The two candidates have met before.
The tension between them is palpable.
Republican businessman Stewart Mills came just shy of winning Minnesota’s 8th District Congressional seat in 2014.
That seat belongs to incumbent Congressman Rick Nolan.
Mills seems determined not to make it two election losses in a row.
"Elections are about choices,” Mills told a packed audience at The Duluth Playhouse Monday morning. “We have a choice in front of us. This choice is 'Who is best fit to represent our values, our ideals, and our priorities in Washington, DC?'"
Mills and Nolan do not agree on many issues.
The debate began with questions about the economic hardships for iron miners and steel workers in the iron range.
Rep. Nolan’s stance maintained his good record among those who have been employed by industries across the Iron Range for many decades.
"I'm proud of the fact that mining executives in this region, as well as steelworkers, miners, tradesmen, all endorse my campaign. They say 'No one has done more for mining in this entire nation than Rick Nolan."
Mills fired back with accusations that Rep. Nolan would rather argue against the Second Amendment on national news programs than actually work for those facing layoffs at mining and steelworking jobs.
"We had 2000 laid off iron miners before Congressman Nolan started the process of making sure that we had the countervailing tariffs that we needed so that we could have some breathing room,” Mills said. “That was only one-third of what we needed to do."
Much of the debate focused on nuanced economic issues.
Both candidates for US Congress agreed that young Americans are facing crushing student loan debt upon college graduation.
Mills says he’d like college to be less expensive, but wants colleges to be more competitive to reduce tuition.
Congressman Nolan favors free two and four year college programs for all students.
Nolan believes that ending our war efforts oversees would free up the money to make that possible.
"Let's take the war in Iraq,” Rep. Nolan explained. “Three trillion dollars. For one of those trillion we could have graduated every kid in America from a vocational or college debt-free."
Mills did not disagree that something must be done about the student debt crisis.
But his argument was for more competition to lower tuition rates, and for a “Student Bill of Rights,” that ensures that students are guaranteed the classes they need to take in order to graduate on time.
"They have a mountain of student debt,” Mills said. “They're not quite sure what they got for it other than a piece of paper."
Mills and Rep. Nolan were asked about the Affordable Care Act.
Not surprisingly, Mills maintained his stance that “Obamacare” should be repealed; he repeatedly called the current president’s healthcare bill a “disaster.”
Nolan expressed support for the ACA, but admitted that it’s far from perfect.
The debate over healthcare transitioned to Medicare and Social Security.
This was perhaps one of the more tense moments of the debate, as Congressman Nolan repeatedly asserted that he was against privatizing benefits for seniors.
Mills’ overall point recalled that he is adamant about repealing Obamacare.
Moderators then asked the candidates to discuss benefits for American veterans, which was one of the few issues the two seemed to agree.
Both Mills and Rep. Nolan say they support increased benefits for veterans, but Mills was very critical of Nolan’s voting record in Washington on new bills to support those benefits.
A more divisive issue, both candidates were asked about the federal minimum wage.
Mills argued that a federal minimum wage is unconstitutional, while Congressman Nolan asserted that to understand why he believes it’s necessary, you must have perspective.
"For the minimum wage today to be what it was when I was a kid, it'd have to be 16 or 17 bucks an hour,” Rep. Nolan said. “So why shouldn't we give to today's generation the same blessings and the same benefits that my generation enjoyed?"
"I'm not saying I'm against a state minimum wage, I'm saying I'm against a federal minimum wage. Because 15 dollars an hour would put a lot of people out of business all over our part of Minnesota."
When discussing gun control, Mills continually pointed out that Democrats like Nolan are only trying to infringe upon responsible gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.
Nolan says that the United States has “always had gun safety measures.”
Mills rebuked that by saying “Congressman Nolan is the first person I know that says they are for the Second Amendment and gets an ‘F’ rating from the [National Rifle Association].”
The debate briefly touched on efforts to reduce the threat of a nuclear Iran, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay, however the moderators mentioned that they had to skip a few questions because the candidates were going over their allotted times.
Both the Republican Stewart Mills and the incumbent Representative Nolan explained to the audience who it is they are fighting for by running for this seat in congress.
"I will fight for the people that are stuck in the middle and give them a pathway to get ahead," Mills said, explaining that he’s met too many people who are too poor to pay their bills yet make too much money to receive help from the government.
Nolan’s conclusion was strikingly similar.
"This is all about who you're for,” Rep. Nolan said. “I hope I've made it clear who I'm for. The working men and women of this country."