Incumbent Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth and her opponent Sean Patrick Maloney, agreed on only two things in an hourlong debate Tuesday: that American troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan and that New York needs a new Tappan Zee bridge.
"We have been in Afghanistan far too long," Maloney said. "It's time to get our kids home."
Hayworth called the bridge project a "great job creator and added, "I have been proud to work with Gov. Cuomo every step along the way."
Maloney concurred, but couldn't resist translating support for the bridge into criticism of the Tea Party.
"We need to get going on this stuff," he said. "And the reason we can't is that the Tea Party has ground everything to a halt."
Other than those fleeting moments of accord, the two slugged it out along familiar lines, with Maloney continuing to hammer at Hayworth's tenuous association with the Tea Party, and Hayworth questioning Maloney's integrity.
Tuesday's debate was moderated by News 12 anchor Tim Cassidy. The candidates fielded questions from Janine Rose of News 12; Bob Marone of WVOX radio in New Rochelle and Christian Wade of Newsday Westchester.
While the candidates found little to agree on, they were generally cordial during the debate.
Animosity between the two camps -- energized with terms such as "extremist" and "carpetbagger" -- had been heightened in the days leading up to the debate, with the release of a Siena College poll indicating that Hayworth's lead over Maloney has narrowed, and now stands at 49 to 42 percent. A Siena poll in September had given Hayworth a 13-point lead.
The two are battling to represent the 18th Congressional district, which includes Putnam County, most of Orange and portions of Dutchess and Westchester counties.
Hayworth wasted no time getting to the integrity issue Tuesday evening, suggesting that a company Maloney worked for had been at fault in connection with the collapse of Enron, an energy trading company that imploded amid charges of fraud in 2001. The key link she put forward was an account of an email in which the CEO of the company, a risk management firm called Kiodex, praised Enron for honesty and openness in its financial dealings. Hayworth suggested that Maloney had been chief operating officer of the company at the time, and had been copied on the email.
Maloney ridiculed the suggestion as "complete nonsense" and told Hayworth "You don't know what you're talking about."
On multiple occasions, he pounded away at Hayworth's willingness to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and for Pell Grants that help students, painting Hayworth as a Tea Party radical inclined to make common cause with other Tea Party politicians in Washington even at the expense of the district.
Maloney characterized the Tea Party's approach to government as "you're all on your own."
He accused Hayworth of complicity in the delay of disaster aid to the Hudson Valley after Hurricane Irene.
"Even when Hurricane Irene came through it was the Tea Party ideology that took precedence over our own communities," Maloney said.
Hayworth rejected association with Tea Party, as she has in the past, and argued that her opponent has tried to trick voters into believing she is a radical through constant repetition of the charge.
"When you listen to Mr. Maloney describe my record, you must bear in mind that you are listening to someone who is practiced at hiding the facts," Hayworth said.
She warned small business owners in the Hudson Valley to be wary of Maloney.
"He will raise your taxes," she said.
Hayworth was more than happy to concede she would work for repeal of President Obama's health care law, saying "I voted twice for full repeal and replacement of the law."
Asked what her approach to health care would be, she said, "I am going to suggest that we have everybody be able to set up a health savings account."
Maloney blasted away at that position, charging that Hayworth will cut programs for the neediest to give tax breaks to multimillionaires. He conceded that there are flaws in the existing health care law.
"I think there's lots of things we can do better," he said. "I think we should work together to fix what's broken and stop fighting."
The contest has been hard fought, funded with a flood of campaign contributions sufficient to make the race noteworthy nationally. Between them, the two candidates had raised more than $4 million, as of Sept. 30. Hayworth, a 52-year-old ophthalmologist, had raised $2.73 million, while Maloney, a 46-year-old Manhattan-based attorney, had gathered nearly $1.6 million, according to Federal Elections Commission filings.