Republican Congressman Steve King and Democratic challenger Christie Vilsack debated for 50 minutes tonight — and it was a feisty affair. 

Vilsack early on accused King of being more interested in promoting himself than in passing legislation.

“He’s on television a lot and he talks a lot, but I hear a lot of talk and no action,” Vilsack said. “And frankly I’d like to say to Congressman King that all that talk — some of it is actually offensive to people in Iowa and, frankly, he’s been a bully and he’s an embarrassment to the people of Iowa when he talks as immigrants as animals and if my mother were here she’d say to Congressman King: ‘Show some common decency.'”

King immediately shot back.

“My mother would say, ‘Show some common decency,’ at this point, too,” King replied. “And what makes me stay in office is that I’m driven to protect America from the hard-core movement of the left that’s undermining the American dream.”

As for that comment Vilsack cited, when King said the best immigrants are like an “aggressive…bird dog” rather than a lazy dog “sleeping in the corner,” King offered this explanation: “We got the cream of the crop of every donor civilization on the planet and people that can take it into a compliment and turn it into an insult are not going to be constructive working across the aisle, but that’s what that was and everyone who was there that heard that knows that.”

King said his job as congressman involved “showmanship” and traveling around the country to spread the conservative message and help elect conservatives to congress.

“That is my job. My job is to carry a message,” King said. “…It would be a lot of easier to just simply vote your district, avoid the controversy, stay down below the line of fire, spend all your time trying to get reelected, but that’s my job. My job is to move our Iowa agenda in the nation and what that takes is convincing people outside the district that they need to change their position, maybe change their member of congress.”

Vilsack said she’d be a “problem solver” rather than a “partisan fighter.”

“I want to redefine the job of congressperson and I want to make sure that I’m out there every day, talking to people about bringing economic opportunity to the communities of my district,” Vilsack said. “…Congressman King basically said in an interview with The Sioux City Journal that if he only had to deal with the issues of the fourth district that he’d have time to go fishing. I want to make it a full-time job.”

King later joked that he lacks the patience to go fishing anymore and laughed at some of Vilsack’s statements. King has not debated an opponent for 10 years and cancelled on a debate with Vilsack in Ames because sponsors wouldn’t allow it to be a Lincoln-Douglas style affair. A little more than midway through the radio debate, the moderator gave King a chance to ask a question of Vilsack.

“I guess I’ll say that I’m a little surprised here the way things have gone and so I’m just trying to formulate a question. I’m a little caught off-balance,” King said. “You know, I don’t even know what to ask you, Christie.”

King wound up asking Vilsack to name three issues on which they agree. Vilsack cited two policy issues, including their shared support for building the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, then she added a third area of agreement and it was the only truly light-hearted moment of the debate.

“We both have enjoyed the company of good Labrador retrievers,” Vilsack said.

King laughed, adding: “And lots of them.”

Tonight’s debate was sponsored by WHO Radio and broadcast live in the seven o’clock hour. The two fourth district congressional candidates are scheduled to debate again Saturday in Spencer.