Congressional candidates Will Fisher and Linsey Fagan met in a moderated environment for the first time over the weekend to make their cases to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Representative district 26. Jason Whitely, host of WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics, moderated the event, held on the Lyceum stage in the University of North Texas’ University Union.

The first debate in what has at times been a contentious race already, the candidates remained cool and issue-oriented, often seeming to agree even while promoting completely different solutions. On reducing education costs, for example, Fagan talked about the need for the federal government to re-invest in students through pell grants while Fisher talked about the need for more vocational schools.

But they always agreed on what problems needed solutions, and all of the event’s vitriol was directed either at president Donald Trump or Michael Burgess, who has held the seat they are vying for since 2003. Both Burgess and his primary opponent, Veronica Birkenstock, are staunch Trump supporters.

“You know that feeling when you open up Twitter in the morning and you’re like, ‘oh no?'” Fisher said when asked how he would sell a progressive platform to moderate Republicans.

“Everybody’s got that feeling. It feels terrible. There’s an anxiety culturally within our society right now. People are looking for a sound mind and a compassionate heart, and I think frankly that’s what’s going to win this election.”

The biggest differences between the candidates seemed to go back to the 2016 election, which they both said inspired them to run for office. The very first question was on whether or not they would impeach Trump. Fisher noted that there are impeachable offenses already in place, but said that he would wait on Robert Mueller’s federal investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia before making a decision. Fagan said it was up to Republicans to take the lead on the president’s removal.

“Working to impeach the president as a Democrat, I think, moves into a territory I’m not comfortable with,” she said. “The Republicans chose this man to lead the country. I think a lot of us disagree with that decision, but I think working toward impeaching him as a Democrat and leading that movement as a Democrat, that’s not our place.”

Probably the most interesting moment of the debate came much later when they were asked about the other side of the 2016 ticket. Both candidates strongly supported Bernie Sanders in a Democratic primary race that has been called into question by Sanders supporters and some party officials. The issue remained contentious among Democrats nationally right up until the general election.

Fisher said he pivoted, vocally supported Clinton and proudly voted for her. Fagan said she cast a write-in ballot for Sanders. She referred to the DNC as a threat to democracy.

“You guys could boo me, I would want to boo myself,” she said. “But I was part of that group that said, ‘I’m done. I’m done with politics. I don’t trust any of these people. These people don’t care about me. They don’t care about my voice. My voice is being superceded by superdelegates, it doesn’t matter anyway.'”

Also of note was the attendance. The Lyceum theater in the University Union was packed with observers, Democratic candidates for state and local races and incumbent politicians — including Lewisville City Council member Brandon Jones. Jones said the attendance was what stuck out to him the most about the event.

“I think the the turn out for the debate was more than any of us could have imagined,” he said. “It shows that a number of people (roughly 450 people) are looking for an alternative to our current representative in Washington D.C. I think the debate went well and provided an opportunity for people to decide on which candidate they believed had a plan and had a decisive vision on where the district needs to go.”

Both candidates pledged to support each other if they were defeated.

“This race is not going to be won by who’s on the other side,” Fisher said. “This race is going to be won by people in this district who are sick of not having a representative.”

The Fisher campaign posted a full video of the debate on Facebook. The main event starts about 12 minutes in.

Join us for the first Democratic Congressional debate!

Posted by Will Fisher on Saturday, January 13, 2018

The primary elections are March 6, with early voting beginning Feb. 20. The general election will be held Nov. 6.