Three Republican congressional hopefuls spoke before roughly 100 people in Santa Barbara Thursday night, vying to win local party support for their candidacies in the upcoming June 8 primary.

Though the event was presented as a debate, the Republican contenders for California’s 23rd district congressional seat — Clark Vandeventer, Tom Watson and John Davidson — avoided criticizing each other and largely agreed on major issues such as economic regulation and global warming. All three criticized Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps for supporting healthcare reform and other Obama administration policies that they say have hindered the economy. The candidates also touched on a wide spectrum of issues ranging from the current economic recession to the needs of student voters.

Watson, a former Navy fighter pilot, said he was concerned about the impact the stagnant economy is having on career-seeking college graduates.

“These kids can’t get jobs,” Watson said. “Unemployment for kids coming out of college is more than 20 percent.”

Vandeventer, a former deputy director at the Reagan Ranch, said he frequently dines in Isla Vista and is also concerned about students. He said that he could provide a new generation of political thinking that would appeal to students.

“Lois Capps represents the same old business-as-usual approach that has put us in the situation that we’re in,” Vandeventer said. “I don’t believe young voters are looking for the business-as-usual approach.”

Davidson, a Thousand Oaks businessman, said he did not think climate change is a result of human actions, an opinion echoed by his congressional competitors. 

“No, I don’t think that man is responsible for the global warming circumstance that we have right now,” Davidson said. 

Davidson also said he supports the development of cleaner energy sources such as nuclear, wind and solar power. He said policies should find a balance between economic efficiency and environmental impact.

Candidates then addressed local energy issues, remarking on oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. Each said they would support slant-drilling operations such as the Tranquillon Ridge project, which would use existing platforms to extract oil from new, local wells.

“We should be going after all the different forms of energy,” Watson said. “We need to exploit our energy resources, including those off our coast.”

In addition to discussions on energy policy, candidates all voiced their opposition to the health care reform legislation signed by the Obama administration this spring.

Watson said the bill does not have the support of the American people and should be repealed. He said the parliamentary tactics used to pass the bill were inappropriate.

“The healthcare fiasco is one of the things that pushed me over the edge,” Watson said. “The manner in which this entire process was conducted is frankly a disgrace.”