Incumbent U.S. Rep. Bob Dold and Democratic candidate Brad Schneider packed Lake Forest High School’s auditorium during their first live debate in the 10th congressional district Sunday afternoon.
Dold, a Republican from Kenilworth, and Schneider, a businessman from Deerfield, argued their positions on everything from taxes and the economy to protecting the environment and women’s reproductive rights.
The debate’s moderator, Jan Flapan, the former president of the League of Women Voters, asked both candidates a series of foreign policy questions crafted by audience members, including how they thought President Barack Obama handled the Libya crisis.
Dold said the killing of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, last month was a “tragedy” and added that before the attack, Stevens requested additional assistance and security forces in the area.
“That ought to be something that we honor,” Dold said.
During Schneider’s turn to comment, he said the death of one of the country’s best diplomats reflects the difficulties the United States faces in the area.
He then commended Obama for taking out Osama Bin Laden, which he said showed how the United States will pursue justice no matter what region of the world.
This statement led the standing-room-only auditorium to erupt with grunts, laughs and chatter.
“What happened to Ambassador Stevens was a crime, and we will see this county, regardless of who is president, go after and pursue justice and make sure it’s delivered,” he said.
Before the end of Schneider’s minute to respond, he took the opportunity to circle back to a previous question Flapan asked about the environment when Dold touted himself as a conservationist and talked about his efforts to increase funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“What my opponent said about funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, he voted to cut it in half,” Schneider said, which was followed by applause from the audience.
Switching to health care, Schneider said during the debate that the Affordable Care Act takes the country in the right direction by moving from “a system that’s based on volume to a system that’s based on value.”
Dold said the country needs to bring down health care costs, arguing that the Affordable Care Act would double it.
“That’s a lie,” said one audience member.
Dold responded with, “That’s not a lie,” and then thanked the man for participating, which caused the room to burst with laughter again.
One question that didn’t get asked during the first presidential and vice-presidential debates, but was brought up on Sunday, was the candidates’ stance on gun control.
“Violence in our cities, in our communities, is a tragic … epidemic we are seeing throughout out county,” Schneider said, adding that the federal ban on assault weapons should be restored and high-capacity magazines be made illegal.
Schneider added that loopholes need to be closed that allow guns to be sold without proper background checks.
The congressman said he supports responsible gun ownership with reasonable restrictions. Dold added that states should be allowed more say in the matter.
One observer asked the candidates about their positions on women’s reproductive rights and abortion. Schneider said he’s 100 percent pro-choice. Dold said if re-elected he’ll work to protect a woman’s right to choose.
Dold won the 10th congressional seat, which was previously held by now U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, in 2010.
The newly drawn 10th district is predominately Democratic and includes parts of Highland Park, Lake Villa, Waukegan and other cities.
There are 18 congressional seats up for re-election in Illinois.
Democrats are hoping to win this competitive race, along with others such as the 8th and 11th congressional districts, as part of an effort to regain control of the House.
Republicans currently control the House with a 240-191 majority. The chamber’s leadership changed hands in 2010 from former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
After the 10th congressional district debate, opinions were mixed from audience members.
Steve Sheffey, 52, who identified himself as a political activist in the district, said in remarks after the debate that he supports Schneider and considers the environment a key issue in the race. The district encompasses a good portion of Lake Michigan.
That 34 percent figure comes from the League’s National Environmental Scorecard for 2011.
Highland Park resident Sheffey said Schneider won the debate, although he believed Dold seemed more prepared.
“Dold pretty much proved himself to be an empty suit,” said Sheffey. “Brad was much better on substance. Dold probably did better on style.”
Rami Rakheram, 48, a Waukegan resident who’s in the medical field and considers himself an open-minded Republican, shared the sentiment that Dold was more prepared for the debate.
“I do feel that (Schneider) understands what the issues are, but I think he does not understand how to solve those issues,” Rakheram said. “Every question that was asked, I felt that (Schneider) was able to respond 15 percent correctly to each question.”
Candidates running for the state’s 29thsenate and 58th representative districts and the Lake County Board also squared off at the debate, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Union League Club of Chicago and the Patch news site.
Dold and Schneider will debate again on Fox Chicago News on October 21 at 8:30 a.m.