Schilling, Bustos

Bobby Schilling (Rashah McChesney / QUAD-CITY TIMES FILE PHOTO) and Cheri Bustos (Taylor Glascock, Peoria Journal Star / AP FILE PHOTO)

Contributed photo

Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., and Democrat Cheri Bustos will get their highest-profile chance yet to make their case to Quad-City voters, as they meet in a 30-minute debate Thursday, the first of three encounters over the next two weeks.

Schilling and Bustos have clashed on outsourcing, Medicare and health care in the 17th Congressional District race. And, according to both the campaigns, people are likely to hear more about those differences and others when the candidates meet for a

6:30 p.m. debate in Moline.

The half-hour debate, sponsored by WQAD-TV and The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, will be broadcast on Channel 8, and it will be streamed on the media outlets’ websites.

The Schilling and Bustos campaigns said Tuesday they expect voters will see the differences between the two candidates.

“Cheri Bustos is going to clearly articulate that she is on the side of the middle class and working families, and she intends to make job creation her number one priority,” Allison Jaslow, Bustos’ campaign manager, said Tuesday. She added the campaign also will look to examine Schilling’s record. “Tomorrow, he’s going to have to be accountable for that record.”

Jon Schweppe, a spokesman for Schilling, said he intends to talk about his record, too.

“Bobby looks forward to talking about his record in the first term of creating jobs, balancing the budget and leading by example,” he said.

Asked whether Schilling would take on Bustos, Schweppe said he’s more likely to talk about his own record than hers.

“What we hope is to spend a lot of time talking about Congressman Schilling’s record,” he said.

The debate comes after an extended dance between the two candidates about the terms, location and sponsor of the debates. This session will be moderated by WQAD morning anchor Jim Mertens, who has anchored debates in the past.

The 17th District race is one of the most closely watched contests in the country, with more than $4 million in independent expenditures, according to the Federal Election Commission. Most of that has come from the two parties, with the bulk of the spending on negative television ads. The ads have accused Schilling of backing tax loopholes that promote outsourcing. Republican

ads have criticized Bustos

for spending that took place while she was on the

East Moline City Council.

The House Majority PAC, a super PAC favoring Democrats, also has weighed in on the race. And this week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a major ad buy attacking Bustos. The group is not affiliated with the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce.

Bustos and Schilling also have raised more than $1 million apiece.

Recent polls have said this is a close race, too.

An internal poll for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said this week that Bustos was leading by a point after trailing earlier this summer. A We Ask America poll done for the CapitolFax website last week had Schilling up by 2.5 points, the site reported Tuesday.

The Thursday debate will be followed by two hourlong sessions — Oct. 17 in Rockford and Oct. 25 in Peoria.