As 3rd Congressional District candidate Chris Herrod answered a series of questions in a KSL-TV studio Wednesday evening, a podium stood conspicuously vacant to his right.
For the second time in a matter of hours, a Republican candidate debated a ghost at a Utah Debate Commission event. Jake Hunsaker wrapped up a solo debate for the 4th Congressional District earlier in the afternoon. Herrod was forced to carry on his own one-person conversation after Rep. John Curtis could not attend due to a work engagement.
Herrod and Curtis are familiar opponents, and both appeared in a debate sponsored by the Utah Republican Party on Friday. The GOP’s debate series came about after the party’s requests to influence the independent Commission’s moderators and questions were denied.
On Wednesday, Herrod stuck to many of the same talking points as in his previous debate. The more conservative of the two candidates, he has espoused strong support for former President Donald Trump, the Second Amendment and the anti-abortion movement. He has also condemned critical race theory and Black Lives Matter.
Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, moderated the debate. Here are some of the key issues that were discussed.
While saying that people need to extend love to those affected by mass shootings, Herrod reiterated his support for the Second Amendment.
He believes the current universal background check laws are sufficient and said he would not support a national gun sale database. He also warned against making any hasty decisions, though was open to conversations about increased mental health funding.
Herrod also suggested that schools use leftover “COVID money” to ensure procedures are in place to protect students and pointed to single entry points in schools as a possible solution.
He made several comparisons to other deadly issues that he doesn’t see being legislated.
“We’re going to lose 100,000 people in this country this year because of drug overdoses, and yet, many, many people are not willing to seal the border,” he said.
A USA Today report in 2019 found that the “vast majority” of narcotics that enters the U.S. from the south do so through legal ports of entry.
Herrod also seemingly blamed COVID-19 safety restrictions for the mass shooting problem, asking, “Are we surprised that we stick kids in basements for two years, those type of things, and then we have outbursts?”
When asked if President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Herrod was dubious.
“Do I have doubts that there was fraud? I absolutely have doubts,” he said. “ ... But could we prove that there was fraud? No. And so President Biden is the president of the United States right now.”
Several independent inquiries have found no evidence of widespread voting fraud in the 2020 election.
Ukraine and Trump
Herrod, whose wife is Ukrainian, said he supports the U.S. sending weapons to the embattled nation but not having boots-on-the-ground involvement.
The challenger praised Trump, saying the former president understands Putin and that he used criticism of NATO as a negotiating strategy to get countries to pay their fair share toward defense spending.
“Europe is much, much better off now than it was before the Trump administration,” he said.
He also criticized the way the Biden administration handled the Ukrainian conflict and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin took advantage of the perceived weaknesses in the U.S.
Herrod specifically mentioned America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the U.S. left $80 billion in the country.
The figure is misleading and likely originates from a statement by Trump. According to The Washington Post, the $80 billion the U.S. spent was used for general war costs, not just military equipment. The Department of Defense has estimated that $7.12 billion of U.S.-purchased military equipment was left behind, according to Forbes.
Economy and inflation
A fiscal conservative, Herrod blamed the country’s high level of inflation on “out of control” spending, government restrictions, and the current U.S. energy policy.
He wants to see the federal government roll back its spending and has proposed cutting the Department of Education and replacing it with block grants that would decrease over the next decade.
“To me, that’s not that controversial because we’re going to have to do that to a lot of departments,” he said.
He called fixing the country’s energy policy “easy” but said that Biden hasn’t been willing to do what it takes to return the U.S. to energy independence.
While there are various ways to measure a country’s energy independence, a Forbes article in March showed that in 2020 and 2021, the U.S. did not lose its status as a net exporter of oil and oil products.
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