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Dem hopefuls argue over who can beat Terry

In their first debate Tuesday, the two Democrats battling to challenge Rep. Lee Terry for his Omaha-based seat in Congress began drawing distinctions between their often harmonious platforms.

As Jim Esch and Richard Carter argued their credentials as the best chance to take down Terry, a five-term incumbent in the 2nd Congressional District, they also presented distinct ideas on issues including illegal immigration, health care and America's foreign oil dependence.

Esch, 32, pointed to his experience working with the local business community and to the grass-roots network that brought him within 10 percentage points of Terry in the 2006 election.

Carter, 30, said his service in the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan and his expertise as an economics teacher make him the candidate best equipped to deal with America's foreign and domestic challenges.

The two mostly sounded similar notes on a wide range of issues at Tuesday's debate, which drew about 150 to the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

But the candidates sparred over illegal immigration, which Esch proposed to solve with national identification cards and heavy fines on businesses and business owners who employ illegal immigrants.

"It's not just the companies at fault, it's the people running those companies," said Esch, who holds a law degree from Creighton University and has been working at a real estate venture.

Carter countered that improved border security should be the first priority in righting the influx of illegal workers. "If you want to come here, I respect that and understand that, but you need to respect our laws," he said. "A nation without borders is not a nation.'

The candidates also outlined different plans on how to improve uninsured Americans' access to health care.

Carter proposed encouraging more competition between insurance companies and hospitals to lower health care costs. He said he opposed universal health care plans that would unduly infringe on private health providers.

Esch said he would support a basic national health care package, a board to enforce hospital standards and an emphasis on overall wellness education.

Esch argued that a competitive system hasn't guaranteed Americans basic health care.

"We have the best hospitals, the best doctors, the best research, so how is that possible?" Esch said, referring to the number of uninsured Americans.

Esch and Carter will square off in the Democratic primary on May 13.

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