If you ask a hundred different people who won last night’s debate, you would probably get a hundred different answers. If you asked those same people if Governor Culver accomplished what he needed to do to make the gubernatorial race competitive, every honest person would tell you that he didn’t.
Governor Culver is trailing Terry Branstad by 19 points in the polls. With only 26 days remaining before Election Day, Culver needs to do more than just needle his Republican opponent. He needs to knock him out. Culver failed to do that in last night’s debate. Instead, the floundering first-term governor was laughed at by the audience on a couple of occasions and spent most of the night wiping sweat from his brow and nose.
Culver once again went on the offensive in the debate, but his attacks on Branstad are basically the same thing Bob Vander Plaats used against him in the Republican primary. Those attacks didn’t work against Branstad then, and they are not working now. Even if they were effective, it is unlikely that they would help Culver increase his standing in the polls. Instead, people would probably vote for one of the third party candidates.
A number of the things on which Culver attempted to take Branstad to task were from the early 1980’s. Making people care about something your opponent said or did 30 years ago is always difficult. Branstad has made a number of proposals in this current campaign, yet Culver has never taken issue with any of them in the debates. It’s also interesting to note that Culver is taking issue with things that happened when he was a 17 year old and attending Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland.
Culver has repeatedly told voters that he doesn’t want to go back to the failed policies of Terry Branstad, and in each of the first two debates, all he wants to do is talk about Branstad’s past. However, it is Branstad who has rolled out the most policy proposals. Branstad, not Culver, has been the candidate of new ideas.
The Cedar Rapids debate proved to be Branstad’s best performance yet. He looked better than Culver. He sounded more gubernatorial than Culver. He provided more detailed positions than Culver. And he landed a number of attacks on Culver’s dismal record as governor.
Branstad pointed out that more Iowans are out of work now than were out of work when Culver first took office. He once again tied Culver to the DeCoster egg scandal. Branstad didn’t stop there; he also was able to bring up the Department of Criminal Investigations’ inquiry into contributions that Culver received in conjunction with a Fort Dodge casino proposal.
Branstad’s biggest attack on Culver came when he criticized him for awarding an Illinois construction company a $116.9 million construction contract for the new Fort Madison prison. Branstad quipped, “Now we know what I-JOBS is — it’s Illinois jobs. Iowa taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for Illinois jobs.”
He poured fuel on the fire when he told the audience that union members from Illinois marched with Culver in the University of Iowa Homecoming parade last week. The audience chuckled at Culver’s expense.
There was only one candidate on the stage last night that looked and acted like a governor, and that was Terry Branstad. Culver seems to have forgotten that people in his state are hurting. Instead of finding things from 30 years ago to attack Branstad on, he would be better off putting forth proposals that would create jobs and opportunity.
With only one more debate to go, Culver is running out of time and opportunities to alter this race. With the Des Moines Register’s debate being held over the lunch hour during the workweek, it is likely that it will not have much of an influence on the race.
If Branstad can deliver another steady performance, it will be almost impossible for Culver to make this a race. In fact, it might already be too late for that anyway.
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