North Salt Lake • Republican candidates at the first debate in the 2nd Congressional District threw out a lot of red meat to their base but took few opportunities to draw blood against one another Monday night.
Instead, the seven candidates railed against the federal deficit and vowed to fight spending.
The debate was a standing room only affair at the City Council chambers in North Salt Lake which drew about 150 of the hundreds of delegates who will vote at the party convention later this month.
Any candidate who can secure 60 percent of the delegate vote will clinch the nomination, otherwise the top two vote-getters will advance to a June primary.
The Republican nominee will face one of three Democrats vying for their party's nod after six-term Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson's decision to run in the newly created 4th Congressional District.
Former Utah House Speaker Dave Clark from Santa Clara sought to distance himself from the crowded GOP field by leaning on his experience as both a lawmaker and a banker. He has been with Zions Bank for 37 years.
Clark, who already came up with a budget balancing proposal name the Notch of the Belt Act said during his tenure as speaker, he sought an average of a 10 percent budget cut for agencies across the board to reduce spending.
He said he should be sent to Congress because of three primary worries among Utah Republicans.
"Debt, deficit and distrust," Clark said. "They should not be the only surpluses coming out of Washington, D.C."
And Cherilyn Eagar, who is making a run at the seat after failing to nab a Senate seat in 2010, said talk of cuts wasn't enough. She said the Dodd-Frank law and President Barack Obama's health care reforms were keeping businesses from adding jobs and harming the economy.
She also touched on the culture wars, citing the recent cries by some Democrats that Republicans are engaged in a "war on women" in the fight over reproductive rights.
"This is not a war on women," Eagar said. "This is a war on religious liberty. It's a war on our families."
While the 90-minute debate visited familiar themes among Republicans military spending, public lands and deregulation some of the candidates struggled with facts.
Both Jason Buck a former BYU and NFL football player called publicly for an audit of the Federal Reserve, even though the General Accountability Office completed one in 2011. And several candidates asked for a stop to Congress being allowed to engage in insider stock trading, despite Obama signing that bill earlier this year.
Buck also tended to deliver punishing lines as he lifted the microphone from the podium and gripped it tightly.
"We should be able to put our tax code on a postcard," he said to loud applause.
Chris Stewart, who has earned endorsements from high-profile national figures such as Glenn Beck, also plugged his adherence to U.S. House budget chairman Paul Ryan's plan and said it wold be very difficult to balance the budget without serious Social Security reform.
Curtis Poole, a 39-year-old delegate from Woods Cross, said he still wasn't sure who he'd support for the GOP nomination at the state Republican Convention on April 21.
He said he liked what he heard from Eagar, Stewart and Clark, though he said he's going to have to learn more about each of them.
"I like the passion each has," Poole said. "More with Eagar she does have a lot of experience that she brings. Same thing with Clark. And I like the ideals that Stewart has."