Joe Kennedy III and Sean Bielat faced off in a Fox 25 mini-debate for Massachusetts' fourth congressional district Wednesday morning.
The two are vying for the U.S. House seat that will be left vacant when long-serving democrat Barney Frank retires.
Fox 25's Gene Lavanchy kicked the debate off by asking Kennedy why, despite his lack of political office, he was expected to win the debate for any reason other than his last name is Kennedy.
"[People have] this feeling that no matter if they work hard and try to make a better future for their families that they're not going to be able to get ahead, that they're playing against a stacked deck," said Kennedy. "I've spent my entire life fighting for those issues."
Lavanchy asked Kennedy if it was fair to say his name recognition is an asset.
"I'm very proud of what my family has done in Massachusetts and for this country," said Kennedy. "From day one I've been very clear with everybody that it's my name on the ballot and I've got to go out there and earn people's support and respect and, eventually, their vote."
In response, Bielat said he doesn't believe Kennedy will win handily.
"I don't see it that way at all and nor do the voters I'm talking to," said Bielat.
Bielat then criticized Kennedy's handling of his campaign.
"It's interesting that Joe used the phrase ‘give everyone a level playing field' because that's not what he's been trying to do in this race. He has sat back, hidden behind his staff and talking points and he's raised a lot of money."
Bielat said he's the one in the race getting out and making his case to voters.
"Nineteen different [media] hosts have told me [Kennedy] has turned them down," said Bielat. "I've held 15 town halls, he's had none."
Bielat then touted his own experience.
"I think my experience as a Marine officer and most of the past decade in business gives me credentials that are necessary at a time when business and economic worries are the biggest concerns we face as a country," said Bielat. "I think experience matters and I don't think Joe has it."
Kennedy retorted that the idea of him running away from appearances with Bielat or from interacting with voters isn't true.
"When it comes to the actual issues in this race Sean is on the wrong side of them," said Kennedy. "Each time he brings it back to my family or my experience I think it's another distraction he's using to get away from the issues."
The candidates then steered the debate to campaign finance reform.
"What we need are competitive elections based on merit," said Bielat. "Not elections based on names. Not elections based on money. But elections based on merit and ideas."
"Your campaign said you were hoping someone would spend a billion dollars to beat me," retorted Kennedy.
Kennedy said his campaign had reached out to Bielat's to keep Super PAC money out of the race and Bielat had declined.
Lavanchy asked the candidates if they thought a casino would be good for Massachusetts and if either would support one in their district.
"I think the key to casino gambling is that if a casino is going to go in, it should have the support of a local community," said Kennedy. He said he would support a casino in Taunton because residents there had been in favor of one.
Overall, Kennedy said the key to any sort of development is job creation.
"I support economic development. If local voters and residents support a casino, I do too," said Bielat. "I think the broader point is ‘what do we do to we create a pro-growth environment in this country?'"
Bielat said the U.S. needs tax relief for business and individuals as well as making the regulatory environment more certain so people know what's coming.
The topic then moved to tax relief. Lavanchy asked Bielat about signing the Grover Nordquist taxpayer protection pledge for no new taxes.
Bielat said he wouldn't sign any pledges and that the Nordquist plan was overly binding.
"If people don't think they can trust me, they shouldn't vote for me. Signing a pledge shouldn't make a difference," said Bielat.
When asked about tax increases, Bielat said he wanted to see as few taxes as possible go up, but would be willing to make tax deals in exchange for a balanced budget.
Kennedy said he supported the White House's "Buffet Rule" which says no household making more than $1 million should pay a smaller share of income taxes than a middle class family pays.
"This has to be a part of a balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases in order to get our debt and deficit under control," said Kennedy. "You're not going to be able to get that spending under control if you're just trying to get the deficit under control."
In his closing statement Bielat accused Kennedy of having a lack of ideas and a myriad of talking points.
"Look at what Joe is offering, it's not a whole lot," said Bielat. "It's not qualifications, it's not ideas, and it's a bunch of talking points and a bunch of money."
Bielat said Washington needs experience, ideas and work ethic right now.
"I believe that this country is founded on a very basic idea that every person deserves to be treated fairly by their government and by each other," said Kennedy.
He said he believes government should provide a framework that allows every citizen to succeed and that framework is at stake in the 2012 election.