CONWAY, Ark. — Democratic Senate hopeful Conner Eldridge criticized Republican Sen. John Boozman during a debate Wednesday for supporting Donald Trump, saying the billionaire shouldn’t have access to the nation’s nuclear codes.
Eldridge said Boozman should join other Republicans who have withdrawn their endorsement of Trump following the release of a 2005 tape in which the future Republican presidential nominee brags about kissing and groping women without their consent. Boozman has condemned the remarks, but said he still supports the GOP nominee.
“We should not give Donald Trump an open mic with American foreign policy,” Eldridge said in the debate, which was taped Wednesday at the Arkansas Educational Television Network. “We should not give him the nuclear codes. He has shown time and again that should not happen.”
Boozman called Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “very flawed” candidates, but said he believed the GOP nominee would ensure a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. He also targeted Eldridge’s support of Clinton, who Boozman said would effectively be a third term for President Barack Obama, and cited Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
“This country cannot take another third term of President Obama and all of the policies he’s put in place,” Boozman said. “So for those reasons I’m supporting Mr. Trump and voting for him.”
Eldridge also criticized his own party’s nominee, calling Clinton’s reference to half of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” wrong.
“I think that term was horrific, too. She should not have used that,” he said. “She’s made a lot of mistakes — email — we can go on and on.”
Eldridge faces an uphill challenge trying to unseat Boozman in Arkansas, where Republicans hold all statewide and federal offices. He has trailed Boozman in fundraising.
Libertarian Frank Gilbert, who was also in the debate, used the concerns over Clinton and Trump to tout his party’s presidential nominee, Gary Johnson.
“I would encourage every American and every Arkansan to consider Gary Johnson as a viable alternative to the two poor candidates that the old parties have provided,” he said.
Eldridge also criticized Boozman over his repeated votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saying such a move would leave more than 300,000 people on the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion without coverage.
“What should have happened over the past several years is we should have engaged — and this is what I’ll do in the Senate — we should have engaged in a bipartisan way to tackle the real issues in our health care system and that real issue boils down to cost,” he said. “We don’t deal with that by kicking 300,000 Arkansans off their health insurance.”
Boozman said there’s a more efficient way to reform the nation’s health care system.
“I’ve never said I have no qualms about taking 300,000 people off the program,” he said. “What I do have qualms about is ruining everyone else’s health care.”
The debate is the only one Boozman has agreed to with Eldridge, who has run ads statewide accusing the Republican lawmaker of ducking debates and has offered to use his pickup truck as an impromptu debate stage.
“It’s a lot better being here than in the back of Conner’s pickup,” Boozman said.
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