During Thursday night's debate in Statesboro, Republican challenger Rick Allen and the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, came out verbally swinging, each accusing the other of misrepresenting his own and the other's past and positions.
But they agreed on things such as a priority on job creation and support for the Keystone XL Pipeline and a balanced budget amendment.
Allen, 62, owns an Augusta-based construction firm, R.W. Allen & Associates, which he has operated for 37 years.
"Over the years, that company has grown, and we have created jobs, we have grown the economy, and we've actually balanced our budget all 37 years," he said in his opening remarks. "And you know what? Those folks in Washington can't seem to do either of those things."
Barrow, 59, an attorney originally from Athens, but whose home is now in Augusta, has served almost 10 years in Congress and is running for a sixth term.
His work there is focused on jobs, accessibility and accountability, he said.
"I am proud to have played a leading role in the three largest job-creating enterprises, not just in this state but in this region," Barrow said. "I am talking about deepening the port of Savannah, expanding Plant Vogtle and bringing the Cyber Command from Maryland down to Fort Gordon. Each of these is bringing thousands of really good jobs to this district."
Talking about accountability, Barrow said that he had given his pay to the Augusta Warrior Project during the government shutdown, which he said Allen had supported.
"During this debate, my opponent is going to spend an awful lot of time trying to convince you that he and I are both something we're not," Barrow said. "He's going to say a lot of things about my record that probably aren't true and say as little about his as possible."
The 300-seat Joe Kennedy Auditorium at Ogeechee Technical College was a little more than half full for the debate, sponsored by the college, the Statesboro Herald and the Johnson Law Firm of Statesboro. City Councilman Phil Boyum served as moderator.
Accusing Barrow of saying whatever it takes to get re-elected, Allen noted his own vow in favor term limits.
"That's why I've said I'm going to serve eight years," Allen said. "I think that's what's wrong with Congress, and I think that's why they have such a poor approval rating, is nobody trusts what they're going to say."
Barrow referred to himself as "the most bipartisan member of Congress," at least among those seeking re-election this year.
"The very last thing we need to do ... is to take the most bipartisan member of Congress and replace him with one of the most partisan candidates around," Barrow said.
Moments later, in what he called "a little history lesson," Allen noted that Barrow voted for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, whom Allen called "the most partisan member of the United States Congress" as speaker of the House in 2006 and 2008, when Democrats held the majority.
"Now the partisan problem with the United States Congress is not with the House, ..." Allen said. "The problem with partisanship is in the Senate with (Majority Leader) Harry Reid."
Asserting that Senate Democrats are holding up bills, Allen urged Barrow to assert his influence to get them passed.
Barrow retorted, "I've just heard my opponent say that the problem with partisanship in the Congress is the other party."
Despite the testiness, the candidates agreed when they were asked about construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Barrow: "In fact, I'm one of the leading proponents of the Keystone Pipeline. I took on the Democrats in Congress to bring a vote before the House of Representatives and let folks show where they stand."
Allen: "Absolutely we need the Keystone Pipeline, and in fact North America has the opportunity to be energy independent, and we need to work toward that goal."
They agreed, too, that a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget is needed.
Allen: "I do believe in a balanced budget amendment. I think that's only way we're going to discipline the politicians in Washington. We don't have an income problem; we've got a spending problem in Washington."
Barrow: "I'm not a Blue Dog for nothing. I think the number one threat to our national security is our national debt. ... That's why, unlike a lot of Democrats, I support a balanced budget amendment."
The Blue Dog Coalition is a caucus of moderate to conservative Democrats.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.