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Armstrong, Schneider exchange barbs in third debate for U.S. House race

Democrat Mac Schneider, left, and Republican Kelly Armstrong met in their second debate of North Dakota's 2018 U.S. House race last month in Bismarck. The two sparred again Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, on Prairie Public Broadcasting. (Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune)

GRAND FORKS — North Dakota's Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. House race butted heads for a third time, calling each other out on their votes in the state Legislature and support of national policy.

State Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, and Grand Forks attorney Mac Schneider, a Democrat who served in the Senate from 2009 to 2016, exchanged barbs Tuesday night, Sept. 11, in a live broadcast on Prairie Public Broadcasting. The debate was sponsored by AARP, and PPB News Director Dave Thompson moderated.

The debate was mostly cordial, though there were times when the two argued face-to-face and out of turn, called each other out on past legislation and attempted to fact-check each other. Early on, Schneider accused Armstrong of supporting President Donald Trump's trade policies. He referred to Trump's move to place tariffs on China, which resulted in tariffs against U.S. agricultural products.

"I for the life of me can't understand why someone seeking to represent North Dakota in the Congress would do something like that," Schneider said of support for Trump's trade policies.

He also accused Armstrong of flip-flopping on the issue now that farmers have seen the impacts of tariffs.

"Our state can't afford to have that person speak out of both sides of his mouth," Schneider said.

Armstrong denied supporting Trump's policies, saying tariffs do not benefit North Dakota and that he has said that since Day 1 of his campaign.

"What I will say is I support the administration for working to negotiate better trade deals for not just this generation but for future generations," Armstrong said.

In another exchange, Armstrong appeared to turn Schneider's words against him when talking about Trump's tax cuts. The Grand Forks attorney often said he wants to focus on "kitchen-table issues."

"You want to know what a kitchen-table issue is?" Armstrong asked after saying the cuts helped North Dakota more than any other state. "When you open up your checkbook and you have more money in it."

Schneider said a lot of the gains from tax cuts were "erased by the trade war."

"Let's keep that in mind when we talk about what is good for the economy," he said.

As Armstrong listed off which tax cuts Schneider did not support, Schneider interrupted to say, "That's not true."

"Check the record," Schneider said.

When asked about breaking deadlocks in Congress, Schneider said U.S. delegates need to set aside ideology and elect people who are willing to work across the aisle instead of "charging to the extremes."

Armstrong said people have to stand on principle when it matters but that it is "absolutely not wise to commit to 100 percent loyalty to anybody."

"I have never, ever shied away from taking on members of my own party when I thought it was best for North Dakota citizens," he said before saying Schneider was "not a bipartisan moderate in the North Dakota Senate, you were a partisan Democrat."

Schneider shot back, saying Armstrong did not stand up to issues important to North Dakota such as trade and health care.

"Let's get real here though," Schneider said. "You and I worked in the North Dakota Senate on a lot of things that are very important."

Schneider said change is needed nationally in his own party, adding he will not vote for U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi if he is elected.

"If she is the only one running, you are not going to vote for her?" Armstrong said as he interrupted Schneider

"I'm not going to vote for her," Schneider said. "I'm going to vote for someone else. I'm going to vote for whoever is best for North Dakota."

Thompson called the exchange "a spirited yet respectful debate."

The two are vying for a seat held by Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican who is challenging U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for her seat. Heitkamp, who is the lone Democrat from North Dakota in Congress, is seeking her first bid for re-election.

Charles Tuttle, a Minot Republican who is on the ballot as an Independent candidate in the race, did not participate in the debate.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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