The Republican and Democratic candidates for California's 23rd Congressional District found a lot to disagree on during a televised debate on a wide range of national topics Wednesday night.

Incumbent Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and challenger Kim Mangone, D-Quartz Hill, staked out contrasting policy positions on topics ranging from face-mask mandates and a border wall to climate change and a new coronavirus relief bill.

In largely polite exchanges on KGET-17, McCarthy defended Republican legislative actions and promoted his vision for economic development as Mangone mostly adhered to Democratic priorities on topics such as clean energy while pushing for greater investment in workforce training.

Observers have expressed doubts the election will be close; McCarthy got twice as many votes as Mangone in the March primaries. Local Democrats see the race more as an opportunity to make inroads against a candidate with strong name recognition in a district where they trailed Republican voter registration by 12 percentage points as of Sept. 4.

The Nov. 3 General Election is important for McCarthy for different reasons. If Republicans are able to retake control of the House, McCarthy would presumably become Speaker of the House and third in line to the presidency.

McCarthy, a 13-year congressman and one of the nation's most powerful Republicans, took aim several times at China over its inability to contain the spread of COVID-19 as well as its pattern of stealing U.S. technology. He said the United States must do more to secure its supply chain by reinvigorating domestic manufacturing.

Another theme of his Wednesday message was promoting U.S. energy independence. McCarthy dodged a question about whether climate change was manmade, responding that the climate is changing and that the solution must be manmade. He also used the topic to promote Kern's push for carbon management, which involves removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Mangone, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former systems engineer living in Quartz Hill, countered that humans are accelerating climate change and that the solution is investment in clean-energy technology.

When asked about whether a nationwide mandate on wearing masks in public should be put in place, Mangone said she supports the idea. The federal government has failed to produce a valid national plan for fighting the coronavirus, she said, emphasizing more should be done locally to protect Hispanics that have suffered disproportionately from the virus.

McCarthy voiced support for face masks, along with social distancing and hand-washing, but said he opposes mandating masks. Pointing to the federal government's efforts to quickly develop a vaccine and therapeutics, he said schools need to reopen soon and that the economy cannot be forced to close once again.

The two also disagreed on congressional work toward a new coronavirus relief bill, with McCarthy calling the Democratic proposal a "wish list" that's mostly about politics. Mangone said congressional negotiators need to keep their eye on ways to help people, small businesses and local governments.

Responding to a question about a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mangone said the effort was a waste of money, particularly in light of tunnels that she said render the effort pointless.

But McCarthy asserted the wall is a necessary first step toward border security that must be a precondition to meaningful immigration reform. 

The 23rd District stretches from Porterville to Lancaster.

The hourlong debate was hosted and moderated by broadcast journalists Jim Scott and Eytan Wallace.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf