With just a month to go before the midterm elections, the debate between Republican State Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Bruce Braley got heated last night, with the pair trading barbs on everything from climate change to fowl trespassers.
The race for Iowa’s Senate seat has been one of the most competitive of the 2014 cycle, but a Des Moines Register poll published on Sunday saw Ernst pulling ahead, leading her Democrat opponent by six points.
Braley, in the first of their three televised debates, tried to paint Ernst as a far right extremist to appeal to voters.
“I am a bridge-builder, not a bridge-burner,” he argued. “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.”
Ernst, who appeared measured and calm during the address even as Braley looked agitated at times, tried to portray Braley as part of the Washington establishment and out of touch with Iowans.
“I believe that Washington is taking us in the wrong direction and for the last eight years, Congressman Braley has been there,” Ernst argued repeatedly.
Both managed to score some points on those portrayals.
Ernst said she wasn’t sure climate change was real.
“I drive a hybrid car, and my family recycles everything. So, I don’t know the science behind climate change. I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact, whether it’s man-made or not. I’ve heard arguments from both sides,” she said. “I do believe in protecting our environment, but without the job killing regulations that are coming out of the EPA.”
She also defended her suggestion that Social Security should be privatized, something voters repeatedly oppose in polls.
“Within 20 years, the system will be broke,” Ernst said. “We have to address those problems, and we need to look at many options out there.”
Braley defended his vote for Obamacare.
“I think the Affordable Care Act needs to be fixed and improved, Ernst would repeal it and obstruct efforts to fix it,” he said, noting that more than 100,000 Iowans now can get healthcare because of the bill. “We can’t go backwards.”
“Obamacare is not the answer,” Ernst countered, calling the law an increased tax and complaining that it is “taking our personal health care decisions out of our hands and putting them in the hands of nameless, faceless, bureaucrats in Washington.”
Ernst also attacked Braley for missing Veterans Affairs Committee hearings; Braley arguing that he had reasons for missing those hearings and that he had a strong record on veterans issues.
The debate grew heated at the end with Braley arguing that Ernst was funded by the Koch brothers, to which Ernst retorted: "You're running against me."
Ernst, full of one liners, attacked Braley over a neighbor dispute as the debate closed.
"Congressman, you threatened to sue a neighbor over chickens that came onto your property. You're talking about bipartisanship, how do we expect as Iowans to believe that you will work across the aisle when you can walk across your yard?"
"That's just not true," Braley sputtered.