DANVILLE (WSLS 10) - Around 50 people were on hand Thursday as Democrat Jane Dittmar and Republican Tom Garrett answered questions from chamber of commerce board members.
Economic growth in Southside was the topic of the first question of the night.
Dittmar answered first, saying her approach is based largely on improving infrastructure, most importantly internet and cell service.
"As soon as you get out of a metropolitan area, we have a digital divide," Dittmar explained. "That is holding back small business development. That is holding back education."
Garrett says the focus needs to be on improving trade deals and improving what he calls the regulatory climate for businesses.
"The reason the Dan River Mill isn't here is because NAFTA was short-sided and failed to consider the real needs and the real value of economic activity here in Southside Virginia," Garrett stressed.
As for national issues, both candidates agreed that they want governors to have more flexibility to negotiate trade deals for agriculture in their states.
Dittmar said climate change is the nation's biggest threat, while Garrett says the biggest threat is the U.S. continuing to lead from behind around the world.
They also offered ideas for reducing the national debt, dealing with immigration, reforming healthcare, and making college more accessible.
At the end of the night, both candidates felt a sense of accomplishment.
"The audience was very engaged. There was a lot of interaction, a lot of facial expressions,' Dittmar said.
"We really have done very well in these forums; these contrasting ideas about whether government creates problems or solves it," Garrett said. "That's a contrast we're willing to take to the voters, take our chances, and we feel great about where we are."
The winner of the election will replace Congressman Robert Hurt from Chatham who is retiring.