On the morning that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan will be his running mate, Martha’s Vineyard Democrats focused on a more local political decision as they heard from the two candidates they will choose between in the congressional primary on Sept. 6.

Incumbent Cong. William Keating and Bristol County district attorney Sam Sutter, who are both running to represent the new 9th congressional district, addressed issues both local and national — including the vice presidential nomination — at the Howes House Saturday morning, with Mr. Sutter criticizing Mr. Keating for not engaging in debate.

The two did not debate or engage in discussion with each other, and Mr. Keating, speaking first before heading to the ferry to attend a function on the mainland, made no mention of his opponent or the primary contest.

He did however address issues facing Democrats in the November election. “This is the most serious time in our country’s history,” Mr. Keating said, mentioning national debt, taxes and national defense.

“The Democratic party is the party of fiscal reason,” he said, adding that Republican policies are in danger of taking the country back to what he described as Mad Men-era social policies and women’s rights.

Then there was the political news of the day: Mr. Romney’s vice presidential candidate. “We couldn’t be more solidified on where they’re going and where they’ve been,” Mr. Keating said of what Mr. Ryan’s nomination means for the Republican party.

“I work out at the gym with him [Mr. Ryan], he’s a nice fellow,” Mr. Keating said. “But he’s the person who epitomizes where the worst congress that ever existed is trying to take us.”

After speaking for about 15 minutes, Mr. Keating left to attend an event for veterans.

“We thought Congressman Keating would be able to stay here and there would be a side-by-side, quite frankly,” said Martha’s Vineyard Democratic Council member Paddy Moore after Mr. Keating left.

sam sutter
Bristol County district attorney Sam Sutter criticized his opponent in the upcoming election. — Alison Mead

Mr. Sutter was critical of what he said was a lack of engagement between the two. “As I was listening to Bill, I was struck by something that I’ve been struck by repeatedly over the last eight months,” Mr. Sutter, a Fall River resident, said. “He’s not only trying to ignore me, he’s trying to ignore that there’s a choice here.”

He said he decided to run for the seat when the new 9th district, which includes the Cape and Islands, coastal parts of Plymouth County and parts of Fall River and New Bedford, was created by redistricting last fall. The Vineyard has been represented by Mr. Keating in the 10th congressional district.

Mr. Sutter criticized what he saw as a lack of effectiveness in the congress and he said he differed from Mr. Keating in key areas: He is for bringing troops back from Afghanistan “as quickly as can be logistically done,” is against the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes so-called indefinite detention for suspected terrorists, and is also for campaign finance reform, he said.

Mr. Sutter also said he has created a strong program against gun violence in his role as district attorney. More locally, he addressed the ongoing issue of lack of access to on-Island health care for veterans. “I can tell you this — on my watch that would have been resolved by now,” Mr. Sutter said.

He took questions from the audience, ranging in topic from a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Citizens United Supreme Court case to the constitutionality of his decision as district attorney to detain those caught with illegal firearms.

The deadline to register to vote in the Sept. 6 primary is August 17.