CONWAY — Three candidates hoping to oust Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro as 1st District congressman stressed their differences Tuesday during a debate to be aired on the Arkansas Educational Television Network.

Scott Ellington, the Democratic Party nominee, along with Green Party candidate Jacob Holloway and Libertarian candidate Jessica Paxton answered questions on a range of topics from health care to the federal farm bill during an hour-long debate at AETN studios on the University of Central Arkansas campus.

Crawford declined to participate, and Ellington told reporters later the incumbent’s absence was telling.

"So what does it means that Rick Crawford wasn’t here? I believe that it either means that he thinks he’s got this race locked up and he doesn’t have serious competition, or he didn’t want to stand and answer for his dismal record of voting 94 percent of the time with the Republican Party, and not be held accountable for the decisions that he made in Congress," said Ellington, 49, the 2nd Judicial District prosecutor from Jonesboro.

During the debate, Ellington criticized Crawford and the Republican-led U.S. House for failing to approve a farm bill and said farmers in Arkansas and across the country are unsure about their futures and "need some certainty."

Holloway, 24, of Jonesboro, said the farm bill needs to be restructured and the government has to get out of setting commodity prices.

"The farm bill doesn’t focus … on making food that is healthy and affordable," he added.

Paxton said farming is a state issue, not a federal one, and she said she opposed sending tax dollars from Arkansas to help farm programs elsewhere.

Ellington lamented Washington gridlock and said he could help break political logjams by using the negotiating skills he has honed as a prosecutor to work with all parties in Congress to get things done.

"It seems like they would just as soon go off a fiscal cliff as to work together and agree together," he said. "I’ll work together with Republicans and Democrats and independents, I’ll work with them all if it betters this part of the state."

Holloway, who is completing his masters degree in agriculture science at Arkansas State University, said he considers himself an independent and believes the two-party system in Washington is broken.

"We need people to break out of the two-party mold. We need three parties," he said, adding he would like to reform the entire election process to allow more third-party candidates and reduce the influence of the two major parties.

Holloway described congressional leaders as "basically, completely inept" and said "they’re not being held accountable."

He also poked fun at the race for the White House between President Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Mitt Romney, calling it a "clown and pony show running for president."

Paxton, 29, a stay-at-home mom who operates a small sales business from her Marion home, said she opposes government regulations and higher taxes, and would not negotiate on those issues.

She said she chose to run as a Libertarian because "the two major parties didn’t represent me. I felt politically homeless."

"I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal," she said. "You get the best of both worlds when you vote Libertarian."

On the Affordable Health Care Act, Ellington said he supports some of it, including allowing parents to keep children on their insurance until they are 26, covering pre-existing conditions and portability between jobs. But he also said he was concerned about how the law affects small businesses.

Holloway said he did not think insurance should be mandated by the government. Paxton said she didn’t think businesses should be required to offer health insurance and that it should be an option for individuals to decide.

The debate was scheduled to air at 7 p.m. Tuesday and again Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m.