Democrat Kathleen Rice and Republican Bruce Blakeman faced off Friday in the only debate of their 4th Congressional District campaign -- yet it was President Barack Obama's name that took center stage.
Rice, the Nassau district attorney, and Blakeman, a former presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, taped the 30-minute debate, which will air at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on News 12 Long Island.
As they seek to succeed retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), Rice and Blakeman contrasted their differing positions on health care, taxes, the economy and national security, often mentioning Obama.
Blakeman faulted Obama's responses to Islamic State militants in the Middle East and the Ebola crisis, and said the Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare," was "bringing us closer to socialized medicine."
"My opponent, Kathleen Rice, supports President Obama's policies, every single one of them," Blakeman said.
Rice said Blakeman offered no alternatives to the parts of Obamacare that make insurers cover dependent adult children until age 26, or that reduce health care costs for women.
Rice acknowledged that the law's implementation was "a disaster." But she called Blakeman's calls for repeal "political gimmicks," and said his effort to frequently tie her to Obama was meant as a distraction.
"Every time he mentions Barack Obama, that is another lost opportunity of his to tell you what he's going to do for you," Rice said of Blakeman.
Both stressed their ability to buck their own parties if necessary.
Rice cited her "political independence" in prosecuting fellow Democrats.
Blakeman noted that he had criticized House Speaker John Boehner for suing Obama this year.
Rice supported a bipartisan proposal to raise the federal gasoline tax by 6 cents per gallon in each of the next two years to fund road improvements. Blakeman opposed the increase, saying residents already struggle with gas prices.
The debate's tensest moment came during Blakeman's closing statement, in which he talked about Rice "attending a fundraiser" for the Islamic Center of Long Island with an imam whom federal prosecutors once identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
"That is not true and you know it," Rice interjected.
"This is my closing statement," Blakeman said to Rice.
By the time the debate was taped, Rice had already pulled out of the Nov. 23 fundraiser after news media reports earlier yesterday had noted the involvement of the imam and his background.
The DA's office said Rice accepted the invitation to speak without knowing organizers also would invite the imam.
All News 12 debates can also be seen on Channel 612 of Optimum systems and news12.com