The two major party candidates for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat met face-to-face in an hour-long debate early Sunday evening — touting their rural Iowa roots and questioning their opponent’s loyalties.
Republican Joni Ernst grew up on a farm near Red Oak in southwest Iowa. Democrat Bruce Braley grew up in the small eastern Iowa town of Brooklyn, where his dad ran the grain elevator.
“I have not left my rural roots, but I think congressman you have left those behind in your ‘Beltway’ ways,” Ernst said.
Braley said: “I have never forgotten where I came from. That’s why I voted to pass a five-year Farm Bill.”
Each accused the other of being beholden to special interests who’re financing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads to try to sway Iowa voters.
“I’m not going to owe President Obama anything on Election Day. You’re going to owe the Koch brothers everything,” Braley said.
Ernst responded: “I owe nobody anything, except for these Iowa people.”
The Koch brothers are Oklahoma billionaires who made their money in the oil industry and have spent millions supporting conservative candidates throughout the country, including Ernst.
“Congressman Braley you’re not running against these other people. You’re running against me,” Ernst said. “…You are being funded by Tom Steyer who is a California billionaire extreme environmentalist.”
Ernst also accused Braley of doing the bidding of President Obama and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate. Braley countered with this.
“Senator Ernst would have voted to shut down the federal government with Ted Cruz. She’s called President Obama a dictator and thinks impeachment should be on the table,” Braley said.
Ernst replied: “Congressman, you threatened to sue a neighbor over chickens that came onto your property. You’ve talking about bipartisanship. How do we expect as Iowans to believe that you will work across the aisle when you can’t walk across your yard.”
Braley responded: “It’s not true. I never threatened to sue anyone. It’s not true.”
That exchange came near the end of the debate. Both began by stressing a message to appeal to independent voters. Braley repeatedly tried to tie Ernst to the so-called “Tea Party.”
“I’ll work with anyone who has a good idea that’s good for Iowa,” Braley said. “I’m a bridge builder, not a bridge burner.”
And Ernst told the audience she provided voters a “clear contrast” with Braley.
“I believe Washington is taking our country in the wrong direction and for the past eight years Congressman Braley has been there,” Ernst said.
The two candidates broke no new policy ground on issues like the minimum wage and immigration. Braley charged Ernst co-sponsored legislation in the Iowa Senate that ultimately would wind up banning abortion, certain forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization. Ernst said she “will support life,” but she also believes “in a woman’s right to contraception.”
The debate was held at Simpson College in Indianola and co-sponsored by KCCI TV and The Des Moines Register. It aired at 5 p.m. on KCCI and was live streamed on the newspaper’s website. You may watch it now here.
The two candidates are seeking the seat currently held by Democrat Tom Harkin. Harkin announced in January, 2013 that after 30 years in the U.S. Senate, he would not seek reelection in 2014.