BILLINGS (AP) — U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams said Rep. Greg Gianforte was distorting her record on guns and immigration to scare Montana voters into re-electing the first-term Republican.
Gianforte countered during a contentious Saturday night debate that if elected, Williams would fall into line with Democrats to oppose President Donald Trump and threaten gun rights.
He said repeatedly that Williams would “stand with Nancy Pelosi” on issues ranging from health care to taxes — even though Williams has vowed not to support the California lawmaker as a potential House speaker.
Williams, a Democrat and former state lawmaker, accused Gianforte of fearmongering and declared her support for gun rights and secure borders. She added that support for the Second Amendment should not preclude discussion about keeping children safe in schools.
“I am not cowed by any type of special interest when it comes to the safety of our children,” Williams said. “I have been a champion for gun owners and hunters, and to insinuate otherwise is offensive.”
Gianforte said the issue was not just about hunting but also self-defense.
The Republican cast the November election as an opportunity for voters to endorse his party’s accomplishments on tax cuts and an expanding economy, which he said was the best way to make sure there’s enough revenue to pay for social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
“Do you want somebody who’s going to go back to Washington to deliver more results, or someone who’s going to join the resistance?” Gianforte asked.
He said the tax cuts were letting working-class families keep more money and over time would spur growth and generate enough additional revenue to rein in the growing deficit.
Williams responded that the tax cuts amounted to a “tax giveaway” that was disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest Americans.
The Democrat also sought to remind voters of Gianforte’s assault on a reporter on the eve of his election, and that he lied to law enforcement by initially blaming the reporter for being the aggressor.
Gianforte did not respond directly to the remarks. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in the case and has previously said he takes full responsibility.
Libertarian Party candidate Elinor Swanson was not invited to the debate, the last one scheduled before the Nov. 6 election.
Swanson, 36, an attorney from Billings, is making her first run for political office and has said she’s the only candidate who would not be influenced by a political party leader.
“I wish I had not been excluded and can’t help wondering if it might be related to the fact that I’m the candidate most likely to want to cut PBS funding,” Swanson told The Associated Press following the debate.
Gianforte, 57, is a technology entrepreneur running in his third statewide election in two years. He made a failed bid for governor against incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock in 2016 and less than seven months later won a special election to fill the House seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke.
Williams, 57, served three terms in the Montana House of Representatives and prevailed over a field of five other candidates to win the June primary.
She’s a former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employee who worked for a conservation group, the Western Landowners Alliance, before deciding to challenge Gianforte.
Absentee ballots go out Friday.