Candidates for Minnesota’s 5th District congressional seat debated Thursday on jobs, the economy and the president.
Republican first-time candidate and former U.S. Marine Chris Fields faced third-term U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who represents the University of Minnesota area, in a heated debate on the Chad Hartman show on WCCO.
Besides brief statements on tax policies and foreign affairs in Libya, talk of unemployment and the economic deficit ruled the majority of the 30-minute discussion.
The two originally planned to discuss the upcoming amendments on marriage and voter ID but ran out of time due to the economy debate.
“Jobs are number one,” Ellison said. “It’s about rebuilding America and getting those opportunities out there.”
Fields said Ellison is too closely aligned with President Barack Obama and his economic strategies, which Fields said aren’t working. He said there needs to be Republican reform.
“The Congressman is so tied to the Obama administration that he has lost all ability to hold them to account,” Fields said. “There is a fine line for a city congressman … being supportive and being able to hold the administration accountable.”
Ellison said neither he nor Obama thinks “we’re just fine” and that “everything is great.”
But he agreed that more aggressive work needs to be done for jobless Americans.
“The bottom line is this: We are on the right track. Americans are getting more jobs,” Ellison said. “Do we have as many as we need? Of course we don’t.”
The candidates also heatedly discussed the issue of race in the debate.
Fields said race is an issue due to the high gap in unemployment between whites and blacks.
The U.S. unemployment rate for whites is 7 percent, compared to 13.4 percent for African-Americans, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
“Are we giving this president a pass because he is black?” Fields asked Ellison on Thursday. “We’d be marching on the White House if the president was white.”
Unemployment rates have nothing to do with race, Ellison said, and “everything to do with trying to make sure we help Americans of all colors.”
Ellison criticized Fields for bringing race into his campaign, which ran a brief commercial in which Fields tells voters “Vote for this black guy not that one.”
Ellison said at the debate that he finds it “reprehensible” that Fields has made it a “racially charged” campaign.
“To turn this into a divided race issue is really unfortunate, and I’m sorry you chose to do that,” Ellison said.