For the first time since he was elected in 2010, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., has a Democratic opponent.
Josh Mahony of Fayetteville said Arkansas' 3rd Congressional District -- a Republican stronghold since 1967 -- is turning blue, and it's past time for a change.
"We are in a transition period in the area," he said. "People have moved here from all over the world."
Mahony said much of that change is happening in Benton County, which is home to Walmart Inc. and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. He said the shift in demographics is galvanizing a progressive political movement.
Meanwhile, Womack, in an interview, discussed what he favors: limited government, more freedom, lower taxes, less regulation, border security, a strong national defense and the empowerment of the private sector.
The other person on the ballot is Michael Kalagias of Rogers, a Libertarian.
Womack got 84 percent of the vote to defeat the Rev. Robb Ryerse in the Republican Party primary in May.
The last time Womack had a Democrat for a challenger on Election Day was 2010. Womack got 72 percent of the vote to defeat David Whitaker that year.
Since then, Libertarians have consistently run against Womack, but he has won by hefty margins -- 76 percent in 2012, 79 percent in 2014 and 77 percent in 2016.
In 2012, Womack also had a Green Party opponent, who got 16 percent of the vote, and a Democrat who dropped out of the race in July that year after a review of his military records contradicted his claim of being a Green Beret.
"I'm running for Congress to fight for the people of this state and our Arkansas values," Mahony says on his website. "I'll work to create jobs that pay good wages, help more students go to college or receive vocational job training and, most importantly, fight for universal health care."
In an interview, Mahony said immigration is also an important issue.
"I think most of us understand it's a human issue and not a political one," he said.
During an Oct. 8 debate at the Arkansas Educational Television Network studio in Conway, Mahony said he was "disgusted" with the lack of progress around immigration change in America. He said children were being kept "in cages at the border."
Mahony said the Rogers Police Department was accused of racial profiling while Womack was mayor of the city.
During that debate, Womack discussed what made him think about the nation's immigration policy.
"I had a police officer back in the early part of my administration as a mayor who nearly lost his life because an illegal immigrant secured his weapon and fired a shot that severed his femoral artery," Womack said during the debate.
"It was then that I knew this whole immigration phenomenon had come home to Northwest Arkansas, that an illegal immigrant was capable of potentially taking the life of a law enforcement officer. So that caused me to believe that we have to have a better immigration policy, and to do that we first need to secure the border and then look at other internal functions of our immigration policy that are broken."
On Friday, Womack said he supported President Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico. But Womack said what actually will happen will be a combination of things -- wall, fencing, electronic monitors and "boots on the ground."
Womack mentioned a caravan of potential migrants that has amassed south of the border. He said stronger border security is essential to handle the "onslaught of people coming in."
"All these people are hellbent on coming into our country in an undocumented way, totally in defiance of the laws of our land," he said.
Womack said he likes Trump.
"His style is not my style," said Womack. "But I didn't vote for this president based on style. I knew with this president we'd have an opportunity to move legislation that we think is critical to our country, and I think that's been proven."
Womack also praised Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominees -- Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Both were confirmed by the Senate.
Mahony said Republicans were "exploding" the budget deficit by giving a tax cut to corporations and then saying that "entitlement programs" need to be cut.
"Womack has always portrayed himself as a deficit hawk, but he's really not," said Mahony. "He doesn't mind the deficit when it suits his goals. At this point, I would say his goals are favoring corporations and the wealthiest of us at the expense of the middle class."
Womack said Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security were headed toward insolvency way before the tax cut Mahony mentioned.
"It's way too early to declare with finality that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act didn't pay for itself," he said.
The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the act, which was passed in December, will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
Womack, who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, said he doesn't agree with that estimate.
The Congressional Budget Office is projecting a deficit of $793 billion for fiscal 2018. The national debt is over $21 trillion.
Womack said his budget committee had a plan to achieve a balanced budget in nine years. He said the proposal didn't cut "entitlement programs," but it did propose savings measures such as raising the qualifying age for Medicare from 65 to 67.
"My budget proposed this, but it's not the law so it's not going to happen," said Womack. "It just never made it to the floor of the House."
Mahony said Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security aren't "entitlement programs," as Womack said. Americans paid into those programs and want their money back later in life, said Mahony.
"They're earned benefits," he said. "If anything, the 'entitlements' are corporate tax cuts."
But Womack said there are too many retiring baby boomers, and the amount of benefits they'll need in retirement often exceeds what they've paid in.
"These programs were designed in '30s and '60s when people weren't living as long," said Womack. "A lot of people, provided they live the kind of lifespan I'm talking about, 80, 85, 90 years of age, there are a lot of people who will take from that program substantially more than they paid in. We pay a small amount of our wages into these programs. When they were first designed, the actuarial studies said they would perform."
Kalagias, the Libertarian candidate, said he wants to cut spending and balance the budget.
"It's like we've declared war on our children," he said of the nation's growing debt. "Elect an honest guy for a change. I'm not going to vote for anything that adds any money to the debt."
Kalagias said Democrats and Republicans have been "working together enough to pass bad legislation."
More information on Womack's campaign can be found at womackforcongress.com.
Mahony's website is https://mahonyforcongress.com.
More information on Kalagias can be found at lpar.org/2018-candidates/michael-kalagias.
The 3rd Congressional District in Northwest Arkansas consists of Benton, Boone, Carroll, Marion, Pope and Washington counties as well as portions of Crawford, Newton, Searcy, and Sebastian counties.
The general election is Nov. 6. Early voting starts today.
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