The candidates for North Dakota's lone congressional seat interrupted each other early and often in a spirited 27-minute debate that covered health care, spending and Social Security.
The debate recorded Monday at Prairie Public Broadcasting studios was the first between Democratic incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg, a state representative. It will be aired across the state Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Berg opened the debate by saying he was drawn into the race by watching Washington. He said he saw taxpayer funded bailouts, a record deficit and a government takeover of health care.
"Well, Rick, you didn't waste any time getting into those Washington talking points," Pomeroy responded in his opening statement. "They are not founded in fact."
Berg spent much of his time talking about the success of the North Dakota Legislature, saying the state's tight money management when times were tough has led to a budget surplus and low unemployment.
"This has made North Dakota, really, the envy of the nation," Berg said. "We've had record growth in employment, record growth in income. That's how we solve America's problem, rather than what is being done now, which is kick the can down the road."
Pomeroy said Berg takes too much credit for North Dakota's good times.
"I get such a kick out of hearing you talk about the state Legislature in North Dakota," Pomeroy said. "You know there's one thing that happened in North Dakota. We found we had 6 billion barrels of recoverable oil."
Berg tried to talk over Pomeroy when the congressman said Berg has not given credit to the people who took risks to develop the oil field.
"That is absolutely ridiculous," Berg said.
Later, Pomeroy snapped at Berg to let him finish his statement on federal highway spending. "He knows I'm scoring because he wants to interrupt," Pomeroy said.
Berg said he believes the campaign is defined by the health care bill. He said polls showed more than 70 percent of residents were opposed to it. Pomeroy shook his head as Berg said it wouldn't reduce the deficit.
"Absolutely," Berg said. "What this bill does will increase costs, it will reduce access," Berg said.
Pomeroy said he has a "file folder" of North Dakota health care experts who support the bill.
"You think that doctors would support this bill and their national association support me in the election if this was a government takeover of health care?" Pomeroy asked. "Of course not."