(AP) — U.S. Sen. Tom Carper defended his record during three terms in the Senate in a debate Monday against his Democratic primary challenger Kerri Lynn Harris, a political newcomer and progressive community activist waging a grassroots campaign to try to unseat him.
During their only meeting ahead of next week’s primary contest, Harris said she’s running because working-class people have been forgotten and the country needs a change.
“I’m tired of being told ‘wait a little longer,'” said Harris, who called for a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, and a “Green New Deal,” creating jobs backed by sustainable energy.
Harris, 38, also called for abolishing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and eliminating all student debt.
She offered no details on how to fund her priorities but said Congress can “figure it out,” the same way it has found the funds to wage foreign wars and bail out big banks after the 2008 financial crisis.
Harris also hammered Carper for taking money from political action committees, which she has vowed not to do.
“I think that corporate money is an enemy of our democracy,” she said.
Carper countered that he doesn’t just talk about change, but makes it happen.
He touted his achievements during his long career in the Senate, including most recently leading the fight against former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and pushing back against the Trump administration in its efforts to weaken environmental protection policies, scrap the Affordable Care Act and implement tariffs that risk alienating key trading partners.
“I’m not fed up. I’m fired up,” said Carper, who stumbled at times during the debate but asserted that, at age 71, he has plenty of energy to continue serving Delaware in the Senate.
“I would challenge anyone in this auditorium to keep up with me,” Carper said, touting his 14-hour workdays and daily exercise regime.
Harris faces a steep challenge against Carper, a well-funded, veteran politician who has never lost a campaign during more than four decades in politics. She tried to paint Carper as one of many out-of-touch career politicians in Washington, criticizing his vote in favor the Keystone pipeline and saying Congress needs a “diversity of experience” to ensure that the concerns of working-class Americans are addressed.
“I’m running because I know what you’re experiencing right now,” she told the audience. “And I know that a firm handshake, a kind smile, a witty remark, is not enough to move us forward. We’re suffering.”
While mostly refraining from attacking each other, Carper and Harris took plenty of jabs at President Donald Trump on issues ranging from immigration to environmental protection and trade.
Harris said the Republican president has tried to disenfranchise working-class voters “by making us point fingers at each other,” but that his actions have actually helped unify his opponents.
Carper echoed that sentiment, saying Trump has united “a badly fractured Democratic Party.”