Four candidates running for Congress took the solemn pledge Thursday, when the Northwest Republicans hosted a debate among hopefuls in Congressional District 8.

No matter who the Republican nominee is after late August's primary, each vowed they'd support the selected individual in his bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

A defeat of Giffords is the objective of Sen. Jonathan Paton, Brian Miller, Jesse Kelly and Andy Goss, all of whom have served with the U.S. military, as well as some 500 Republicans who took in Thursday's forum at Ironwood Ridge High School.

They applauded the comment of an event organizer, Sherese Steffens, who hoped the evening would help party faithful learn "which one we want to support in our quest to oust Giffords."

In the format, each candidate was asked questions from subject groups by one of three panelists. No two candidates answered exactly the same question.

At the end, the crowd had the chance to vote for "the candidate who best answered the questions this evening." The people's choice was Kelly, at 51.8 percent, ahead of Paton (20 percent), Goss (16.9 percent) and Miller (11.3 percent).

Kelly threw criticisms at Paton on Thursday. Goss, who's "never run for dog catcher," told the crowd "I'm not a politician, I'm just a ticked-off American."

At evening's end, Miller took the sharpest jabs at Kelly and Paton.

While Miller has "a lot of respect for these men up here," Kelly is "not a realistic candidate," in Miller's view. "There is nothing Gabrielle Giffords and the Democrats would love better than to run against Jesse Kelly."

Paton's record in the Arizona Senate is "not conservative," Miller continued.

"You represent the brand of big-government Republican that got us into this mess we're in today," said Miller, who claimed to be an alternative to "Jesse W. Bush" or "Jonathan McPaton," a reference to Sen. John McCain.

Along the way, Paton and Kelly each invoked Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Former Gov. Janet Napolitano, now Secretary of Homeland Security, was a subject of veiled criticism. And Kelly likened Giffords to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a comparison that may come regularly in the months before November.

"Gabrielle Giffords has never had her record challenged before," Kelly said. "Her record is not consistent with this district. She votes with Pelosi 90 percent of the time." He's raised some $300,000, and plans to spend it "telling the voters of this district they have Nancy Pelosi Jr., representing this district."

Kelly said America needs "a conservative revolution in Washington, not a Republican revolution. We don't need another high-spending Republican senator to lose to Gabrielle Giffords. We've seen that movie, we know how it ends."

Paton countered. He pulled out a letter from Sen. Russell Pearce, identifying Paton as someone who "voted for the largest tax cut in state history," someone who is "a fiscal conservative. Those are the people who know me, who work with me day in and day out."

What distinguishes Andy Goss from Gabrielle Giffords? "I could go more than two minutes without discussing solar energy," Goss quipped.

None of the candidates said suspected terrorists should have access to America's legal system.

"I have a hard time understanding how we can allow our tax dollars to be spent hiring lawyers to defend terrorists in Manhattan," Paton said.

None of the four supported any form of "amnesty," in which people in this country illegally are allowed a means to gain legal citizenship.

Each advocated for energy independence, and expanded drilling for oil and gas. Several mentioned investment in nuclear power.

"A free people should not need permission from our government to drill and explore for resources," Miller said. "A government that restricts your access to energy and health care is not a government that works for you."

Cap and trade, the stimulus package and health care "became an outrage, became a cause, became a revolution," Paton said. "It will bring change in Washington, the likes of which we haven't seen in a generation. I say we fight for our families, we fight for our future, and most of all we fight for our country."

"I promise you I cannot be bought," Goss said. "Everyone that goes to Washington appears to be lobotomized."

"We have a president completely unworthy of his position, he's proven that," Kelly said. "This better be a conservative revolution. Our rights are guaranteed by God, and we should fight for them as such. Let's go to Washington and take this place back."

Washington is "a pit of corruption, it's a pit of power," Miller said. "I'm a huge supporter of term limits." He'd not serve more than four terms if elected. He'd work to build coalitions, one of them being the "Freshman 50," seeking to balance the budget, apply the law equally, and require legislators to read the bills.

Joe Higgins, one of the panelists and a morning talk radio host, interviewed Kelly as the "winner" on his Friday show.


On foreign policy


The four Republican candidates were asked their views of Obama Administration approaches toward Iran and North Korea, and of U.S. foreign policy.

"We have a weak administration, a weak president that does not understand foreign policy," Andy Goss said. "I wish I could grab President Obama by the collar and just shake him a little bit, and say 'what are you thinking?'"

"When they tell you Iranians have nothing to do with terrorism, they are dead wrong," said Sen. Jonathan Paton, who mentioned his service in Iraq. "I've seen it. Iran is a regime of terror."

Jesse Kelly thinks "profiling is always an option" to protect America's security interests at airports. "Effective law enforcement always uses profiling," he said. "There is a history of terrorist attacks by young Muslim men, 20-35, dressed in a certain way."

Brian Miller said American troops have "a mission undefined" in Afghanistan. Without such definition, "we can never have true victory. We are propping up the second-most corrupt government in the world. We are engaged in unconstitutional nation building in Afghanistan."

"Afghanistan is a war that must be won," Kelly countered. "We are not engaged in nation building." Given Pakistan's fragility, "a Taliban-run Afghanistan means a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists sooner than later."

"Our military intelligence tells us there are few Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan," Miller said. "We are not securing Americans."


On government waste and deficit reduction


"Stop spending," said Sen. Jonathan Paton, who decried earmarking as "an outrage." Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is "no longer satisfied with her own earmarks and pork, now she's asking for pork barrel spending for Raul Grijalva."

"It's easy to say 'stop the spending,'" said Jesse Kelly. Yet Paton was "one of the Republicans who voted for" a budget proposed by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. Paton has "a clear record of bankrupting this state. You talk about the bus over the cliff, you drove it off the cliff.

"Start slashing the bureaucracy now," Kelly said. "The left has insulated its agenda in the bureaucracy. Get the power in check. The entire Department of Education could go away, EPA could go away. Pork spending and earmarks are a disgrace, and it must stop."

 "If you want to get at the biggest problem in Washington, it's … earmarks and pork, but not campaign spending," Paton said.

Goss said "government does not produce, they are a consumer. The government does not know how to stop spending. Cut taxes." He advocated for a 15 percent flat tax for all. Goss called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," and said it would be bankrupt by 2047.

"This is not freedom right now, this is government coercion, and this must end," Goss said.



On jobs


"Government punishes jobs, government crushes jobs," Jesse Kelly said. "They've stolen our labor, they've stolen our private property." He called for tax cuts, a reduction in capital gains taxes, and elimination of environmentalism from government.

"If we don't get the radical environmentalists out of the government, they're ruining our economy," he said.

"We are sending our jobs overseas," and increasing U.S. debt to China, Jonathan Paton said. He sees confused priorities in Washington. "Our county lost 80,000 jobs while they were debating health care," he said. To increase jobs, the federal government should reduce spending, regulation and taxes, he believes. "That formula hasn't changed. The United States has had the most nimble economy in the world." Now, though, "we are going to a culture of dependence."

Brian Miller said the road map to economic recovery would be lined with less government, less spending and less regulation. "Only people can create jobs. The radical left has continued to believe in this madness that we can spend our way out of this recession." It's a notion of "that sick mentality they have that the government has to control everything. We've got to get the government out of the way."

"Let's not forget the fact that what got us into this mess was our own president, our own Republican president," Paton said. "We lost our way. Remember what our party stood for, liberty and personal responsibility. We are not in the business of buying and owning automobile companies, or propping up banks."


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