The Democrat Senate candidates at STAR PAC.

The Democrat Senate candidates. (file photo)

The four candidates competing to be the Iowa Democratic Party’s choice to challenge Republican Chuck Grassley in November made their closing pitches in a televised forum tonight. Patty Judge, the former lieutenant governor, said after Grassley’s “40-some years” in Washington, it’s time to embrace “new ideas.”

“I have a strong background as a nurse, a farmer, a mediator, as a real estate broker and my legislative in the Department of Agriculture and the governor’s office,” Judge said in her closing statement. “There is no one else that can match that on the stage tonight.”

Rob Hogg, a state senator from Cedar Rapids, presented himself as a “uniter” who has the support of organized labor.

“I believe that Iowans are looking for new leaders,” said Hogg, who at 49 is the youngest of the four candidates. “…I can do this job. I’ve done it for 14 years in the Iowa legislature and that is why it is so important that I’ve been endorsed by over 90 of my current and former colleagues because they’re the people who know me.”

Two Iowa labor leaders used a #NeverJudge hashtag on Twitter tonight as Judge was explaining her role in advising Governor Culver before he vetoed a bill that would have expanded collective bargaining rights.

“I regret very much the circumstances around that particular piece of legislation and I wish that we could go back and negotiate a good piece of legislation together, but you know we can’t,” Judge said. “We can’t go backwards. We need to go forwards.”

The Iowa Federation of Labor’s secretary/treasurer Charles Wishman called that a “lame answer” and tweeted that Hogg had “earned labor’s support.”

Candidate Tom Fiegen, a former state senator from Clarence, suggested Judge would be a flawed nominee for Democrats because her positions on key issues are “similar” to Grassley’s.

“It’s a coin toss on things like agriculture, on taxation, on the environment. I believe the rest of us have a strong environmental record that appeals to the Democratic activist base,” Fiegen said. “I don’t believe she has that record.”

Bob Krause, a former legislator who is the other candidate in the race, said voters believe  politicians aren’t responding to the “bottoming out” of the middle class.

“They’re not upset that Washington’s not working,” Krause said in his closing statement. “They’re upset because they’re not getting results.”

All four candidates support raising the minimum wage. Each was asked if they’d ever worked at job that paid the minimum wage. It prompted Krause to say one of his first jobs was being paid 50 cents an hour to “scoop manure.” Judge and Fiegen said manure scooping was considered an unpaid, but required chore during their childhoods.

Judge also revealed during the forum that one of her campaign staffers is featured in a Grassley campaign ad, but had not been asked by the Grassley team if it was o.k. to use the image of him taking a selfie with the senator last summer.

Tonight’s two-hour candidate forum was broadcast live on KCCI, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines and co-sponsored by The Des Moines Register.