OGDEN — Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and challenger Peter Clemens sparred Monday over Donald Trump, the proposed Bears Ears national monument and public lands in a 1st Congressional District debate at Weber State University.
The one-hour debate, organized by the Utah Debate Commission, took on a measured tone, though Clemens did go after Bishop right away for his support of Trump, calling the Republican presidential nominee “the least qualified man that I have seen in my lifetime to run for president.”
“I believe that a man like Donald Trump is the most dangerous person we could have as president because he goes a long way in radicalizing not only (terrorists abroad) but (those) at home,” the Democratic candidate said.
Bishop responded that Trump is the only candidate "who promises to give me a change in the status quo.” He said the federal government is on the wrong path and is trying to wield too much power, specifically singling out the Department of the Interior.
“Four more years of Mrs. Clinton would equal a continuation of that (path), which I simply find unacceptable,” he said.
Earlier this month, Bishop offered his continued support of Trump despite a newly surfaced video showing the Republican presidential nominee making comments about kissing and groping women without their consent.
In a lukewarm statement of support, which represented a break from Utah’s congressional delegation, Bishop said he couldn't "condone that attitude toward woman and the institution of marriage expressed by Mr. Trump."
The debate moderator, Salt Lake Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pierce, pressed Clemens to say who he planned to vote for after he specified only that he would never consider voting for Trump.
Clemens declined to commit to a candidate, saying, “I have not (yet) made up my mind.”
A poll conducted by Salt Lake-based Lighthouse Research from Aug. 2 to Sept. 3 found that Bishop led Clemens 59.6 percent to 13.9 percent among registered voters, with 19.8 percent of voters being undecided.
Clemens claims that Bishop’s lead is only 8 percentage points among voters who are educated on the representative’s positions, according to campaign polling conducted over the summer.
"That doesn't look to me like a race that's not competitive," Clemens said.
One issue that drew the sharpest back-and-forth between the candidates was whether the Bears Ears area should be designated as a national monument under the Antiquities Act.
“There is no popular support among the Native Americans who live in Utah,” Bishop said of a monument. “A monument is the absolute worst thing you can do.”
Clemens went after Bishop’s proposed public lands bill, which the congressman has characterized as a compromise of competing interests in the area that would be affected by a monument designation.
Clemens called the bill “a massive oil and gas land grab” and said it does injustice to the Native American population in San Juan County. He disputed Bishop’s assertion that Native Americans are opposed to a national monument designation, accusing him of “handpicking” a select few who are against it to speak on his behalf.
“I have seen far different statistics,” Clemens said.
Campaign contributions made to Bishop total about $851,000, compared with just approximately $98,600 for Clemens. Bishop had a little less than $357,000 in campaign money remaining on hand as of the end of September, while Clemens still had about $18,800.
But Clemens says he doesn't see Bishop's funding advantage "as an impediment at all" He claims his campaign has distributed more signs than Bishop and says he has been "all over the district” meeting people, noting that his team has purchased about 13,000 commercial spots on CNN, HLN, Comedy Central and other channels to promote his candidacy.
Clemens has also committed $2,025 to TV ads on KTVX for October and November, according to public filings with the Federal Communications Commission.
Bishop said he has not so far purchased any TV advertisements.
"That's too expensive for me," he said.
Bishop is also campaigning for some of his Republican colleagues in Congress and has spent time in Washington state and northern California on their behalf, he said. But he said he "cannot simply assume" all voters in the district know who he is, even though he's been in office since 2003, and wants to "be as open as I possibly can to people."
Bishop has focused his campaign advertisements in radio spots and newspaper placements, he said, and has been diligent in distributing flyers and other campaigning materials en masse.
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Party affiliation: Republican
Education: Bachelor of Arts in political science, University of Utah
Political experience: U.S. representative for Utah since 2003; former Utah speaker of the House, Utah House majority leader and state House representative.
Former occupation: High school teacher
Family: Married with five children, eight grandchildren
Quote: "I don't think that the people in Washington are evil or bad or ineffective or incompetent. They just have too much damn land to manage.”
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Party affiliation: Democrat
Birthplace: West Chester, Pennsylvania
Education: Bachelor’s degree from BYU; medical doctorate degree from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences
Political experience: Democratic candidate for Utah Senate in 2012 and Utah House of Representatives in 2010; lost Democratic nomination for U.S. Congressional District 1 in Utah in 2014
Occupation: Wound care and hyperbaric specialist at Ogden Regional Hospital, board-certified family doctor
Family: Married with six children, seven grandchildren
Quote: “An economy that only works for the elite is not an economy that works.”