SALT LAKE CITY — In a sometimes feisty debate, three of the candidates for Utah's Second Congressional District presented differing visions and viewpoints on issues facing Americans.
Robert Latham, the Libertarian candidate, offered that the federal government shouldn't be so involved in the COVID-19 response.
"I don’t believe the federal government has a role to play in here," he said.
"I just disagree," said incumbent Republican Congressman Chris Stewart. "I think the federal government has not only a role but important role."
Stewart praised President Trump for his handling of it, while acknowledging some mistakes. It prompted his Democratic challenger, Kael Weston, to respond: "I absolutely disagree with both of my opponents on this question. Mr. Stewart calls this a remarkable success. Utah is number four in the country for COVID infections."
For Latham, the debate offered a chance to espouse libertarian viewpoints on current events, something not often seen in a statewide televised debate (he met the polling threshold set by the Utah Debate Commission which hosts the event). He offered up that libertarians sometimes disagree with some regulations because they "view prohibition as so much more harmful than the harm we’re prohibiting."
Weston was critical of Stewart's record, President Trump and the federal government's handling on COVID-19.
"I believe in telling the truth. The White House is a superspreader location," he said. "It didn’t need to be."
Stewart turned to his opponent and told him: "You can't have it both ways."
"You can't politicize everything about this. You said the White House was a superspreader events. You never said a word about the hundreds and hundreds of demonstrations that take place every night."
In a segment discussing the Affordable Care Act, Weston and Stewart vigorously debated the future of health care. Stewart was critical and proudly stated he voted to repeal "Obamacare" but insisted Republicans always had plans to replace it with something that protected pre-existing conditions.
"Look, I’m on Obamacare," Stewart said, pointing out that members of Congress are required to be on it. "I know how bad it is. I know how expensive it is."
Weston shot back: "I think a majority of Utahns would trade their health care for what a member of Congress has."
"They can do it at any time, they can always go on Obamacare," Stewart replied.
"It’s not the same," Weston said. "I'm on the individual market."
"It’s exactly the same. My health care is Obamacare."
"I respectfully disagree. Millions of Americans do not have the quality of care that a member of Congress has."
When it was his turn to speak, Latham offered his views on health care: "I don’t want the shortages and rationing that comes with any socialized service. I want to liberate health care from the politicians and health care from the bureaucrats."
The poll that set the threshold for the debate shows Stewart with a comfortable margin over his opponents in a deeply-red district. Stewart insisted he was not taking it easy, but focused on listening to his constituents.
"I have a responsibility to the people in the district to make myself available to explain my views," he told reporters afterward.
Weston acknowledged the long odds of his campaign, but said he was traveling the district and connecting with voters.
"I'm in this to build our party," he said of Utah Democrats. "I think Utah used to be a healthy two party state. It’s good for everyone. I think it’s good for Republicans."
Latham said viewers were exposed to Libertarian viewpoints.
"I hope they realize it’s an option they ought to consider and it’s making progress," he said afterward.
Watch the entire debate here: