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Update (5/19/10): If you haven’t had a chance to watch the forum you can do so here.

I was able to take part in an online panel along with Graham Gillette for a “Conversation with the Candidates” sponsored by The Des Moines Register and WHO-TV.  This panel highlighted six of the seven GOP Congressional candidates seeking to unseat incumbent Congressman Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

They are Scott Batcher, Pat Bertroche, Dave Funk, Jim Gibbons, Mark Rees, and Brad Zaun.  The forum was facilitated by Carol Hunter of The Des Moines Register and Dave Price of WHO-TV.  Jason Lee Welch declined to participate.

This type of venue is extremely difficult having this many candidates with such a short time frame (1 hour), so you really can’t get into substantive debate.  I thought with the limitations Price and Hunter did the best they could having candidates answer certain questions and then having “jump ball” sessions between two candidates over a particular issue.

The Winners

Dave Funk:  He struck me as well prepared.  He stuck to his core message of less government and fidelity to the Constitution.  He kept harkening back to that core message in each of his answers highlighting government overspending and overreach.  When asked what federal program/department/agency would he recommend cutting, Funk answered the Department of Energy.  He was the only candidate in that round to give a specific answer and provided some facts and research to back it up.  I’ve not heard that widely suggested, and it peaked my interest.  Funk also shined on the immigration jump ball with Mark Rees.  His answer on social security when he said, “if there is a company in the yellow pages that does this, the Government shouldn’t” was a good pithy response.  He gave a good answer to a follow-up question on transitioning out of Social Security.

The only misstep Funk made, in my opinion was in his opening statement when he said, “I’m the only one in the field who doesn’t need this job.”  It seemed pompous, and it’s simply not true.  I believe all seven candidates will fine themselves employable or go back to their jobs after taking a leave of absence.

Brad Zaun: It is hard not to like him.  He’s personable.  He seems like “one of us.”  In explaining what set him apart from the rest he listed his record and experience as a hardware store owner, Mayor of Urbandale, and currently as State Senator.  You can’t argue that he of all the candidates has the best resume.  He seemed very well prepared.  He gave a good answer on social security and health care reform.  He was masterful at relating his experience as a hardware store owner to talking about job creation at the federal level.

He contradicted himself in the “jump ball” round with Pat Bertroche discussing the Federal role in education.  He started off well saying there should be none, and then said we should eliminate the Department of Education.  He then said we should have education that is “market driven,” and promoted vouchers.  The problem with that is who would administer those?  Any time you allocate funds you create or sustain bureaucracy.  I like vouchers, but I believe that is better at the state level not the federal level.  You can’t have those and disband the Department of Ed.

Broke Even

Jim Gibbons: He seemed well prepared in his opening statement.  I think both he and Zaun gave the best opening statements.  After that there really wasn’t much that stood out to me, so in that sense he didn’t hurt himself.  I’m not sure he won people over though either.  He gave a detailed answer on Medicare and health care reform.  He was the only one (as I can recall) who directly attacked Boswell.  That was good, so in that sense he positioned himself as well as a general election candidate.  His “jump ball” with Scott Batcher he won hands down attacking cap and trade.

He made a statement that made me wince a little – “government should be about job creation.”  He then talked about how government needs to get out of the way, but I see that being a sound byte in an opponent’s radio or TV ad.

The Losers

Mark Rees: He opened with saying he’s the one providing details and that may be true, but with the general tone of the Republican electorate they don’t like the details.  He gave a lot of answers on health care, but dealt with regulations rather than free-market principles.  When asked what government agency he’d cut he couldn’t list anything.  Really?  But then he said we need to balance our budget; how would he do that if he isn’t willing to cut anything?

The problem with Rees candidacy is that there really isn’t that much that separates himself from Boswell.

Pat Bertroche: Good counter to Funk’s comment about the only one needing a job pointing out he hasn’t given up his job to campaign.  It’s nice he’s self-employed that he can do that, but in a general election when he’s going to have work his but off I’m not sure that’s a plus.  You can also see the result in his campaign – zero momentum.  He seemed ill-prepared, but was the only one who really answered the Medicaid question.  Since he’s a physician he’d better be able to answer that.  Good succinct answer on the flat tax saying he’s for it, but failed to say (they all did) how he’d work for it.

He sounded muddled in his health care reform answer, and nonsensical in his answer to “who is our greatest threat.”  He said Russia.  Really?  Not Iran or North Korea?  I don’t want to say Russia isn’t a threat, but I’d hardly classify them as our greatest threat.

Scott Batcher: He failed to convince me that he should run.  He pointed out his experience as a businessman.  That could really be said of all of the candidates.  He was ill-prepared and his answer to the climate change question just seemed ridiculous.   Whoever convinced him it was a good idea to run gave him bad advice.  There was really nothing in any of his answers that stood out to me.  I applaud that he is taking the opportunities to get out there – doing these forums, media interviews, and talking to county central committees, but he’s not in the same class as the other candidates.  He should have thought about a local office or statehouse campaign.

Jason Lee Welch: At least Scott Batcher showed up.  Welch isn’t attending tonight’s Tea Party debate.  He hasn’t, to my knowledge, done any forum.  He hasn’t gone on the radio and his website looks amateurish.  Is he really running or is this a joke?

Conclusion

Ultimately I think Funk won the debate, with Zaun taking second.  The question is how much will this help Funk?  While fundraising isn’t everything thing, it is something, Gibbons and Zaun both have raised enough to run ads and boost their name recognition.  Funk isn’t there yet and this forum will only help him as much as there are people who watch it.

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