The two perceived front-runners in the race for the Iowa Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nomination refused to fire on one another tonight during the final televised forum before next Tuesday’s primary. Candidates Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs didn’t even mention one another by name. Instead, they repeatedly mentioned Bruce Braley, the only Democrat seeking Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat.

One of the forum’s moderators directly asked Jacobs to describe his differences with Ernst, who has led in recent polls. “With me you have a battle-tested business leader who has solved big financial problems,” Jacobs said. “Congressman Braley has supported higher levels of spending and increased government budgets. I’ve fixed a big fiscal mess.”

Ernst said she is the only candidate in the race with a voting record, from her four years as a state senator.

“There’s a clear contrast between Bruce Braley and myself and the first is that he has supported one of the largest tax increases in United States history,” Ernst said. “Here in Iowa, I have supported the largest tax decrease or tax cut.”

The other three candidates in the race mostly shied away from direct conflict, too. Sam Clovis described himself as the only candidate with national security experience and he touted his current role as an economics professor at Morningside College.

“I think the people of Iowa deserve choices,” Clovis said. “…I don’t think there’s anyone in this race that will contrast more definitely from Bruce Braley than me.”

Matt Whitaker, a former federal prosecutor touted his call for repealing the Renewable Fuels Standard which requires a certain amount of ethanol to be produced each year.

“I took a lot of heat for that from special interests, but you know what? It’s the right thing to do,” Whitaker said. “It’s the conservative philosophy that…we believe in was Republicans.”

Scott Schaben, a car sales manager from Ames, did chide some of his opponents for just giving “lip service” to certain issues, but he did not name names.

“I provide pragmatic and feasible solutions,” Schaben said.

Three of the candidates openly criticized one of former Republican President George W. Bush’s signature foreign policy decisions. Whitaker said the U.S. should not have gone into Iraq.

“Probably among these five, I would probably be the least likely to use our military and probably spend the least amount on the military,” Whitaker said. “It’s probably marginally less, but it is probably, among these five, I would do the least in that.”

Jacobs agreed.

“I don’t support the idea of going in and trying to force a regime change. I think that was a mistake, in hindsight,” Jacobs said.

Moderator Kevin Cooney pressed Jacobs to comment on the other war begun during Bush’s presidency. “Afghanistan?” Cooney asked.

Jacobs replied: “Afghanistan — same thing.”

Schaben said he hated to be an “arm chair quarterback,” but Schaben said Bush got “bad intel” about Iraq.

“It’s something that our troops have to live with for the rest of their lives,” Schaben said. “And not only do our troops have to live with it, we as citizens of the United States have to live with that on the world stage.”

Ernst, a unit commander in the Iowa National Guard, said “actionable intelligence” is important and she said the U.S. was “justified” in the decision to go into Afghanistan.

“I served in Iraq and I’m not going to speculate on that,” Ernst said. “I think that would do a disservice to the men and women that I served with.”

Clovis also said he didn’t want to “discredit” the service of U.S. troops by commenting on the Iraq war.

“I do think Afghanistan was justified and we should have gone in, got rid of the Taliban and the al Qaeda and then come home,” Clovis said.

Tonight’s forum was broadcast live on the Des Moines-based CBS affiliate KCCI television during prime time.