Disgraced former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley may not be running for Congress anymore, but he was still part of the first debate Thursday night between the candidates seeking his seat.

The debate opened with a montage of photographs of Foley and a voice detailing the scandal that led to his resignation last month. It closed with a simple message: "A vote for Foley however will be credited to the new Republican candidate, Joe Negron."

It highlighted the difficult task ahead for Negron, who entered the race just three weeks ago. Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House to win control of Congress.

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"Obviously, everyone in this district is very angered and betrayed by the conduct of Mark Foley," Negron said, adding that voters now needed to "focus on who is going to take his place."

Mahoney quickly tried to change the topic, noting that the race is "not about Mark Foley anymore." Eventually, the topic did shift.

Both Mahoney and Negron agreed that more needs to be done to keep jobs from being outsourced overseas and to bring higher paying jobs to Florida.

On stem cell research, Negron said he supports the use of adult stem cells, but not embryonic. Mahoney said he supported embryonic stem cell research since "these are embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway."

Both candidates agreed that a new strategy was needed in the Iraq war and that troops cannot be brought home immediately.

Mahoney said he supports bringing in an international coalition of troops and eventually phasing out American soldiers. Negron acknowledged that mistakes have been made in the war and noted that Iraq must have a stable government before troops are brought home.

Ross, a licensed insurance agent, said troops should come home in six months.

Negron and Mahoney agreed that the federal government should negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower cost prescription drugs and that the nation's borders need to be made more secure.

The race for the 16th District received little attention before Foley's resignation because he was seen as an easy shoo-in for re-election. Since then, both parties have been pouring money into the race to support their candidates as Republicans try to maintain control of the House.

The debate is scheduled to air Friday night.

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