Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) has been in office for 25-years. Former state representative Jack Hoogendyk challenged Upton in the republican primary in 2010 and lost.
The questions during the hour-long debate in Kalamazoo Sunday night were centered on 5 themes; economy, energy, health care, spending, and how to help the 6th Congressional district.
Around 130 people came to an auditorium on Western Michigan University’s campus for the debate.
Karen Jones is a Democrat from Portage but wanted to check out the candidates anyway. The college student was impressed Upton is willing to cut military spending.
But overall, “It seemed like it kind of came to a competition of who’s more conservative out of them,” Jones said.
Upton noted support from the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, Right to Life and other conservative groups.
And indeed, Hoogendyk criticized Upton’s votes to increase the federal debt ceiling and for the bank bailout under President George W. Bush. He says its establishment Republicans like Upton who’ve lost their way in trying to balance the federal budget debate.
“It can be done it just takes some intestinal fortitude and a steel spine by our members of congress to say no it’s time to stop the spending,” Hoogendyk said. At times he pointed to the Chambers of Commerce and the Michigan Farm Bureau as examples of groups who benefit from federal government programs, subsidies, and tax incentives.
Hoogendyk says he’d stick to his principles if elected. Hoogendyk says he’s more conservative than Upton and has tea party support.
Upton says he is conservative. But he also acknowledged he represents some urban, more Democratic leaning areas like Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor in the 6th Congressional district.
“It went for Obama. It went for President Clinton twice. It is diverse. Diversity, I think, gives us strength but it is one district where people don’t really care if you have an R or a D next to your name,” Upton said.
“I think that Fred Upton has done a decent job over the years and I don’t have any major concerns with him,” John Schneider said before the debate. He’s lived in Kalamazoo for 70 years and he likes Upton’s track record.
Creating jobs and a smaller federal government (he says state and local governments are competent and effective) are his biggest concerns. Schneider was very interested in what solutions for improving the economy Hoogendyk had in mind.
“The answers are kind of text book,” Schneider tells me after the debate. “There was nothing I didn’t think that one could consider earth shaking or very different.”
Could he pick a candidate if he had to vote tomorrow?
“Could be a tough call right now,” Schneider said. “We’re lucky they’re both good candidates.”
Whoever wins the August primary faces Democratic Mike O’Brien in the general election.