Congressional hopefuls Laureen Cummings and Matt Cartwright took questions from reporters, students and each other during their first Lehigh Valley debate Wednesday night.
Meeting at PBS 39's studio in South Bethlehem, the two candidates running in a newly created congressional district spoke for about an hour on the economy, energy, Pennsylvania's voter ID law and "divisiveness," a term both candidates threw at each other's party.
Democrat Carwright -- an attorney from Moosic -- and Cummings -- a Republican nurse from Old Forge who owns a small nursing company -- are battling to represent Pennsylvania's new 17th Congressional district.
They were asked how, as first-time candidates in a new district, they'd get things done in Washington.
“To be an effective congressperson is a tall order," Cartwright said, and noted that he had gone to the Democratic National Convention this year to begin building relationships, meeting with 25 to 30 members of Congress.
Cummings, 48, meanwhile, said she had been working in politics for the past few years. She was the founder of Scranton's Tea Party.
“I have helped get a lot of the current seated Congress elected because I believed in their cause," Cummings said.
Both candidates said they had traveled the district, meeting with people in all of its counties. They differed on nearly every other matter.
On energy policy, for example, Cartwright, 51, says he supports continuing the Obama administration's "all of the above approach," and spoke fondly of the idea of things like wind energy.
Cummings, however, said the administration was supporting offshore drilling in other countries while stopping it at home. She said "all of the above" needs to include oil, coal and natural gas.
A student from Muhlenberg College -- which co-sponsored the debate with the station and the Morning Call -- asked the candidates where they stood on the voter ID law.
Cartwright called the law -- which has been put on old until after the election -- "an outrage," designed to disenfranchise voters.
"It was a bad law, and it should be put to rest," he said.
But Cummings said she would have voted for it, saying it would protect against voter fraud. She cited the 2008 case in which members of the New Black Panther Party were accused of intimidating voters in Philadelphia.
“I want to have legal votes happening. I have been watching how things are happening in our polling stations that people need to know about," Cummings said.
The candidates also got a chance to ask each other five questions.
Cummings asked Cartwright if he would have voted for the "cap and trade" bill, which was designed -- among other things -- to create clean energy jobs and reduce global warming. Cartwright said he would have.
"Global warming is not a hoax. It’s not something that should be taken lightly," he said. "Trashing the environment is not the way to grow your economy."
He asked Cummings if she would support expanding natural gas drilling -- AKA "fracking" -- into the Delaware River Basin. Cummings said she would need to research the matter more, but added she thinks it's a decision best left to local governments.
"I don’t believe the federal government should be talking about this issue," she said.
Cummings and Cartwright are scheduled to debate again Nov. 1 in Schuylkill County.
Schuylkill is one of six counties -- Northampton, Monroe, Carbon, Luzerne and Lackawanna are the others -- that make up the 17th district, which was created last year by redistricting.
In Northampton, it includes the Easton area and a portion of the Slate Belt, as well as parts of Bethlehem and Bethlehem Township, Nazareth, Stockertown, Tatamy and Freemansburg.
The debate will repeat on PBS 39 on Sunday at 11:30 a.m.