CONWAY, Ark. – The candidates running to represent Arkansas in the United States Senate took to the debate stage Friday afternoon.

Republican Sen. John Boozman faced challengers Democrat Natalie James and Libertarian Kenneth Cates on the stage at Arkansas PBS in Conway. The debate topics centered on responsible government spending and social issues.

Boozman often emphasized his experience as a two-term incumbent, while James emphasized plans for Arkansas. Cates took a decidedly small-government stance and several times declined to provide a rebuttal answer after his initial response.

The most heated moment was late in the one-hour debate as the candidates responded to a question asking how they felt about the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program.

James supported the program, adding that forgiveness of PPP loans was essentially the same issue but benefiting people like Boozman.

“We need to talk about PPP loans that were forgiven to numerous colleagues and coworkers of our divested senator John Boozman from his company,” James said.

In a rebuttal and obviously perturbed, Boozman said James needed to “get her facts straight,” and he was divested from the optometry business.

“I don’t know who’s feeding your facts, but they’re totally false. Right’s right, wrong’s wrong,” he said.

James countered that her language did not directly target Boozman.

“You divested. I said your colleagues and corporations. Not you,” she said.

The pair were seen after the debate while the credits were rolling in a very focused conversation.

In his small-government position, Cates was characteristically brief in his response to the student loan question with the words “somebody has to pay.”

Small government was less favored by any candidate when the subject of agriculture, a major industry in Arkansas, and rural communities were brought up. James and Boozman agreed on the importance of federal subsidies for farmers, Cates being the only one who disagreed with a subsidy program.

Rural access to healthcare was important to all three candidates, with Cates having the unique take, using the term “fix not fund” in providing rural health care.

Friday’s debate came one day after a new poll from Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College showed Boozman holding a double-digit lead over James, his closest competitor.

The poll showed 52% of respondents backed Boozman, compared to 32% supporting James. Cates came in at 3%, while 13% of voters in the poll were undecided. The poll had a 3.9% margin of error.

The Arkansas general election is Nov. 8, with early voting beginning Oct. 24.