First Congressional District candidates Bruce Braley and Ben Lange squared off Thursday night in Dubuque.
It was the second debate this season between Democrat incumbent congressman Bruce Braley and Republican challenger Lange. Iowa Public Television broadcast live the event, held at Dubuque's Grand Opera House. Braley and Lange debated on Iowa Public Radio earlier this fall.
It was a close race between the two in 2010, when Braley narrowly defeated Lange by a margin of some 4,000 votes.
Dean Borg of Iowa Public Television, Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa and James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette moderated the hour-long debate, which got heated at times.
The debate opened with the topic of federal aid for disasters. It was a timely topic, with Sandy slamming the East Coast, but it also hit close to home with the floods of 2008 and other disasters that have struck Iowa. After recent redistricting, Iowa's First Congressional District now includes Cedar Rapids, so both candidates catered their answers toward that, saying they're both in support of funding for flood recovery there.
Lange said federal government can't be the answer to every disaster and that states have to budget for these events. Braley said natural disasters shouldn't become a political test.
Throughout the first half of the debate, Lange kept returning to the topic of the national debt, citing Braley's record.
"The promise that he made was that he would support a balanced budget amendment, but he goes to Washington DC and he votes against it," Lange said after the debate. "He said the highest priority was the national debt. He's voted six times to increase the national debt limit. Those policies have impacted my daughters' generation."
"I have co-sponsored a balanced budget amendment that would make it easier for us to continue to function as a government and make sure we're not threatening this economic recovery by trying to get the deficit under control too soon," Braley said, also after the debate.
Both candidates said they support the Farm Bill. Lange said he'd advocate for a five-year Farm Bill and added Iowa's agricultural community is frustrated by Braley's out-of-touch understanding of agriculture's role. Braley said agriculture groups do, indeed, support him and added one obstacle to getting the Farm Bill passed is Republicans' objection to the food stamps component, which he said is vital for the nutrition of those who need it.
On the topic of the wind production tax credit, both candidates favored extending it. Lange said he'd like to see a one- to three-year extension and that the tax credit and wind energy is only one component of Iowa's energy production. Braley said he'd like to see a five-year extension, saying 20 percent of Iowa's energy portfolio is wind-generated. According to the Iowa chapter of the Sierra club, as of January 2011, the Iowa Utilities Board staff estimated that 19 to 20 percent of all electricity generated in the state came from wind energy.
The debate got heated after moderators showed a commercial in which Lange called his opponent "gutless" and said he would get things done in Washington, unlike his opponent. Braley fired back by telling Lange to ask the people of Lange's hometown Quasqueton whether he was gutless when he saved their post office and kept mail sorting facilities in the District open. He told Lange to ask folks in Lange's current down of Independence whether he was gutless when he helped with flooding. He cited several other cities in which he made a direct and positive impact. The two talked over each other until moderators stepped in. Lange said, in response to all that, national debt is going to "sink this country" and promised to vote against it.
Tempers flared once again over the topic of the Affordable Care Act, which some also refer to as ObamaCare. Lange accused Braley of not having read the act before voting in favor of it, which prompted Braley to adamantly explain that he "damn well read it." The two debated this topic in increasingly escalated emotion until moderators cut them off.
The debate came just five days before the elections, after so many Iowans have already voted early. Both candidates said they've been making their points this whole time and conducting their campaigns with Iowa's early voting schedule in mind.
The First Congressional District changed in light of the 2010 Census results. Redistricting has given the district now 20 counties either Braley or Lange will represent.