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PA-15 Democratic Primary Debate

Muhlenberg College hosted a debate between PA-15 Democratic challengers Jackson Eaton and Rick Daugherty at Seegers Union on Tuesday night.

The debate spanned topics such as American-Israeli relations and government transparency, and relatively new issues, like massive college debt, both candidates spoke at length about “fracking.”

“Those wells are going to be a problem for the next 100 years,” said Daugherty, in reference to used fracking sites. “We’re really setting up a ticking time bomb. The fracking industry may have greatly exaggerated the value of what’s underground.”

After pointing out that he had served on a federal government-sponsored commission following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, Eaton said that fracking exploited new practices at untested depths.

“You have a new technology that energy is rushing to use and you have a government that is all too ready to accept it,” Eaton said. “There is no reason there should be a Halliburton ‘loophole.’”

Both candidates also discussed the economy. Daugherty even tied economy growth to secondary, advanced education.

“Education is how we improve ourselves,” he said. “It is a key aspect of America. We need to make sure we get the economy moving again. I think we ought to look at ways that we can honor students who want to do work with their degree.”

As one audience member pointed out during the Q-and-A period, women’s rights have become a particular governmental issue recently. This topic came to a head after the Obama administration’s push in January to limit the types of organizations that are exempt from providing contraceptive health care costs to their employees.

“I am 100 percent pro-choice,” Eaton said.

Daugherty, however, differs from many Democrats on the abortion issue and said that he is pro-life. Daugherty added that he does support financial government support of health care facilities that deal with abortion patients such as Planned Parenthood.

Toward the end of the debate, the mood shifted from a contest of substance- and topic-oriented discussion, to one of character attacks and mudslinging.

Daugherty pointed out that Eaton, a former Republican, helped Rep. Charlie Dent get elected in 2004.

“Jackson changed his registration a few months ago,” Daugherty said.

Eaton responded by highlighting his political perspective, rather than the views of the GOP.

“When I announced [my party shift] I explained: I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me,” Eaton said.

Eaton also talked about his voting record.

“I voted for Al Gore [in 2000],” he said. “I’ve been voting for the Democratic nominee since then.”

While Charlie Dent, like any incumbent, possesses certain advantages over Eaton and Daugherty, name recognition may not be one of their challenges.

“I think both of them have name recognition,” said Judi Dexter, a Bethlehem resident and school board member who attended the debate. “I thought the candidates were evenly matched. Both candidates seemed to steer away from the nastiness.”

“Our Congress has left too many people behind,” Eaton said when making his closing statement for the debate. He also said that he is the only candidate who can beat Charlie Dent in the fall. “I think you need a candidate who is willing to go toe-to-toe with Dent.”

Daugherty took a different approach in closing. He said that he is not running for Congress for the title.

“I’m not interested in getting my name on a piece of paper,” Daugherty said. While wrapping up, he also mentioned the importance that roots can have. “In terms of loyalty, I will never turn my back. If I’m elected to Congress, you know who I am.”

The winner of the April 24 primary will face Rep. Dent in the general election in the fall.

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