Republican Congressman Steve King told a northwest Iowa audience this week he is “pretty confident” there will be one radio debate between himself and Democratic challenger Christie Vilsack in Des Moines, and there’s a “reasonable chance” for a second radio debate in Mason City.
During a town hall meeting in Le Mars, King was asked if there would be any debates.
“I don’t really know,” King said.
This past Wednesday organizers of an Ames debate called the event off because they said King’s campaign manager had insisted on a 90 minute discussion between King and Vilsack, on topics agreed to ahead of time — plus the King campaign wanted the audience to be “controlled by advanced seating” rather than open to the public.
On Monday in Le Mars, King suggested this was his preferred approach to debates: “I’ll debate her anytime, anywhere. All it takes is two chairs in a corn field, two chairs in a pasture, two chairs at the county fair. We don’t need to debate about the terms or the moderator. We’ll just decide how long the conversation’s going to take place, sit down and talk, so I’m good for all of that and, you know, I want to do this. It’s been too long.”
King has not debated an opponent since 2002. In 2010, King’s Democratic opponent confronted King at a town hall meeting in Sioux City and asked King if he would participate in a televised debate. King shot back, saying his 2010 opponent had “not earned” the right to a debate. This past Monday, King said there was a reason he hasn’t debated his past four opponents.
“That was a tactical decision. I want to do this,” King said, tapping his finger on the lectern to make his point. “I’ve said so since March 16 and I debate all the time — in committee, on the floor of congress, you know, with the press, wherever it might be — so it’s not unnatural for me to do that. I want to have the debates. I think what you’ll see is that she will come up with a whole series of excuses until finally she’ll get mad and say, ‘Well, it’s Steve King’s fault we’re not debating.'”
A spokesman for Vilsack said in a written statement that King “should take a hard look at his own actions before accusing anyone else of making excuses.” Sam Roecker, the communications director for Vilsack’s campaign, said “the only person making excuses here is Congressman King,” but Roecker said it’s the kind of behavior voters have come to expect from King.
King has said Iowans would be “enriched” by having him and Vilsack engage in Lincoln-Douglas-style debates.
“The balance of this seems to have devolved down into a debate about debates and I didn’t want to have a debate about debates. That’s why I put out a proposal from the beginning that had 18 conditions on it: six debates, six dates and six locations — and she wouldn’t agree with any of those. Now she said she wants to do 10 debates. Well, where and what terms?” King told the Le Mars audience. “And I’m not about to agree to debate on a panel (of questioners) to be named later. I’ve gone into those things before.”
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had a series of seven debates in 1858. Each debate was three hours long. One candidate spoke first, for an hour. The second got a chance to respond and present his views for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate got another 30 minutes to respond.
(Reporting in Le Mars by Dennis Morrice of KLEM; editing by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)