It's one of the tightest and most closely-watched House races
in the entire nation: Republican Dan Lungren fighting for
re-election against Democrat Ami Bera. Both hope to represent
California's newly-redrawn 7th congressional district. It now
covers several eastern and southern Sacramento suburbs including
Folsom, Citrus Heights and Elk Grove. The first - and perhaps
only - debate in that race took place Tuesday.
This is the second straight election where Lungren and Bera
have squared off - and from their frequent jabs during the debate,
you can tell they're not exactly best friends. Take, for
example, this exchange about Medicare, where each accused the other
of having the wrong position. Republicans have run TV ads
criticizing Bera for supporting a $700 billion reduction to
Medicare. The website Politifact rates that claim "mostly
false." Here's the response from Bera,
who's a doctor at UC Davis:
Congressman, you know that's not true. In fact, you voted for that
same thing yourself - twice. That $700 billion never leaves
Medicare. It stays there in the trust fund and it extends to
the life of Medicare."
Lungren jabbed back:
Lungren: "Dr. Bera,
just because you say something is true doesn't make it
He went on to say:
Lungren: "The fact of
the matter is, it takes it out of Medicare. It specifically
takes it out of Medicare Advantage. And in this district, the
7th district, we have one of the highest percentages of
senior citizens who have opted in for Medicare Advantage in the
Bera then accused Lungren of wanting to privatize Medicare -
with vouchers. Lungren said that's not what he's
The candidates also compared their very different views on
taxes, spending and job creation. But the most heated moments
came about halfway through the debate when each candidate got to
ask the other a question. Bera went first:
Bera: "Which one of
your two taxpayer-funded pensions would you be willing to give up
to help us pay off the debt?
Lungren: "Well, I would have
expected a question like that from you!"
Lungren went on to say that as chair of the House
Administration Committee, he's slashed the budgets of House
leadership, policy committees and each member's office. Bera
your actions - you're currently taking a full pension from the
state of California of over $50,000 a year at a time when you're
taking a full salary in Congress of over $175,000.
We're going broke in this state. That is
double-dipping. You spiked your pension on your way
Actually, Lungren didn't spike his pension. The Citizens
Commission that sets the salaries for California elected officials
raised Lungren's pay shortly before his term as Attorney General
was up. Then, the congressman got his turn to ask a
question. He recalled how Bera had once promised to run a
campaign without personal attacks.
Lungren: "Were you
telling the truth at that time? Or was it a cynical political
ploy? Or as some of your friends have told me, it was that
you couldn't hold up under the pressure you received from the
Washington establishment to run a campaign against someone
personally instead of the issues."
Despite all that, the candidates agreed on a number of
issues. Republican Lungren said there's no doubt climate
change exists. Democrat Bera made clear he stands with Israel
when it comes to the potential of Iran getting nuclear
weapons. Bera also said he opposes spending federal tax
dollars on California's high-speed rail project - though he
supported it in his 2010 campaign.
Sacramento State Political Science Professor Kim Nalder was at
the debate and says that common ground probably isn't an
Nalder: "It's one of the closest
races in the country and you have an evenly-divided district.
So both of them are clearly hoping that at least some of their
constituents who are independents are tuning into this debate and
hearing something they want to hear. And that's why we didn't
hear as much contrast as their previous records would
Outside the debate, backers of each candidate stood on
opposite sides of a driveway trying to out-chant each other.
Lungren beat Bera two years ago, 50 percent to 43 percent.
But in a new year - and, more importantly, a new district - most
political analysts call this race a toss-up.
The 7th Congressional District debate was sponsored by
Capital Public Radio, the Sacramento Bee and News10.