The candidates for New York's 1st Congressional District, which covers much of Suffolk County, squared off at the Hampton Bays Civic Association-sponsored event, before about 200 people at Hampton Bays High School.
Amid more disagreements about immigration and the future of Medicare, both candidates had to answer for a series of television ads -- Bishop's accusing Altschuler of being an outsourcer while running his former business and Altschuler's questioning the congressman's ethics while in office.
Why, a Hamptons Bay High School student asked, were the two men running negative ads rather than focusing on their accomplishments?
"It's something we all find ourselves dragged into," Bishop told the female student, blaming Super PACs and an increasingly partisan environment. "We all find ourselves engaged in a war of attacks instead of a positive explanation of our strengths."
Altschuler answered the student by saying he was "shocked" at the accepted campaign tactics he encountered during his first House run, but that this time around, he has balanced his anti-Bishop spots with one ad focused on his upbringing and accomplishments.
"It's been a struggle, and let's be honest: Every time you turn on the TV or get the mail it's about Randy being an outsourcer," Altschuler said. "But I'd love to talk about the issues."
The candidates used part of the debate to repeat previous disagreements. Bishop, a five-term Southampton Democrat, said Altschuler, whom he narrowly defeated in 2010, supports the budget plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which repeals the Affordable Care Act and, Bishop said, would more rapidly drive Medicare to insolvency.
"That is not the direction we need to take this country," Bishop said, noting that Medicare would remain solvent through 2024 under Democrats' health care reform, instead of 2014.
"Congressman Ryan had guts to put some sort of solution forward, and all Congressman Bishop can do is complain about the solution and throw mud at it," Altschuler told the audience in response to a question about the future of Medicare. "That's the reason the country is in trouble."
On immigration, Altschuler said he'd focus on comprehensive reform rather than "piecemeal" solutions like aiding citizenship efforts of children illegally brought to the country by their parents.
Bishop said he wants to work on larger reform while still offering legalization options for law-abiding people who are undocumented by no fault of their own.
The next debate -- the candidates' third of about a dozen -- takes place Thursday at 7 p.m. at Riverhead's Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, 18 Peconic Ave.