PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Republican Allan Fung and Democrat Seth Magaziner squared off Thursday for the final time in the nationally watched race for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, reiterating their core arguments on issues like inflation and abortion.
Magaziner — who trailed in public polling in early October — took an aggressive posture throughout the debate, criticizing Fung repeatedly for supporting House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy as the next speaker despite his stated disagreements with McCarthy.
“Allan can say whatever he wants about his own views — he has committed himself to voting for a Republican leadership in Congress that has said that cutting Social Security is one of their top priorities,” Magaziner said, citing recent interviews with leading Republican lawmakers. He also said Fung “sucks up to extremists.”
But Fung insisted he would be an “independent voice” in the House Republican caucus if elected, and distanced himself from GOP leaders. Looking directly into the camera, Fung said, “I will never cut Social Security or Medicare.” He also said he wouldn’t join other Republicans in forcing a government shutdown over spending.
At the same time, Fung sought to go on the offense against President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats who currently control Washington. He blamed them for overspending, citing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act enacted early last year.
“We have too much money into our system that’s driving up the costs at the grocery store, that’s driving down the incomes of many of the families and more money going out of their pockets because of the inflation that’s happening,” Fung said. He called for cuts in federal spending and more domestic energy production.
Magaziner defended the programs funded by the law, and pointed out that Republicans backed a $1.9 trillion tax cut in 2017 under then-President Trump. “All of a sudden when it’s money for working people, it’s too much money in the system,” he said. He also repeatedly accused oil and drug companies of “price gouging.”
The afternoon debate, broadcast from Rhode Island College by WJAR-TV, was one of only two TV debates in the 2nd District race. The pair previously faced off Oct. 18 in a prime-time debate hosted by WPRI 12 at the Providence Performing Arts Center. They also debated twice on the radio.
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The unexpected retirement of 11-term Democratic incumbent Jim Langevin has given Republicans high hopes that they can win the 2nd District for the first time since 1988. Fung has capitalized on his prominence from years as a popular mayor of Cranston as well as two unsuccessful bids for governor.
Yet Democrats have insisted that 2nd District voters — who backed Biden by double-digits just two years ago — will “come home” to the party in the end, and insist Magaziner is making late gains by focusing on traditional Democratic messages around the economy.
The contest has been extraordinarily expensive by Rhode Island standards: a media-buying summary obtained Thursday by 12 News shows the two candidates and their allies have now earmarked $10.7 million for advertising in the 2nd District race through next Tuesday, including over $3 million this week alone.
Republicans had a narrow spending edge of slightly over $300,000 as of Thursday, with the lion’s share of GOP advertising funded by the Congressional Leadership Fund, an outside super PAC aligned with House Republicans that has ridiculed Magaziner as privileged and out of touch.
Fung tried to distance himself from the group’s ads, saying his own campaign has only paid for spots that include a positive message. “I don’t coordinate with my super PACs,” he said. He also noted that the No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told reporters Fung is not an extremist — even though Democratic TV ads have suggested he is.
On abortion, Fung accused Magaziner of mischaracterizing his position, repeating his support for a bipartisan bill that would codify Roe v. Wade under federal law. “I will not ban any abortion or criminalize it. Period,” Fung said.
Magaziner in turn said Fung has been inconsistent on the issue, noting he opposed an abortion-rights law enacted in Rhode Island in 2019. “Allan changes his position every day of the week depending on what he thinks is good for him politically,” Magaziner said.
Fung countered that the state law went too far because it repealed a 1975 statute which criminalized “the willful killing of an unborn quick child” as manslaughter. “I stand by my position,” he said.
Magaziner found himself on the defensive during a discussion of crime, as Fung again raised a Twitter photo he posted of himself marching in the 2020 George Floyd protests near a protestor holding a “Defund the Police” sign. Magaziner insisted he only “walked by a sign I disagreed with,” and pointed back to the Cranston police scandal under Fung’s watch.
But Fung shot back, “A picture says a thousand words.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook