The nominees vying to succeed retiring Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy in Washington made their cases to voters on a debate stage Thursday.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Republican Gerald Malloy met at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester for a debate held by VTDigger that was live-streamed on YouTube.

Malloy, of Weathersfield, and is running for elected office for the first time. The West Point graduate and Army veteran of more than 20 years points to the economy as the campaign’s central issue.

“Washington has given us a 40-year high in inflation, a recession, record-high gas prices and a staggering $31 trillion debt,” Malloy said. “It’s from massive overspending by Congress, including my opponent.”

Welch has held Vermont’s lone U.S. House seat since 2007. He says there’s no denying the importance of the economy, climate change, reproductive freedom and other issues. However, they take a back seat to the threat to American democracy posed by right-wing extremists.

The two men also drew sharp differences about possible reforms to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“(I propose that) we have 18-year term limits for justices and every two years, you have a new justice,” Welch said. “And every President that is elected by the people is going to have an opportunity, during that person’s four-year term, to nominate two justices.”

“I do not have any reform in mind for the Supreme Court,” Malloy said. “As I mentioned, I think it’s been making some appropriate decisions in line with the Constitution.”

The candidates also have different positions on Second Amendment and gun ownership.

“I have a 100% AQ rating with the NRA,” Malloy said. “Mr. Welch has a zero rating from the NRA, just like Nancy Pelosi has a zero rating with the NRA. This shows that Mr. Welch is more interested in representing Nancy Pelosi than in representing Vermont.”

Welch pointed to the case of a Fair Haven High School student who was arrested before allegedly carrying out a plot to kill classmates.

“I mean, this is serious, folks,” Welch said. “We know it. Do we really need to have AK-47s and weapons of war available to an 18-year-old? Seriously? Do we need that?”

Leahy remains the lone Democrat Vermont has ever elected to the U.S. Senate. The Green Mountain State has had no Republicans in its Congressional delegation since May of 2001. That’s when the late Jim Jeffords single-handedly switched control of a 50-50 Senate by leaving the GOP to become an independent who caucused with Democrats.