From left, 3rd Congressional District Republican nominee Rick Green, independent candidate Mike Mullen and Democratic nominee Lori Trahan debate at UMass
From left, 3rd Congressional District Republican nominee Rick Green, independent candidate Mike Mullen and Democratic nominee Lori Trahan debate at UMass Lowell on Monday night. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE /CHRIS LISINSKI

LOWELL -- Third Congressional District candidates met Monday for their final debate before Election Day in a forum that at times turned fiery and contentious.

Rick Green, the Republican nominee, on several occasions criticized organizers of the debate, arguing that topics were irrelevant or avoiding questions altogether. The fast-paced event, hosted by The Sun and UMass Lowell, stretched across areas familiar and fresh, from the opioid epidemic to the apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to NATO and more.

Democratic nominee Lori Trahan and independent candidate Mike Mullen stood in contrast to Green, offering responses that diverged significantly from the Republican's. Trahan and Mullen agreed, for example, that President Donald Trump's rhetoric surrounding a so-called caravan of migrants hundreds of miles away from the United States was baseless and that sending troops to the southern border was the wrong strategy.

"There is a process in place where people will be evaluated as to whether they have a valid claim to asylum and they will be welcome here," Trahan said. "If people don't have a valid claim for asylum, if they're here purely for economic reasons, they're going to be turned away. Our borders will always be secure in that process. This shines a huge light on this president's lack of commitment to immigration reform."

Green did not answer directly about the migrants in question.


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Instead, he spoke about his now-brother-in-law's experience going through the legal immigration process.

"We have millions of people outside this country, playing by the rules, waiting to get in," Green said. "I'm the only candidate in this race who does not stand for sanctuary city policies."

On several occasions Monday, Green's answers did not line up with the question that had been posed. When he was asked if he trusted Trump's ability to lead during times of crisis, Green said only that he trusted in his own ability to represent the 3rd District. Pressed for his view on the administration's response to Saudi Arabia's alleged killing of Khashoggi, a journalist for the Washington Post, Green said the point of the evening was to talk about the House of Representatives, "not to debate with someone else about the president."

At one point, Green implied that one of the panelists, Boston Globe State House Bureau Chief Frank Phillips, was biased against him because the Globe's editorial board -- which produces opinion pieces separate from news and of which Phillips is not a member -- endorsed Trahan.

Several other topics common on the 3rd District campaign trail came up. The three split on health care, with Mullen offering support for a Medicare-for-All system, Trahan praising the Affordable Care Act and particularly its coverage of pre-existing conditions, and Green calling for a national health care system with more "choice" similar to the car-insurance market.

On opioids, Green said he would always oppose safe injection sites, but Trahan and Mullen said they would be open to the idea, which would allow those coping with addiction to use drugs in specific locations under the watch of medical personnel as a way to prevent fatal overdoses.

"When you get to a point where there's a crisis in the world, you need to be able to look at creative solutions," Mullen said.

All three candidates are on the Nov. 6 ballot to succeed U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who is retiring at the end of her term after more than a decade in office. Early voting has already begun in communities across the state.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.