Hundreds of chairs were filled at a Friends University auditorium on Thursday evening as Democrat James Thompson and Libertarian Chris Rockhold squared off in a debate for the 4th Congressional District special election.
A vacant seat between them was for Republican candidate Ron Estes, who did not attend.
Both candidates blasted Estes for his absence.
The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Women for Kansas, with about 250 or so people in attendance.
Rockhold, a flight instructor, said he was tired of over-reaching government and “endless war.”
“I wanted to be the person that somebody who is aligned with those values could vote for,” he said.
Rockhold said he would like to see more options in the marketplace.
“I would like to see people be able to shop across state lines for health insurance,” he said. “I would like to see more private options.”
Both Rockhold and Thompson criticized national security policies of the Trump administration, such as the plan to build a wall on the southern border and a travel ban on residents from certain Muslim-majority countries.
Both candidates also criticized cuts in the administration’s proposed budget for the federal government.
“We need to start with defense,” Rockhold said. “We have a lot of bigger fish to fry than the National Endowment for the Arts.”
Rockhold said Estes assumes the district’s support for Republican candidates will continue in the special election.
“We’re sending a message to those people who just assume because they carry a letter next to their name that they’re somehow entitled to that job,” he said.
The three candidates are vying for the 4th District congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Mike Pompeo, who became the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in January.
The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday. Early in-person voting in Sedgwick County begins on March 27. The special election is April 11.