‘Do no harm’ mantra of final GOP Senate debate
DES MOINES (AP) — The leaders in Iowa’s Republican U.S. Senate primary played it safe during their final debate Thursday night.
State Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak refused to name a would-be presidential candidate she admired, one who will likely be campaigning in her state next year. And her chief rival, businessman Mark Jacobs, declined to critique Ernst, as his campaign has been more willing to do through mail and television advertising.
The candidates took few chances in their last opportunity to interact, despite the high stakes of Tuesday’s vote. The winner goes on to face Democrat Bruce Braley in the race for Iowa’s first open Senate seat in 40 years. The contest is also one of the more closely watched in the GOP’s effort to gain the six seats required for the majority. If no candidate reaches 35 percent of the vote in the primary, the nomination would be decided at a convention.
“I was focused on substantive solutions,” Jacobs, of West Des Moines, said after the 90-minute, live televised debate.
He suggested that the federal debt could be reduced by granting energy companies gas and mineral rights on public lands, investing in job skills and establishing an independent group to determine whether legislation adds restrictive barriers to business.
But he did not chide Ernst for missing votes in the state Senate while campaigning for U.S. Senate. Likewise, Ernst refused to distinguish herself from Jacobs, when asked by moderators. Instead, she said, “In this race, I am the only proven conservative,” before criticizing Democrat Bruce Braley, the four-term U.S. representative who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
Sioux City college professor Sam Clovis took subtle shots at Jacobs, the moderate among the candidates. Jacobs’ proposed board to monitor legislative restrictiveness and his openness to raising the minimum wage were among the issues Clovis alluded to.
“I don’t like big-government Republicans,” said Clovis, an Air Force veteran and radio show host. “I don’t like people who want to increase spending.”
Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker of Ankeny was the only candidate of the five in the KCCI TV studio in Des Moines to answer when asked who among the gathering 2016 GOP presidential field he liked. Whitaker supports Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who campaigned for Whitaker in the Cedar Rapids area Wednesday.
Later, Whitaker misstated the scope of an education initiative frequently criticized by Republicans. Common Core is a voluntary set of math and reading proficiency standards developed by Democrat and Republican governors and the National Governors Association that is in effect in 44 states.
Whitaker called it a “national curriculum” and “just another failed liberal policy.”
Also participating was Ames businessman Scott Schaben, who has raised little money and trails in polls. He criticized Ernst for missing votes in the Iowa Senate, saying, “That’s just wrong.”
Ernst repeated her mantra of “a mother, soldier and conservative,” noting her role as commander of an Iowa National Guard transportation company during the Iraq War.
In light of the recent deadly shooting near the University of California, Santa Barbara, Ernst was asked to defend an ad featuring her shooting a hand gun on a shooting range. Ernst has been endorsed by a number of Republican groups, including the National Rifle Association and the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Just because of a horrible, horrible tragedy, I don’t think we should be infringing upon people’s Second Amendment rights,” she said.
If elected, Ernst would be the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress.
The open seat was created when five-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said last year he would not seek a sixth in 2014.