Democratic senior U.S. Senator for Washington state Patty Murray faced her Republican challenger Chris Vance in a debate Sunday night at Gonzaga University.

Murray is seeking her fifth term. She spoke in favor of raising the federal minimum wage, welcoming Syrian refugees and changing the Affordable Care Act. She says the biggest problem is that too many insurers have dropped coverage.

“That’s why I support a public option,” Murray said. “So we can lower those rates and have the opportunity for everyone to get the health care coverage that they deserve.”

Vance, a former state GOP chair, said the public option would give the government too much control over care.

“I think we can do better,” Vance said. “I think for those who need help we can have a target solution modeled on the Washington state Basic Health Plan, which would allow people to purchase private sector coverage with a small subsidy from the government.”

Vance has also served as a King County councilman and a state legislator. He said national security threats and the national debt motivated him to run for Senate.

College

“The reason why our debt continues to mount and mount and mount is that more and more politicians make more and more promises,” Vance said. “And they just pay for those promises by borrowing money and printing money.”

Vance said the government can’t afford Democrats’ proposals for free and debt-free college.

Vance and Murray agree that students and parents who take on college debt should be able to refinance it. But Murray also spoke in favor of free community college and expansion of the Pell grant program, which she credited with her graduation from Washington State University.

Syrian Refugees

When an audience member at Gonzaga asked how many refugees the U.S. should allow from Syria, it became another question the candidates answered largely along partly lines.

Murray said Washington state is a home that is accepting of others and that Syrian refugees would be “proud citizens” when they got here.

“I want to admit refugees once the FBI will let us know that they can adequately vet them to keep us safe,” Vance said.

The White House announced this summer that the U.S. had accepted its 10,000th refugee from Syria. In the last fiscal year 25 of them settled in Washington state.

It’s been more than 30 years since a Republican was elected to this Senate seat.

Murray and Vance are scheduled to debate again October 23 at the Microsoft campus in Redmond.