From Left: Joni Ernst, Matt Whitaker, and Sam Clovis at Homeschool Day at the Capitol
Photo credit: Dave Davidson –

I wanted to write some brief thoughts on last night’s Iowa GOP U.S. Senate Primary Debate hosted by KCCI.  First I thought this went better than their Iowa 3rd Congressional District GOP Primary debate.  Perhaps the addition of Stacey Horst to co-moderate the debate along with Kevin Cooney helped.  The last half hour wasn’t nearly as slanted toward a liberal point of view.  It still wasn’t great.

Like the question did Chuck Grassley fail in offering health care choices… I mean really?  Trying to bait to get them to criticize the senior Senator from Iowa.  They showed coverage from a listening tour stop he did Adel, IA.  I remember that.  People were upset and were venting at anyone and everyone.  Grassley took some flak because he was trying to bring about some bipartisan fixes to the legislation, but realized it was for naught.  He’s been a good Senator and any GOP candidate for Iowa’s junior Senator post would be foolish to swipe at him.

Here is how I would rate the candidates for this debate:

1. Sam Clovis – Clovis has stepped up in every single debate I’ve seen.  I always come away impressed with depth and breadth of knowledge.  For instance when discussing Obamacare, he brought up the specific law that created the problems with purchasing health insurance across state lines.  Later he gave the best line of the night when Kevin Cooney challenged him on Obamacare emulating the VA health system.  He asked Cooney “have you read the bill.”  Cooney looked dumbfounded, Clovis has.  He is very good on foreign policy issues.  I appreciated his answer on marriage bringing up the judicial retention vote.  He’s right, it would have been good to hear where everyone stood on that.  His statement about potential presidential candidates resonated with the base I’m sure.  He said he won’t support big government Republicans.   Anyway, a strong performance as I’ve come to expect from him during debates.

2. Matt Whitaker – Whitaker did a good job on a number of occasions going after Bruce Braley.  One of the best lines – “The reason our economy shrank during this first quarter is because of the failed economic policies that Bruce Braley represents.”  He was asked the Common Core question (which I wished everyone got), and did an excellent job answering it.  In a nutshell – “I don’t like nameless, faceless bureaucrats making those decisions.”  He was the only one to take a contrarian position on the Renewable Fuel Standard.  Agree or not, at least he’s trying to be consistent, and I respect that.  Good answer on the Farm Bill and on marriage.  He also does a great job addressing job creating pointing out his experience of owning several small businesses.  He had a good dig at Braley there as well.  He has continually demonstrated that he has substance.

Tie. 3. Joni Ernst – Ernst gave the best answer on reforming social security.  Bringing up her legislative record is a wise strategy as she’s the only one who does have a voting record.  I’m shocked Mark Jacobs didn’t go after her missed votes when given the opportunity.  It was suggested to me that perhaps because Ernst could remind him he doesn’t have a voting record at all.  Her answer on immigration and Obamacare were good.  She handled the question about her ad in light of the UCSB killing spree well.  The “I’m a mother, a soldier, a conservative” line –  it’s an ok line during the opening statement, but she brought that taking point up again at least twice more during the debate.  There’s staying on message and then there’s being over-scripted.  Ernst is over-scripted and she doesn’t demonstrate the amount of substance that Clovis and Whitaker show while debating.  One is hard pressed to argue against their campaign strategy as she is the frontrunner, but it’s a little frustrating not to hear more in-depth answers.  Her answer on marriage seems to me like she’s trying to ride the fence.  Ok, if you’re a federalist, explain how states can defend against a runaway federal judiciary?  I’ve heard she said she wasn’t in favor of a federal marriage amendment during the Cedar Rapids debate (I wasn’t there), but last night her answer was this in a nutshell… “It’s a state issue, but I would vote for a federal marriage amendment.”  Huh?  It’s a contradictory statement.  Don’t be an etch-a-sketch candidate like the guy you’re campaigning with this week.

Tie 3. Mark Jacobs – Jacobs gave a good answer on immigration.  I liked his answer on Obamacare, bringing his answer back to the root of the problem health care costs.  He also did a good job addressing bad business regulations, mentioning President Obama’s anticipated executive order related to greenhouse gases, perhaps he’s offering penance for his previous support of cap and trade.  His answer regarding military intervention was good, and he offered a great line, “the cheapest and safest war is the one we don’t fight.”  Jacobs does a good job tying in his CEO experience with job creation.  Jacobs has good stage presence, but I don’t feel like he’s necessarily with me on the issues.  He stated he’d vote for the Farm Bill even though it wasn’t perfect.  It was a horrible bill!  I understand sausage gets made in Washington, but c’mon!  His answer on RFS, while inline with four other candidates, his statement that he was ok with this type of federal mandate… where else does he believe federal mandates are ok?  Jacobs saying he would like to see marriage left to the states also needs to explain how to reconcile that with a runaway federal judiciary.  Anyway, I look at Jacobs and I don’t see a full-spectrum conservative.  His business experience is not enough.

4. Scott Schaben – Schaben has come a long way.  I mean there were times during this debate that I wondered, “who is this guy and what did he do with the Schaben of old?”  He gets the most improved award.  There were a number of things he said last night I agree with.  There were a couple of questions where he rambled.  I just totally disagree with him on the marriage issue.  His answer on social security was good.  His answer on immigration was great.  He’s in his sweet spot when he talks about solvency.  But he’s just not as strong over all as the other candidates.

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