If cheers from the crowd were an indicator, both candidates fared equally in the first debate in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District race.

Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her Republican challenger, Arizona State Senate President Tim Bee, met in a packed hall last Saturday at the University of Arizona in what is becoming one of the most closely followed congressional races in the country.

Both candidates responded to the opening question on energy policy in a similar way.

Bee supports expanding offshore oil drilling, explaining the need for “accessing our own resources in our own country.”

The freshman congresswoman responded in kind.

“We need to make America’s energy in America, said Giffords, who was elected to the U.S. House in 2006.

When the subject of earmarks came up, Giffords remarked that they are problematic of the appropriation process.

“I’m concerned that your tax dollars should not be going to Alaska or to Nebraska or to Texas,” she said.

Bee felt that earmark reform should go even further.

“It needs to be done through the budget process,” he said.

The candidates fell on either side of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which would change the way unions are formed by allowing union leaders to collect signatures from half of a company’s workers instead of the current system of having a private election supervised by a federal board.

“Ultimately this legislation is about leveling the playing field,” Giffords said.

Her challenger thought this new method would lead to coercion and strong-arm tactics in getting signatures for union establishment.

“I believe you should be entitled to a private ballot,” Bee said.

CD8 covers the western side of Pima and Santa Cruz counties, including all of Marana and Oro Valley, and the entirety of Cochise County.

Both candidates have sizable war chests in what is turning out to be a banner race in this year’s election season.

Bee recently raised a reported half-million dollars when President George Bush came to Tucson for a private fundraiser, bringing his net receipts to $1.4 million, according to recent campaign finance reports.

Giffords has raised $2.7 million for the race, according to her Aug. 13 report.

During the debate, Giffords mentioned that many people not knowing the name of the surgeon general reflects poorly on the state of the county’s health care system. 

When asked who the current surgeon general is, Giffords responded, without naming any names, that there is currently an interim in the position and that not finding a permanent replacement sends the wrong message.

“One could make the argument that the agency is not doing their job,” she said.

Bee did not know the name of the current surgeon general.

The position has not been permanently filled since surgeon general and Tucsonan Richard Carmona left the position in 2006.

The Acting Surgeon General is Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson.

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