The three men who want to be the Republican Party’s 2010 nominee for governor will appear together in a televised debate at noon today — their final debate before the June 8th Primary. In 1998, David Oman was a Republican gubernatorial candidate himself, competing against a congressman — Jim Lightfoot — and Paul Pate, who was Iowa’s secretary of state at the time.
Oman says debates are always a “red letter” day for a campaign.”The candidate and staff are psyched up for them. They rarely change many votes. You always find that out after the fact,” Oman says, with a laugh “But it’s a great way, particularly if you’re an underdog, to get your name out and for people to understand you, have a sense of your persona and what you might do as governor.”
Oman contends most of the viewers of these debates have their minds made up. “If a candidate beats expectations and delivers on the promise, absolutely that will create more interest and more energy on the part of a supporter,” Omam says. “If a candidate does less than expected, perhaps people might switch or they might revert to an open mind and wait to see how the rest of the campaign unfolds.”
Oman hopes the structure of today’s debate lets the candidates have a little more give-and-take among themselves as he says those exchanges are often the most illuminating. Oman has helped candidates do “debate prep” in the past but hasn’t done so for any of the three men who’ll be on stage today.
“There’s a school of thought that you always want to wear a red necktie because it stands out on television…Sometimes you see all the blue suits and the red ties and they all look alike,” Oman says. “I always tried to be a little different and understood at the end of the day, what you wore probably didn’t change many minds or votes.”
Back in 1998, candidate Oman was in the mix for an interesting moment in Iowa political history. “Paul and I were underdogs and we were talking a little bit about Jim’s record…and he pulled out a knife and grumbled that we were cutting him up and sort of brandished it, put it over on my podium. We all reacted in a little bit of surprise,” Oman says. “My comment at the time was that if he’d done that in the airport, somebody might have arrested him.”
Lightfoot went on to secure the Republican Party’s 1998 nomination for governor, so flashing that knife at the debate didn’t seem to have much impact on the race. “But it did create a little bit of news,” Oman says. “In fact the clip ran on CNN for a while.”
Oman was chief of staff during Terry Branstad’s first term as governor in the 1980s. This year Branstad is seeking a fifth term as governor and today Branstad will be on stage with the other two Republican candidates for governor — Bob Vander Plaats, a Sioux City business consultant, and State Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll.
Today’s hour-long debate will be live online at noon on www.DesMoinesRegister.com and www.iptv.org. IPTV will broadcast it live at noon on its digital IPTV World channel, too. The debate will be rebroadcast tonight at 7 p.m. on IPTV.