The Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate held a campaign event in Des Moines this afternoon, built around an “empty chair” routine.
Earlier this month Senator Chuck Grassley’s wife, Barbara, advised a Republican congressional candidate to opt for the “empty chair routine” if her Democratic opponent wouldn’t debate. Roxanne Conlin, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Grassley’s bid for a sixth term, embraced the concept, but there was no “empty chair.” Instead, a crowd of about 200 Conlin backers gathered in the downtown Des Moines Library to see Conlin stand behind a lectern, with another lectern to her left — with no one standing there.
The Conlin campaign sometimes played statements Grassley’s made on TV or radio when it was Grassley’s “turn” to speak. At other times, Conlin jumped in herself. “If I may answer the question on his behalf,” Conlin repeated several times during the event.
Conlin used a portion of the hour to defend her family’s business.
“This gives me an opportunity to correct some of the distortions that his campaign has created in terms of what my husband and my son do for a living,” Conlin said.
Conlin said Grassley had voted for the 1986 bill that set up the federal tax credits her husband and son receive to build low-income housing.
“I want to be sure that everyone understands that that money is what we use to build these apartments buildings,” Conlin said. “It doesn’t come to us. It goes into the building.”
She contrasted that with the federal farm subsidies Grassley receives. “That goes into his pocket,” Conlin said.
Grassley’s campaign spokesman Eric Wooloson calls today’s event a “political stunt.”
Conlin’s making no apologies. “I would respond to that by saying it was Barbara Grassley’s idea,” Conlin told reporters this afternoon.
Woolson says the “empty” space Conlin debated Sunday afternoon may represent the jobs that will be lost if her “job-killing strategies” are enacted.
Grassley and Conlin are scheduled to debate on WHO Radio on October 26th. They made a “joint appearance” on Iowa Public Television earlier this month.