Rep. Scott Peters, left, and challenger Carl DeMaio debate on NBC.
Rep. Scott Peters, left, and challenger Carl DeMaio debate on NBC.

The specter of the Tea Party and the ghost of San Diego’s pension crisis dominated the first local Congressional debate of the fall Tuesday as Rep. Scott Peters faced Republican challenger Carl DeMaio.

“In four years time, I cleaned the mess you created over eight years,” said DeMaio, referring to his time on the City Council after Peters had completed two terms. “We balanced a budget and restored services that Mr. Peters had cut.”

Peters accused DeMaio of being a Tea Party candidate, and said he won the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce instead of DeMaio because he is an independent willing to cross party lines. “What they don’t want is Tea Party extremists, the kind of people who would shut down the government and threaten the country’s credit rating,” Peters said.

The two debated for an hour on an special edition of NBC 7 San Diego‘s 6 p.m. news program. The non-traditional debate did not have timed responses. Instead, the two candidates faced questions from a trio of anchors.

On health care, Peters said he believed there was much that could be done to improve the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but “we can’t go back to where we were.”

DeMaio said Obamacare was the wrong direction, but said neither party had produced a solution for “accessible, affordable” health care and he would keep some aspects of the law while seeking “common-sense reforms.”

Questions about social issues showed that the candidates were closely aligned, though Peters claimed more support from women’s groups and gay organizations.

“We’ve got to get off these divisive social issues,” said DeMaio. “I disagree with the Tea Party on their right-wing approach to social issues.”

On immigration reform, DeMaio said the first step is to secure the border, while Peters said comprehensive reform is necessary and urged House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on a bi-artisan bill that has already passed the Senate.

Both DeMaio and Peters said they were willing to take on their respective parties to do what is best for the country. Peters said Congress must have members who have the “courage to go to the front of the room and shake hands.”

Sparks flew at many points throughout the debate.

DeMaio criticized Peters for “this false attack about the Tea Party,” saying, “I haven’t called you names. That’s what’s wrong with politics today.”

The 52nd Congressional District covers much of central San Diego County including Poway, Coronado and large portions of the City of San Diego. The race is considered one of the closest nationally.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.