PHOENIX — The top candidates for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District seat sparred again Wednesday night over who is better qualified to lead the sprawling, rural district.

As he did in their previous debate last month, Republican nominee Paul Babeu denounced his Democratic opponent Tom O’Halleran as a big spender while in the Arizona Legislature who will continue government expansion in Washington.

“We need to cut taxes and reduce tax brackets,” Babeu said in a televised debate from the Arizona PBS studio in downtown Phoenix. “Get government spending out of the way. Let small businesses create opportunity.”

O’Halleran, who served in the Arizona Legislature from 2001 to 2009, said he “cut budgets when then needed to be cut” and he has the experience needed for the coveted congressional seat.

“Paul hasn’t cut taxes in his career. I have,” O’Halleran said of Babeu, who has been Pinal County’s sheriff since 2008. “Paul hasn’t had to run a small business like I have.”

O’Halleran also noted that he represented the 1st District in the state Senate from 2007-09 and has “the record to stand on.”

But Babeu said state spending grew 64 percent while O’Halleran was in the Legislature and “more of the same is not going to help our country.”

O’Halleran said inflation increased by 27 percent during that span and Arizona’s population grew by about 1 million.

Both candidates agreed that protecting coal jobs is a must.

“We have four coal-generating stations in the district. I will fight to preserve coal as an energy source,” Babeu said.

O’Halleran said “we are going to protect those jobs.”

The district runs from Flagstaff east to the New Mexico line and south to the Tucson suburbs, talking in the entire Navajo Nation.

The district currently is represented by Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who easily won re-election in 2014 but vacated the seat to challenge Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, in the Nov. 8 general election.