On abortion, Social Security — and Donald Trump — the ocean-wide differences between congressional candidates Randy Perkins and Brian Mast were on display during their hour-long debate Monday night in Palm Beach Gardens.
With only weeks left in a fiery race that has drawn national attention, Democrat Perkins and Republican Mast skewered each other on the stage of the Palm Beach State College Eissey Campus Theatre.
“He’s a radical,” Perkins, a wealthy businessman, said of his opponent. “He’s an extremist. And tonight he stands as we are here tonight with Donald Trump.”
At one point, Mast, a former U.S. Army bomb technician who lost both legs in Afghanistan, said Perkins is willing “to say things that are simply not true.”
Perkins described himself as “1,000 percent” in favor of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Mast, with much of the audience behind him, countered that Perkins is the radical on abortion, wondering aloud if his opponent backs partial-birth abortion or late-term abortion.
Perkins said he’d be open to raising the cap on how much income is subject to Social Security taxes. Mast said he would preserve Social Security benefits for those already receiving them and for those close to receiving them. But he said he favors changing the program for younger Americans.
The debate was aired lived by WPEC CBS Channel 12. Three journalists — George Bennett of The Palm Beach Post, Nicole Rodriguez of TCPalm and Jana Eschback of CBS12 - asked questions during the debate, which was moderated by CBS12 anchor Liz Quirantes.
Hosted by the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Hanley Center Foundation, the debate was initially scheduled to take place on Oct. 5. It was postponed when Hurricane Matthew raked the Florida coastline.
The U.S. House of Representatives race has drawn national attention because District 18, unlike most congressional districts, isn’t a lock for either the Democrat or the Republican.
U.S. Senate aspirant Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, currently holds the seat. He was preceded by Allen West, a Republican.
While the odds of a Democratic takeover of the House remains long, Democrats are as desperate to hold the seat as Republicans are to snatch it away.
Democrats are hoping for a massive flame out by Trump at the top of the GOP ticket that lifts the prospects of down-ballot candidates like Perkins.
Unlike a growing number of other Republicans, Mast has not withdrawn his support of Trump, whose candidacy has faltered after the release of a video where the celebrity real estate mogul brags about kissing women without their permission and grabbing them by their genitals.
Mast said he won’t support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, saying she left his military friends “for dead in Benghazi.”
He did say the election “is not an easy decision for anybody. It will be Hillary Clinton or it will be Donald Trump.”
Perkins, however, questioned how Mast could continue to support Trump.
“I don’t know how you could vote for a man who vilifies women, who degrades women,” Perkins said. “I could never support Donald Trump.”
After the debate, Mast received long, sustained applause from an audience that had struggled to follow the debate’s rules against clapping for either candidate.