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Bielat, Kennedy Square Off In First 4th District Debate

Democrat Joseph Kennedy III, left, and Republican Sean Bielat, right, face off in a WCVB-TV debate on Thursday. Moderating are WCVB's Ed Harding and Janet Wu. (AP/The Boston Globe, Pool)

Democrat Joseph Kennedy III, left, and Republican Sean Bielat, right, face off in a WCVB-TV debate on Thursday. Moderating are WCVB’s Ed Harding and Janet Wu. (AP/The Boston Globe, Pool)

NEEDHAM, Mass. — On Thursday, the candidates for the 4th Congressional District taped their first of three debates before Election Day.

It’s the second congressional run for Republican Sean Bielat, who lost to Rep. Barney Frank in 2010. Frank is retiring, and now Bielat is vying for the redrawn 4th district against Democratic nominee Joseph Kennedy III.

Debating Experience

On Thursday, Bielat launched his strongest attack on Kennedy’s resume. He said the 31-year-old Democrat is too inexperienced to serve in Congress.

“He’s not qualified for the office,” Bielat said. “There is nobody who would accept a candidate who had as little experience as he does — 2 1/2 years of being assistant district attorney, assistant prosecutor — as sufficient to run for Congress.”

Bielat is 37 years old, a businessman and a Reservist in the Marines. After the debate taping, Kennedy defended his record.

“I am proud of my work in the Peace Corps as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic,” he said. “I’m proud of my work as a legal aid volunteer helping some families in the poorest part of Boston. And I am proud of my work as a prosecutor standing up for the people of Massachusetts every day and I’m happy to let that record speak for itself.”

Debating The Role Of Government, Medicare

The two differ most on the role of government in creating jobs, and on Medicare. Bielat says the best way to stimulate the economy is tax relief because it allows families and businesses to make decisions about what to do with their money. Kennedy says there is a role for government to play in creating jobs by making sure businesses have access to capital and educating the workforce.

However, Kennedy says now is not the time for another stimulus package. Bielat would would support another stimulus package if it came through tax relief.

Kennedy says their different positions should be clear to voters.

“Sean and I have some real differences about how we view the role of government and what we view are the right reforms to try to get our country moving again in the right direction.”

On Medicare, Bielat supports allowing people to either stay on Medicare or use vouchers. Kennedy says Medicare needs to be preserved and protected. He’s against using vouchers.

After the debate, Bielat criticized Kennedy for not giving specifics.

“Let’s have a discussion around what we should do and what we shouldn’t do and how we save the program going forward, because that’s what I’m concerned with — saving the program long term.”

Bielat says he supports making changes to entitlement programs, including Social Security. He thinks the age of eligibility should gradually be raised. Kennedy says he doesn’t think it needs to be changed now.

In terms of foreign affairs, the two also differ on the approach the United States should take to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bielat criticizes the White House for not being more aggressive with Iran. Kennedy says there’s still time for a diplomatic resolution, but all options are on the table.

Debating Debates

Their debate is the first of three, but the only one that will be televised. After the taping, Bielat accused Kennedy of trying to hide from hard questions by only agreeing to three debates. When Bielat ran against Frank two years ago, they had nine debates.

“If anything, you’d think a 16-term incumbent [would] say, ‘OK, I’m not going to do this’ because he has a record that he’s running on, he has accomplishments. I can’t imagine in any other race you go and refuse to do media, refuse to debate,” Bielat said. “It’s an unusual dynamic to say the least and I would hope voters would ask for more before they start making decisions.”

Kennedy says that three debates after the primary are enough. He says he’s focused on getting out and meeting voters.

“I’ve been out there every day over the course of this campaign trying to let people know who I am, what I stand for, and giving them a chance to get to know me,” Kennedy said.

Bielat says he’s more confident of winning this race than he was when he ran against Frank.

The debate airs Sunday on WCVB-TV.

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