TAMPA — With 11 days left in their campaigns, the candidates in Pinellas County's congressional election met Friday for their final scheduled debate, handling questions on Social Security, Obamacare, Cuba and war.
On Social Security, an issue that is playing a key role in the contest, Democrat Alex Sink said that she considers the program to be strong and that its trustees have said it will be solvent for 20 years. She pledged to be a "strong advocate" for the program, and said she would oppose privatizing it.
Republican David Jolly said Social Security's trustees have made it clear the program has long-term financial challenges that must be addressed.
"We have to have an adult conversation about this," Jolly said. "Let's start by guaranteeing benefits for everybody that's currently on the program (and) those who will be on the system soon," and then look for ways to make sure it will be available to younger generations also, he said.
Moderator Rob Lorei asked if that could include some form of privatization, and Jolly said "I think for the youngest generation, it is appropriate that we consider all options … but importantly, we have to maintain the safety net."
Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby said he opposes privatization, but does not consider Social Security to be on a strong footing.
Jolly also said in the half-hour debate at WEDU studios that while he supports a full repeal of Obamacare, he favors some of its consumer-protection provisions, such as allowing people to get insurance coverage even with preexisting conditions.
Why does he oppose the law? "We don't need Obamacare to solve that problem."
Sink reaffirmed her support of the law, and said a repeal would be a far worse option than fixing what needs improvement.
On abortion, Jolly clarified that while he opposes it, he does believe abortions should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the life of the mother.
Sink said she was not ready to lift the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, because of Cuba's human rights violations.
Jolly is not ready to lift the embargo either, saying "I don't trust the Cuban regime."
Overby advocated lifting it.
Lorei posed at least one question the candidates have not faced before: If asked to approve a future war, would the candidates also pledge to raise taxes to pay for it? None did.
None of the candidates was asked about immigration, or asked each other about it. Sink stirred a controversy earlier in the week when she said she supported immigration reform, adding, "where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping?" Jolly later called her comment disgusting, and said it should disqualify her from Congress.
The latest campaign reports show that, through Feb. 19, Jolly's campaign raised just over $1 million and Sink's campaign raised about $2.5 million, although spending by outside groups has reached about $6 million.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or [email protected]