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Candidates in 7th Congressional District Debate

The Democratic and Republican candidates for Ohio's 7th Congressional district debated Monday in Columbus. Republican Steve Austria and Democrat Sharen Neuhardt want to succeed David Hobson who is retiring. The two candidates disagreed on economic policies, the war in Iraq, and energy production.

Republican Steve Austria has served in the Ohio legislature for 10 years. His Democratic opponent, Sharen Neuhardt is an attorney with no political experience. Early in the debate both candidates blasted the $700 billion economic bailout passed by Congress though Neuhardt said she'd have grudgingly voted for it; Austria says he would have voted against it. Both candidates agreed that Washington's spending needs to be reined in, but they disagreed on how best to do it. Democrat Sharen Neuhardt:

"I believe that we need to have a safe and rapid withdrawal for our forces from Iraq," Neuhardt said. "That war alone is costing us $300 million a day or about $10 billion a month. We can't afford this and that money for one thing could be spent on priorities right here at home."

Republican Steve Austria thinks stemming the flow of illegal aliens across the border would help tighten government spending:

"When you look at illegal immigration in this country what it's costing our states, to provide public education to provide insurance for the uninsured, because they're committing crimes in this country and across these states it's costing the taxpayers billions of dollars," Austria says.

The 7th Congressional district is largely agricultural - and traditionally Republican. It's made up of Clark, Greene, Fayette, Pickaway, Fairfield, and Perry counties, a portion of Ross County and a tiny gerrymandered slice of Franklin County. Republican Dave Hobson has represented the district for 19 years.

Austria says Hobson asked him to run for his seat in Congress. Neuhardt says she does not think it's a good match.

"The simple fact is, Steve Austria is no Dave Hobson. Dave Hobson is a moderate Republican who has always worked well across party lines. Steve Austria is on the extremes of his party and he does not have the right kind of experience to get a promotion to Congress," Neuhardt says.

Steve Austria says experience is a big factor in the race for the 7th district.

"My opponent on the other hand is an attorney -- a liberal attorney -- from Yellow Springs who has no experience, has never served in office and I believe that experience is going to make a big difference in getting things done for this district," Austria says.

Both candidates discussed the energy crisis in the U.S. and the need to explore alternative sources of energy. Austria pushed for additional domestic oil production; Neuhardt says she'd limit that production to the 68 million acres already leased to oil and gas companies.

Steve Austria: "I do believe to have less reliance on foreign oil we have to be drilling for American oil and Natural gas off the coastal lines, in ANWAR, off the continental shelves."

Sharen Neuhardt: "I believe that we should be drilling too -- on the 68 million acres that are already under lease. But I also find that Steve talks about a long term energy plan and I've been wondering what's he been doing for the last ten years in the state legislature?"

With the slumping economy on the minds of most Americans, Austria says reducing taxes would be part of his economic recovery plan.

"Cut taxes, I would vote to make the temporary tax cuts permanent," Austria says. "I think that would help stimulate this economy and move it foreword and cut government spending in addition to that and government red tape."

Neuhardt believes the Republican approach is the problem.

"George Bush spent us into the most severe deficits that we've ever faced as a nation," Neuhardt said. "And he did this with the full knowledge and blessing of a Republican controlled Congress. So I believe it's going to be up to the Democrats to restore fiscal restraint in government."

The debate was produced by the Ohio News Network and WBNS TV.