Candidates for Missouri’s Eighth Congressional seat went on the offensive in a debate Tuesday night at Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus in Cape Girardeau. The debate comes one week before a special election on June 4.
Democrat Steve Hodges and Republican Jason Smith were joined onstage by the Constitution Party’s Doug Enyart and Libertarian Bill Slantz.
Hodges, a Missouri House Representative from East Prairie, has been focusing his campaign on protecting Social Security and Medicaid. When asked what changes he would make to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, Hodges didn’t offer any specifics but called the program one of the most important issues facing voters in the district.
“My parents are both 86. That’s the only source of income they have. They depend on that to pay their bills. I think that we must preserve the Social Security program and find ways to fund that are efficient. Anything past that is non-negotiable,” Hodges said.
Hodges accused Republican Jason Smith of probably wanting to cut or privatize Social Security. Smith, a Missouri House member from Salem, countered that Hodges is trying to create a position for him.
“My parents are both on Social Security. Can you imagine if I did something to dismantle Social Security? I would not be invited to Thanksgiving dinner, I can tell you that,” Smith said. “But I believe we have promises made to our seniors. People fifty years and above, let’s say that example, they’ve paid into this system their entire life. Government should not dismantle and take it away.”
Smith added younger Americans will have to do something differently because, he says, Social Security will not be there as they reach retirement age if changes are not made.
All the candidates identify themselves as conservatives, and often tried to distinguish themselves by attacking their rivals' conservative credentials.
Both Hodges and Smith are pro-life candidates, but Missouri Right To Life only endorses Jason Smith. The Republican says that’s because Hodges did not try to override Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that allows employers to decline to provide insurance coverage for abortions.
“This gentleman refused to override the veto of the Democrat governor. He will do the same thing in Washington. He will go right along with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi and that’s the last thing the 8th District needs in Washington, DC,” Smith said.
Hodges attacked Smith’s pro-life record and his stance on embryonic stem cell research.
“In 2010, he voted on multiple occasions for funding to support research facilities that conducted human cloning and that used stem cells,” Hodges said. “If you’re going to be extremely pro-life, who can you vote to approve research on human cloning? I don’t think that meshes very well.”
Smith and Hodges are vying for the Congressional seat vacated by Jo Ann Emerson. The Republican announced her resignation shortly after her re-election last year.
The debate was sponsored by Southeast Missouri State University, KFVS12 and the Southeast Missourian newspaper. The debate was broadcast live on KRCU.