling the sale of guns nationwide.
“The only way we are going to get something done in Washington D.C. regarding immigration, tax reforms, gun control, etc. is by having both parties working together,” Curbelo said.
Mucarsel-Powell said that gun control is a very personal issue for her because her father died in Ecuador due to gun violence.
She criticized Curbelo for introducing a so-called “bump stock” bill, to curb the sale of the firearm accessory, that went nowhere in the Republican-controlled house, and said her opponent “has never brought any type of comprehensive gun reform to the floor when he’s had his party in the majority.”
Putney next turned to the subject of immigration. Curbelo has proposed giving so called
Dreamers,” individuals who were brought to this country illegally when they were children, some kind of permanent resident status in the U.S.
We can’t stop trying. This issue has been around since 2001, and throughout the last 17 years both parties have failed in different instances that could have been done,” he said,
But Mucarsel-Powell, who immigrated to the United States from Ecuador, said “Curbelo had an opportunity to support a clean Dream Act extension that had over 200 sponsors, and he didn’t do that.”
”I have worked in this community for over 20 years trying to improve the lives of so many families that live in District 26 … We need an authentic leader to go to Washington and fight for our families, not a referee that will stand by the sidelines and make the calls,” she said.
Curbelo responded by saying “we need a wave of decent, honest people who are willing to go to Washington and work in a bipartisan way and put our country and community first.
“I have done that for four years. I have tried to fix our nation’s broken politics. It’s my commitment to continue doing that for another two years,” he said.