When Kansas voters head to the polls in the Republican primary next month, they will have to choose between an incumbent, or someone who held the seat for 16 years.
Republican candidates for the 4th Congressional District went head to head for the Wichita Crime Commission debate Monday. It did not take long for the attacks to begin.
A coin toss gave the floor to Todd Tiahrt first. Tiahrt formerly held the Congressional seat from 1994 until 2011. U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, who was elected in 2010, followed.
"If I was driving down Kellogg, and there was a car wreck, I would stop to help," Tiahrt said. "If the car was on fire, I would drag the people out of the car. In Washington, D.C. today we have a train wreck."
"The year immediately prior to me taking office, the country spent $1.4 trillion more than it took in," Pompeo said. "That is not a taxing problem, that is a spending problem."
From the start, the candidates did not hold back. Tiahrt accused Pompeo of supporting the Affordable Care Act.
"Mr. Pompeo voted seven times to fully fund Obamacare, but he will quickly remind you that he's voted 57 times to repeal it," Tiahrt said.
"Obamacare went in the fundamentally wrong direction," Pompeo said. "I voted to repeal it 57 times. I hope I only have to do it one more time and we can truly get rid of it."
Then, Pompeo called Tiahrt's record of asking for earmarks irresponsible.
"When Chief Norman Williams called our office and said we don't have the resources to catch Dennis Rader ... BTK," Tiahrt said, "yes, I went and got an earmark for it. It was $1 million."
"He won't tell you about all the earmarking he got for folks that had nothing to do with Kansas," Pompeo said. "How about a pier in San Francisco? How about a company in Colorado Springs that he later went to work for?"
Both candidates claim to be the best supporter of aviation. The moderator asked a question from the audience: "Which one of you said as long as I'm in office Boeing will never leave?"
Tiahrt took responsibility for that statement.
"They left after I left office," he said. "In fact, they are one of two companies that left. That's why we're down half of them. I think part of it was because they didn't have the support structure they had while I was there."
Pompeo responded by saying, "The folks who know aviation in this community are supporting my re-election. Not Mr. Tiahrt's effort to unseat me. They don't want to send someone back who was there 16 years."
An undecided voter wrote in asking, "What one attribute do you posses that your opponent doesn't that would convince me to pull your lever next month?"
"I believe deeply in you," Pompeo said. "I believe in limited government with all my heart and I did so long before I ever decided to leave the private sector and run for Congress."
"We need to return this seat to public service," Tiahrt said. "Not to the power that's provided in Washington D.C., or the perks of international travel, or the privileges that you have as a member of Congress. It's got to be about the people."
It is clear the candidates are not fond of each other, but Pompeo and Tiahrt were individually asked if they lose the race, will they vote for the other candidate in the general election. Both said yes.
In typical political fashion, the debate ended with a handshake and a smile.
Eyewitness News wants to help you make an informed decision at the polls. Pompeo and Tiahrt will join us for a candidate forum July 21 at 6:30 p.m. on KWCH 12. It will also be streamed live at www.kwch.com.