“The strongest performance was clearly turned in by Clovis.”
Photo credit: Dave Davidson –

The Family Leader held its U.S. Senate Family Forum last night at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, IA. Senatorial candidates Matt Whitaker, Mark Jacobs, Joni Ernst, and Sam Clovis participated in the forum. Erick Erickson, Fox News contributor and founder of, moderated the event.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and The Family Leader President Bob Vander Plaats each spoke briefly prior to the forum.

Erickson began the forum by asking each of the candidates to relate a transitional time or event in their lives. For Whitaker, it was when he met his wife in 1990. Jacobs said it was a period of “self reflection” he’d gone through. Ernst talked about her experience during college in which she visited the then Soviet Union. Clovis spoke of a day in 1978 when the jet he was piloting nearly crashed.

Asked about what role the U.S. should play in Ukraine, the candidates all seemed to be of one mind that no military involvement should take place there. Ernst said economic assistance may be required. Clovis tied our foreign policy to our domestic energy policy and suggested we need to “drill, baby, drill.” Whitaker was critical of the Obama Administration with regard to its relations with Russia. Jacobs observed that the “cheapest and safest war is one we don’t fight.”

Erickson spent some time asking questions about the candidates’ decision making process considering influences they would experience in Washington. Ernst spoke of spending time in prayer. Jacobs said he’d ask a lot of questions, looking for differing points of view. Whitaker and Clovis both suggested they would rely on their experience, with Clovis mentioning he possessed a “bullhockey” detector.

They discussed the role of government and the definition of Republican. They all spoke of a limited government. They all seemed to agree that the American people are already taxed too much. Ernst said the Republican party was the party of equality but also personal responsibility. Jacobs said it was the party of opportunity. Whitaker said it was the party of God fearing patriots. Clovis mentioned Abraham Lincoln, and noted that the party was formed by people who saw an injustice.

The subject of the courts and judicial appointments came up more than once, and Jacobs expressed his concern about judicial activism. He didn’t want judges legislating from the bench. Clovis asserted judges must uphold natural law and natural rights. Whitaker said he wanted to know what world view a judge held to, and if they held to a Biblical view of justice.

When contrasting how congress currently operates with what they would do differently, Ernst asserted that raising the debt ceiling was not “government working”, and maintained that she would vote for something because “it was the right thing to do.” Whitaker pointed out that congress passes “one thousand page bills that nobody reads” and Clovis said congress needs to stay within its enumerated powers. All the candidates told Erickson they would not support earmarks.

When asked about their favorite Bible passages they all did quite well (they, no doubt, came prepared given the host organization and event venue). Perhaps Ernst and Whitaker made the best impression there. Ernst cited Psalm 121, saying that had helped her through some difficult times. Whitaker recited Romans 10:9, a powerful gospel verse, from memory.

Near the end of the forum Jacobs reiterated his leadership abilities and his ability to get things done with people who don’t agree. Ernst emphasized her faith, asserting “I am a woman of great faith.” Clovis also spoke of his faith but also mentioned his wife, getting emotional as he told of the strength and support she gave him. Whitaker listed the accomplishments in his life but said that his confidence didn’t come from those things but rather from his saving faith in Jesus Christ.

I wouldn’t say anyone hurt themselves at the event, but the strongest performance was clearly turned in by Clovis. He was articulate, blunt in a humorous way, and showed himself to be a man of substance. Some of his ideas (eliminating the 16th amendment and the IRS, for example) may be seen by some as extreme or unworkable, but Clovis knows what he believes we need to do as a country and he’s not shy about telling you. Whitaker may have made the second best impression on the crowd. He’s likable, funny, and spoke plainly about his conservative views and his Christian testimony that resonated with this particular audience.

I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed with Erick Erickson’s questions. Some were very useful: I thought his probing about how the candidates would work in the Senate once they got there produced some real differences between them. But I was looking for more discussion on the social issues such as abortion and same sex marriage, and what each of the candidates was prepared to do, if anything, relative to those issues.

All in all, I enjoyed the forum. I learned some things from attending, as I suspect many others did as well. This format is certainly better than the typical debate, in which the one with the best one-liner or the most stinging comeback is alleged to have won. Or worse, the one who interrupts his opponent the most often is said to have won, such as our ninny Vice President did to the unfortunate Paul Ryan (Like Erickson, I too, hate debates).

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