SYRACUSE — The Republican showed her experience, the Conservative compared himself to Ronald Reagan, and the Democrat said he won't be influenced by special interests in the first debate among all three candidates in New York's 23rd Congressional race.
Conservative Doug Hoffman and Democratic nominee Bill Owens had missed several debates and candidate forums before Thursday's debate at WSYR-TV studios in Syracuse. Republican Dierdre Scozzafava attended all of them.
Republican registration outnumbers Democrats by 45,000 in the sprawling, upstate, 11-county district, but President Barack Obama carried it by 5 points in 2008. The issues, rather than party labels, may ultimately decide the race.
Thursday's debate five days before the election is likely the only one voters will see in this short special election period. Syracuse isn't in the district, and the debate didn't have a live audience beyond a handful of reporters.
Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman and the only elected official in the contest, took the opportunity to show off her knowledge from more than a decade in office. She was the only one to have an opinion on every question.
Republican supporters have been divided between Scozzafava and Hoffman nationally and in the northern, rural district.
Some Republicans have criticized Scozzafava as being too liberal while Hoffman has developed a following by staking out more socially and fiscally conservative positions.
"(Voters are) very concerned about the America we know and whether the America we know will be there for their children and their grandchildren," Hoffman said. During the debate, Hoffman repeated at least three times that he's a Ronald Reagan Republican.
Scozzafava said if she wins she will work to unite the party.
"I'm not going to be divisive," she said. "To me, leadership is about doing things to bring people together."
Democrat Bill Owens declined to comment on whether the schism between Republicans would give him a boost.