MUNCIE — Republican Luke Messer says Brad Bookout, his Democratic opponent for the 6th Congressional District seat, has flipped his stance on one of the most pressing issues of the election.
The pair, along with Libertarian candidate Rex Bell, faced off in a debate Tuesday at Ball State University.
When the topic of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was raised, Messer and Bell both said it should be repealed.
Bookout, however, said that while the sweeping health-care reform law is not a perfect solution, it’s better than what the country had and it’s the job of a congressman to “work the bugs out.”
He also said that while Republicans “wish to repeal health care, I wish to repeal super PACs, which have both been upheld by the Supreme Court.”
But in a key exchange of the debate Messer challenged Bookout’s response, claiming that at an August event in Dearborn County, Bookout said now is not the time for Obamacare.
“That was at a tea party rally,” Bookout replied.
Messer, however, told the audience, “I’m going to have the same thing to say at tea parties as I will in front of you.”
The confrontation was the most heated point of the debate, which was otherwise fairly low key. Candidates sounded off on funding for education, the role of government, foreign policy and more before a large audience of mostly students.
Wednesday, Messer’s campaign provided the Daily Reporter with an audio recording of the Dearborn County event, during which Bookout said three times that now is not the time for Obamacare, saying “we absolutely cannot afford it.”
Messer said Bookout seems to be changing his stand on the issue.
“I think at a minimum, he left the impression of one thing in Dearborn County and tried to give a very different impression in Delaware County,” Messer said.
Bookout could not be reached for further comment Wednesday. He said in his closing remarks Tuesday, however, that the tea party event in Dearborn County was “not my crowd.’
“You know what, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into that room,” Bookout said. “They were polite, they were gracious. We can agree to disagree, but you know what? That’s what makes us great in this country.”
The newly drawn 6th Congressional District includes all or part of 19 counties, from Muncie to the Ohio River. Hancock County is now in the district, which is currently represented by Republican Rep. Mike Pence, who is running for governor this year. That leaves the three-way race wide open for the candidates, none of whom have held federal office.
Messer, 43, is a Shelbyville resident and former state representative. He is president of Hoosiers for Economic Growth network, an advocacy group on education reform.
Messer says he’s running on a platform of limited government and free enterprise.
Bookout, 39, is a Yorktown homebuilder and economic development consultant. He is also a former president of the Delaware County Council.
Bookout pledged to work to improve the district by working hard for Hoosiers at the federal level.
Bell, 60, of Hagerstown, owns a contracting company.
“I’m running for office because the federal government has grown in debt and in its reach in our lives,” Bell said.
He went on to encourage the crowd to vote for him if they want change.
“If you’re like me and you want limited government, you have to vote for limited government,” Bell said. “You can’t vote for limited government by voting for the same old parties.”
While the candidates have been going to forums and meet-and-greet sessions, the debate at Ball State was the first and only formal debate scheduled before the Nov. 6 election.
The event was sponsored by the college Republicans and Democrats, the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of Muncie-Delaware County. It was aired on the college’s radio station, and a video of the debate will also be placed on YouTube. The event was not televised.
Candidates said it’s taken a lot of work to spread the message about their campaigns because the district includes so many counties and media outlets.
BSU political science professors Ray Scheele and Charles Taylor wrote the questions for the debate and said afterward it was hard to identify a clear winner.
“I thought they all held their own, got their points across,” said Scheele.
The questions over Bookout’s stance on health care were probably confusing to the audience, Scheele said, because they couldn’t decipher what was said at the Dearborn County event.
Taylor said he was encouraged to hear that the candidates were willing to work with the opposing party. That’s refreshing compared to the partisan clashing that been going on in recent years, he said.
“I will be curious to see … just how Congress does act after (the election),” Taylor said.