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Morning After: Iowa U.S. Senate Debate

Fall morning in Iowa

Republicans accused Democrat Theresa Greenfield of lying during last night’s debate on Iowa Press. Democrats accused Republican Joni Ernst of lying. The debate was a brawl, a cacophony of talking points. It was tedious.

Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, described the event best, “the senate haggle debate.”

2020 is a change election. After six years in Washington Joni Ernst has not delivered for Iowa and Iowans seem ready for change. In the Washington Post, Cullen framed it like this:

Not long ago, 60 percent of Iowans approved of Ernst’s performance. Now, the same percentage disapproves. They tell the Iowa Poll that Ernst has not done enough for Iowa — a criticism that felled past senators such as Dick Clark, John Culver and Roger Jepsen before her.

History doesn’t always repeat itself yet this is Iowa and it could.

It was difficult to engage in the first ten minutes of the debate. Moderator questions meant little and perhaps the best use of the plexiglass separating people at the table due to the coronavirus pandemic would have been to build a cage like those in WWE events and turn the two candidates loose in it. It would not have been “senatorial” as David Yepsen tried to interject, yet that was the dynamic of the hour.

The Roe question asked by O. Kay Henderson was the expected dud. Not sure why she asked as the positions of the candidates are well known. Both indicated Roe is settled law, something even Supreme Court associate justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett has said. What matters more in the Supreme Court is how Roe v. Wade is viewed as precedent, or if it is even considered when deciding cases that involve late-term abortions and other women’s health issues. From a U.S. Senate candidate perspective what matters is whether one is pro-life or pro-choice. We know the answer because we are beat over the head with it constantly by media that believe conservative religious groups are very important in Iowa politics after Bob Vander Plaats got some judges tossed out.

Another Henderson question was about infrastructure. We delved into my favorite tropes about the gas tax. Regardless of how people use vehicles, or whether they don’t, everyone benefits from well-maintained roads, bridges, airports, seaports and railroads. The gas tax served it’s purpose regarding transportation. However, the formula is increasingly outdated as fuel economy increases, a growing number of travelers use electric cars, and our logistical supply chain has become more complex. Revision of how infrastructure that benefits all citizens is financed requires a bipartisan majority and better reasoning than tinkering with the outdated fuel tax system. Republicans held the majority and couldn’t effectively address infrastructure. It’s time for a change. I couldn’t really listen to this part of the debate.

Last night Theresa Greenfield put the scrappiness in “scrappy farm girl,” one of her taglines. Joni Ernst tried to dominate using talking points that mirrored her campaign manager’s pre-debate release. As expected, both stayed close to campaign talking points and didn’t get caught off guard. However their debate mannerisms made it difficult to follow and overall diminished the effectiveness for less informed viewers.

A majority of Iowans have determined for whom they will vote. There is one more chance to persuade the electorate before county auditors begin mailing ballots on Monday. If the Oct. 3 debate is like last night, few will be convinced of anything. Confirmation bias will rule.

Increased voter turnout caused by the Secretary of State mailing all state voters an absentee ballot request, combined with the fact that Ernst is perceived as not having delivered needed results for Iowans, will steer this race toward Greenfield. Recent polls show the same.

Like many Iowans I’m tired of the debates even though last night was the first of three. It’s time to vote.

One reply on “Morning After: Iowa U.S. Senate Debate”

“…a cacophony of talking points. It was tedious.” I agree. Greenfield needs to claim the higher ground next time with good policy points. Stop with the hissing and spitting. No one wins.

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