Braley, Ernst debate for final time

Joni Ernst and Bruce Braley are running for the U.S. Senate.

Joni Ernst and Bruce Braley are running for the U.S. Senate.

Alex Hanson

Less than three weeks until Election Day, candidates for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate joined each other on stage one final time Oct. 16 to debate their positions.

The debate took place at Morningside College in the Eppley Auditorium and was broadcast on Nexstar television stations across Iowa.

U.S. Rep Bruce Braley, a four term Democrat currently representing Iowa’s first district, debated state Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak. The Senate seat is being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.

Both candidates opened the debate paying tribute to Doug Butzier, the Libertarian senate candidate, who died earlier in the week. Butzier was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed near Dubuque.

The candidates debated a wide range of issues over the 60 minute debate.

The first question was on Ebola, where both candidates agreed that a flight ban on counties where the disease is rapidly spreading might be a good policy to pursue. Braley mentioned that he was in Washington earlier in the day to attend a house hearing. Ernst said a flight ban should also be accompanied by more aid to countries and increased screening at airports.

Ernst’s portrayed support for the so-called “personhood amendment” in television ads was a point of contention. The Braley campaign said Ernst’s support calls for a complete ban on abortion and would also limit access to, and in some cases, ban, contraception. Ernst responded, tried to clarify and defend her position.

“I do support life,” Ernst said. “There would be certain exceptions, but it’s something that has to be discussed. The life of the mother, I think that would be important [to allow an abortion].”

Braley, who is pro-choice, also said he “supports life,” but said he does not support the recent Supreme Court decision allowing companies to choose the types of contraception that are covered for female employees.

Timothy Hagle, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said this was low-point in Ernst’s performance at the debate.

“The moderator shot a series of questions at her, which may have been the thing that threw Ernst off,” Hagle said. “She said the words ‘pro-life’ an awful lot of times without outlining some specifics of what that actually means.”

Discussion of the influence of outside groups spending money on the race was a point of contention. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, over 13,000 ads have been aired this election cycle in Iowa.

When discussion turned to embarrassing TV ads, the conversation shifted to Braley supporting limits on outside spending and tougher rules on disclosure of money. Ernst said she supports the right to free speech in politics, but even admitted she doesn’t watch TV anymore because of so many ads.

Kelly Winfrey, professor at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State, said this was one of Braley’s high points in the debate. She also said Braley had “more substance” in the debate and did a better job of articulating what he plans to do as a senator.

“Overall, I thought [Braley] seemed very passionate and sincere, and less robotic, like he seemed in the first debate,” Winfrey said.

Ernst did, however, clearly articulate her position on taxes. Ernst said there would be no circumstances under which she would raise taxes.

“I would like to see Iowan’s keeping more of their tax dollars in their own pocket,” said Ernst.

Braley said he would like to scale back tax credits for businesses shipping jobs overseas.

“Right now, one of our biggest problems is that we provide tax incentives to corporations that ship U.S. jobs overseas,” Braley said. “I would eliminate those tax incentives. That would cause the taxes for some of those corporations to go up.”

Other issues debated included Obamacare, Social Security, ISIS, and Imigration.

The latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Iowa poll showed Ernst holding a one-point lead over Braley. Real Clear Politics indexes average for polling in races and currently shows Ernst  ahead by 1.2 percent. RCP ranks the race as a “toss up.”

“I would say with advertising, [Braley should] continue to show who he is,” Winfey said. “I think it would benefit him to have ads where he is looking directly into the camera talking about who he is.”

Hagle said both candidates need to continue to do what they are already doing, including their “ground game.” He said the campaigns will need to find undecided voters and do a good job convincing them that they are worthy of their vote.

One issue, although not political, may interest Ames and ISU students: both candidates said during the debate they cheer for the Cyclones on Saturday; one of few issues that the candidates agree on.

Election Day is Nov. 4th.