Both major 1st Congressional District candidates depicted themselves Thursday as mavericks who will not blindly follow party leaders but will listen to and work with all sides.
In a debate, Republican Blake Moore and Democrat Darren Parry — who are running to replace retiring Rep. Rob Bishop — both said that is the recipe to end bitter partisan divides in Washington.
“You fix it by being the first person that doesn’t vote with the party,” said Parry, 60, the former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone tribe. “You fix it by voting your conscience” after listening and working with others on solutions.
Moore, 40, a management adviser for the Cicero consulting company, said a GOP group recently asked him if his job as a member of Congress would be to follow party leaders. He replied no, and said he stood firm in questioning about that.
“My job is to find out what the district needs,” he said, and “find common ground and then you build from there” with all opposing parties.
Their comments came during a debate that was the first in a series featuring general election candidates for major offices that is sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission. A poll for the commission conducted Sept. 7-12 showed that Moore holds a huge lead, 49% to 22%, with 28% undecided.
They both outlined some areas where they may buck their leaders. Parry said, “Generally, Democrats believe in big government. I don’t believe the government’s the answer. … I don’t believe big government is the answer. And I will die on that hill.”
Moore said many of his fellow Republicans don’t express enough compassion and help for the needy and oppressed groups. “We are the party of Lincoln and we don’t do enough to show how much we care about that community-based side of it.”
Following are some of the many issued they addressed:
• Supporting results of the election. In response to President Donald Trump refusing to confirm that he will abide by the results of the upcoming election and saying voting by mail could be manipulated, both candidates vowed to reporters after the debate that they will support election results — but their response varied from guarded to volatile.
“There is cause for concern,” with mail voting nationally, although it has worked well in Utah, Moore said. “But there will be a peaceful transfer of power. There has to be, or this isn’t America.”
Parry said he hopes Trump “will do the right thing, but I have a feeling he’s not going to. ... He could commit murder on national TV live and his supporters are still going to support him and they are going to dig in their heels. So I’m afraid that’s where we are at with our government today, and that’s said.”
• Supreme Court replacement. Moore supports Republicans holding a quick vote to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election, even though four years ago they blocked Democrat Merrick Garland as they argued his nomination should wait until after the next election.
“There is plenty of time to be able to nominate, to vet and appoint a new Supreme Court justice,” Moore said, saying Senate majorities from the same party as a president historically do that in an election year.
Parry said he believes in Republican argument from four years ago, not now, that “the American people should have a say in who the next Supreme Court justice should be” by whom they choose in the next election.
• Social and racial justice. The candidates suggest different ways to solve unrest.
“As long as you weren’t Black and as long as you weren’t Native American, all men were created equal” in America, Parry complained. “I know what it’s like to be not heard. I know what it’s like to not have a seat at the table. If we want to fix the racial injustices in this country, we have to make a concerted effort to give those marginalized groups a seat, to give them a voice, to make sure we listen, really listen.”
Moore said, “Too many Black Americans that are stuck in intergenerational poverty. That’s the cause.” He said addressing that root cause with better education and criminal justice reform is the ultimate solution.
• COVID-19 vaccine. Both say they oppose any efforts to vary out of normal scientific processes to prove that a new vaccine is safe, even if it takes extra time. Both say they also plan to take the vaccine.
• Pandemic relief. They disagreed on whether more economic stimulus is needed for the pandemic. Moore said, “I’m hopeful we don’t have to have any more stimulus.”
Parry said, “I do believe we need another stimulus package because the pandemic is not over. And if we’ve seen the the the people in Utah County and the way they’re acting, this pandemic not might not be over for a long time.”
• Living outside the district. Parry questioned if Moore can truly know and represent the needs of the district covering northern and eastern Utah since he does not live in it — and lives instead on Salt Lake City’s east side.
Moore said he grew up in Ogden, “and that never leaves you.” He said it’s not an issue because he reaches out and listens. He noted three other Utah congressional candidates do not live in their districts: Republican Burgess Owens in the 4th District, Democratic incumbent Rep. Ben McAdams also in the 4th, and Democrat Devin Thorpe in the 3rd.
The polite debate did not discuss some of the biggest challenges the candidates face in the race.
For example, Parry’s ex-wife has said he lied about regularly paying child support for their seven children, and a daughter publicly said that Parry abandoned the family after he had several affairs.
Meanwhile, Moore faces questions about hard-to-verify claims that he was a foreign service officer for years in Asia.
His online resume initially showed instead that he worked for the State Department for only one year. During the years that he claimed to be a foreign service officer, his online resume initially had said he lived in Singapore working for a company called Docberry, a Utah-based firm that state records show he formed himself.
Moore has said he was doing sensitive work for the government that forced vagueness on his resume. He has offered off-the-record explanations, but agencies that he said hired him have so far declined to confirm or deny any such sensitive work for them.