CONWAY — Donald Trump, agricultural policy, budget cuts and terrorism were among the issues the candidates for Arkansas’ 1st congressional district sparred over in a debate Tuesday.
Incumbent Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and Libertarian challenger Mark West of Batesville met for a debate that was taped Tuesday morning at the AETN television studio on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas for airing at 7 that night. There is no Democratic candidate in the race.
The first question of the debate was about a recently surfaced 2005 video in which Trump is heard saying he tried to seduce a married woman and is “automatically” attracted to beautiful women.
“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss, I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p——,” Trump says in the video.
Crawford, 50, who has served in the U.S. House since 2011, said, “I am a husband and a father, and so those comments certainly do concern me, no question about it. … I’m going to to continue to support the Republican ticket, but the saddest part about this is that in spite of all the things that Donald Trump has done and is accused of having done, he’s still a better choice than Hillary Clinton.”
Talking to reporters after the debate, Crawford said he believed the behavior Trump described is sexual assault but added, “Did he do that? The evidence doesn’t suggest that.”
“If there was evidence that came to light that he had actually done that? Then it’s a game changer,” he said, but he declined to answer whether by “game changer” he meant he would withdraw his support for Trump in that situation.
West, 40, office manager for Mechanical Construction Services in Newark and a pastor at White River Baptist Church in Oil Trough, said, “Character has to matter. Donald Trump’s statements were disgusting, they were predatory, they were statements that don’t belong in a locker room, much less coming out of the mouth of someone that will eventually run for president of the United States.”
West said he supports Libertarian Gary Johnson for president, saying, “He is a man of character, a man of honor. And unfortunately when you look at Secretary Clinton or you look at Donald Trump, you don’t see the character that represents the values that make America what we are.”
He told reporters later he believed the behavior Donald Trump described is sexual assault and said that by supporting Trump the Republican Party has shown that “for them this election is about having power and it’s about keeping power.”
The candidates split on the farm bill and agricultural subsidies. Crawford said farmers want a fair shot and said that “until they receive that fair shot, unfortunately we’re going to have to continue to implement policy that provides a level of support.”
West said he opposes central planning of agriculture, which he said “robs small farmers of the freedom and the liberty they need to make money.”
Asked how he would cut federal spending, Crawford said he would support a federal hiring freeze and cuts to federal agencies, after a study to determine where cuts are appropriate. Across-the-board cuts would be “irresponsible,” he said.
West said one quick budget cut the nation could make would be to “decide it’s time to end all of our wars of intervention and our wars of regime change and bring our troops home.”
On the topic of terrorism, West said that “if the government would leave us and our guns and our gun ownership rights alone, we could keep ourselves safe.”
Crawford said the federal government has a mandate to maintain a military for the defense of the nation and said it is “naive to think that we can just retreat to home and start standing watch on our homes.”
Both candidates said they support repealing the Affordable Care Act, but West said repeated attempts to repeal the law with insufficient votes have been a waste of time and tax dollars.