PROVIDENCE — Given the chance to ask a question of any of his three opponents in a debate Wednesday for the 1st Congressional District seat, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline skipped over his Democratic primary opponent Matt Fecteau and pointed a question at Republican political newcomer Cormick Lynch.
He asked Lynch, an Iraq war veteran, what he would do if he were faced with the decision to increase troops in Afghanistan or leave the country. Pressing further after Lynch said he believed the U.S. should “go to war sparingly and fight to win,” Cicilline sought to differentiate himself from the 29-year-old.
“You won’t say it out loud, but I think what you’re saying is that you support additional troops in Afghanistan,” Cicilline said. “I don’t support additional troops.”
Lynch countered, saying he would have to more closely evaluate the situation on the ground, but believes it’s the “height of arrogance to think when you walk away from a war you win it.”
Challengers Fecteau, Lynch and Republican Stan Tran — none of whom have ever held public office — were visibly eager to engage the incumbent Cicilline during the 75-minute forum at Laurelmead retirement home, in one of the first instances where all four men have debated. Laurelmead Executive Director Craig Evans moderated the panel, asking questions touching on retirement benefits, foreign policy and the economy.
Asked about his top priority, Tran, a Brown University medical student who put his education on hold to run for Congress, said his primary goal is to drive down the cost of health care. Part of his plan to do that includes allowing people to purchase prescription drugs from outside the country, where the same drugs can often be purchased for less.
“Stopping Obamacare doesn’t help people,” Tran said. “Health care was too expensive before Obamacare, and it’s too expensive today.”
Lynch named securing the border and lowering taxes to make the state a more attractive place to live as his top priorities.
Fecteau, also an Iraq war veteran, said he would give companies incentives to come back to the United States.
“Job growth is linked to everything,” he said.
Cicilline answered more generally when asked about his priorities, saying that the most important role he plays is standing up to the Republican majority.
Party divisions played a role throughout the debate. During his turn to question a candidate, Lynch pressed Cicilline about a campaign flier that states he will “stop Republicans from cutting vital programs for seniors, attacking women’s rights, and hurting middle-class families.”
Lynch named several issues in which he agreed with the congressman before asking him why he is promoting the “stereotypical, politicized, untrue things that are just causing more division.”
Cicilline said while the flier wasn’t about Lynch specifically, policy advancement is ultimately more important than “whether we can get along and can be cordial.”
“What you’re saying is you disagree with some of the positions of the House Republican leadership. That’s great. Good for you,” Cicilline said. “But in the end, sending you to Washington will give Speaker [John] Boehner one more vote and empower the Republican caucus to move forward on their agenda, and it’s not good for Rhode Island.”
Fecteau also used his turn to question a candidate to address Cicilline. Referencing his attempts to engage Cicilline one on one before the Democratic primary, Fecteau repeatedly asked when the two would debate.
“I think that’s what we’re doing right now,” Cicilline replied.
Cicilline also referenced volunteer commitments that kept him from participating in a debate on the public access television show “State of the State.”