Official portraits for U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (left) and State Sen. Tony Vargas (right) are composed together side-by-side.
U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (left) and State Sen. Tony Vargas (right) are running to represent Nebraska's second congressional district, which includes Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders counties. Bacon, a Republican, has represented the district since 2017, the same year Vargas, a Democrat, joined the Nebraska Legislature. (Photos courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Unicameral Information Office)

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon and State Sen. Tony Vargas competed in the last of two debates on Sunday, Oct. 16 where the two candidates agreed on very little while discussing topics such as tax reform, inflation and abortion.

Anchor Julie Cornell moderated the KETV-sponsored broadcast, where Bacon and Vargas repeatedly emphasized their working-class roots and diminished their opponent’s validity. This is the final debate before they compete for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District seat on Nov. 8.

Vargas, a Democrat, consistently referred to his past as a science teacher and Omaha school board member and talked about his understanding of working-class Nebraskans. He pointed to his focus on balancing budgets and investing in education and health care.

“I’m fighting for working families — for jobs, for health care — but also for controlling our spending and costs and doing everything I can to provide relief,” Vargas said.

Bacon, a Republican running for his fourth congressional term, cited his prior 30 years spent in the military throughout the debate. A retired general, the congressman focused on fighting a rise in inflation.

“We need a Republican-led Congress, hopefully, a Senate and a House, where we compel the president to be more fiscally responsible, start working in the middle and keep spending within inflation or below,” Bacon said.

The candidates disagreed when asked about the best way to lower prescription drug costs.

Bacon said other countries should help shoulder research and developing drug costs, citing the wide margin in which the United States leads in prescription drug development. He also pointed to a need for Medicare for retirees.

“My aunts and uncles and so many constituents say this is their sole source of income,” Bacon said. “Inflation hurts these people the most when it’s their sole income. We need to have conservative governance that controls this reckless spending that’s triggered this inflation.”

Vargas called these statements into question and said Bacon wants to gut Medicare and Social Security and provide more for corporations. He cited Bacon’s vote against the Inflation Reduction Act, which lowered prescription healthcare costs and created a cap on insulin costs at $35 dollars for seniors with Medicare.

“When you’re going to either the hospital or you’re getting a prescription drug refilled, and you see how expensive they are, know Congressman Bacon voted against those bills that would have lowered the cost for you,” Vargas said.

Bacon responded by discussing the tax increase that resulted from the bill, which he stated raised constituents’ gas and diesel taxes.

Abortion was another topic of contention at the debate. 

Although Bacon began by professing his stance as a Christian against abortion, he emphasized the need to move within the lanes of where voters allow. He said a 15-week restriction received overwhelming support and said his opponent supported abortion-on-demand with zero restrictions.

“You want to keep us back with North Korea and China and those southern countries that have zero restrictions,” Bacon said. “Science has moved past you, Tony.”

Vargas responded by clarifying that he is against abortion-on-demand and up until birth. He said Bacon was hiding from his long-held position, citing his support of H.R.8814, the proposed nationwide 15-week ban on abortion, which Vargas said was the most aggressive abortion bill in this country. Vargas said the bill would criminalize doctors who perform abortions.

“I believe that decision needs to stay between women and their doctors,” Vargas said.

Another clash occurred when the two were asked to address the biggest misconceptions regarding them they had witnessed.

Vargas began by addressing negative ads he claims are being funded partially out of state. He focused on his statement he had raised more resources from Nebraskans than has ever been raised in Nebraska’s second district, which he contrasted with Bacon’s funding which he says is from out-of-state corporations.

Bacon took his time to say he has a 98% name and face identification, claiming that voters know what is not true about him. He then referred to his allegation that Vargas voted present or did not vote on bills as a state senator almost 20% of the time.

He also mentioned Vargas’s vote for LB1004, a 2020 bill that would make committed offenders automatically eligible for parole within two years of their mandatory discharge date.

“He would allow felons, murderers, rapists, people who have molested young children, to go to their parole boards two years early,” said Bacon. “The voters here want to know why he would side with the felons and not the victims.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill, which State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha introduced to address prison overcrowding.

Vargas referred to these claims as scare tactics and called his ad campaigns against him desperate. He emphasized his care for public safety, referring to voting for billions of dollars every year directed toward law enforcement.

Bacon disputed this claim, saying that Vargas does not support the police. He criticized the senator’s support for protests in 2020, many sparked after the murder of George Floyd, stating that Vargas criticized police for violence when they were the ones getting injured.

“Two years ago, [Vargas] was out there leading and instigating the riots,” Bacon said.

Vargas was not able to respond to this due to time restraints.

When asked for steps to make higher education more affordable, the opponents had two different solutions.

Bacon’s central position revolved around allowing people to refinance loans to access more affordable interest rates. He also encouraged people to find education opportunities through employers, such as Walmart and Starbucks, which offer tuition reimbursement programs.

Vargas discussed a solution to reform Pell Grants, emphasizing the importance that citizens have access to well-paying jobs through education. He cited his endorsement from the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of American unions, to reinforce his stance.

The two did seem to reach similar stances on cyber and nuclear defense, though, with both candidates discussing the need for government oversight of cyber security and a desire for more funding directed towards Ukraine against Russia. Both discussed a concern against Russia and China, citing a need for more military resources.