Story by Larissa Wurm and Nathan Erickson
Photos by Ryan Koch
The six Iowa Republicans facing off for their party’s nomination in the 2014 U.S. Senate race took the stage Wednesday night for a debate, hosted by Americans For Prosperity (AFP) and the National Review.
Derrick Sontag, the vice president of AFP, moderated the debate while Kathie Obradovich, from the Des Moines Register, and Robert Costa, from the National Review, proposed questions to the candidates.
It was a tame night, as debates go.
Paul Lunde, a substitute teacher from Ames, quickly gained a reputation throughout the night for making sales pitches regarding books he’s written and for continued references to his new “12 amendments,” which he would like to introduce if elected, and titled “the second Bill of Rights.”
Sam Clovis, a former radio host, said he would be the kind of U.S. senator who stands with Utah’s Mike Lee and Texas’ Ted Cruz.
State Senator Joni Ernst scored early points with the crowd with a humorous one-liner: “We have to cut our spending, and as a farmer’s daughter who grew up in southwest Iowa castrating hogs with her dad, I can go to Washington and cut pork.”
The field also includes former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker, Senator Chuck Grassley’s former Chief of Staff David Young, and Navy veteran Scott Schaben.
There was little debating amongst the candidates, who focused on differentiating themselves to the crowd.
Topics covered in the debate inlcuded Obamacare, working in divided government, balancing the budget and holding true to American values.
The first question the panel posed regarded the Affordable Care Act, a popular issue Republicans like to criticize.
But, the question asked, was there anything that should be saved?
Most candidates agreed there was very little, if anything, they would save.
“I just don’t want it,” Young said, adding he would consider keeping the part regarding pre-existing conditions.
Lunde said he would “keep the good stuff” and “eliminate the obnoxious features.”
Obamacare remained the most attacked issue of the night.
Clovis said it’s a bad law because, “It adds over $150 million a year to our current debt level.”
Clovis also mentioned that a way to help cut spending is to encourage people to “stop having children out of wedlock.”
Young said he would attack government with a big stick and feels that Obamacare is a “wet blanket on the economy.”
Ernst voiced her concerns with it: “It is an additional tax. $1.2 trillion of new taxes over the next decade is facing our families, children and future generations.”
Ernst also said Obamacare is a job killer, citing a story close to home: “In Iowa, Blue Cross Blue Shield in Sioux City closed its office of 106 employees. They now get up everyday with no job to go to.”
Other questions asked of the candidates were how Republicans should handle the debt ceiling debate, the budget and entitlement reform and how Republicans should work on Obamacare with such a divided government.
All candidates agreed that we need to grow the economy.
“We need to cut, cut, cut our federal spending,” Young said.
In response to the question regarding working together in a divided government, Ernst said, “We do have to get along.”
Along the same lines, Clovis said, “I will work with anyone who has the interest of the nation at heart.”
Whitaker said he would go to Washington with “an open mind but stand on principle.”
At the close of the debate, all of the candidates thanked the audience and judges for allowing them to participate in their closing statements.
“Any of us on this stage would be a better choice than (Bruce) Braley,” Whitaker said in his last statement to the crowd.
Many members of the audience stayed after the debate to ask questions and shake hands with the Republican candidates.
While the primary is still over seven months away, all the candidates will travel across Iowa at a haggard pace spreading their messages. With six contenders already formally announced, there are rumors of other Republican names in Iowa, namely Bob Vander Plaats and Marc Jacobs.