Governor Chet Culver and Terry Branstad squared off in the first of three gubernatorial debates last night. The debate, which was sponsored by Lee Enterprises and Citadel Communications, was held in front of a live audience at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Sioux City.
While Culver is not necessarily a gifted orator, he proved to be a masterful debater in 2006. At an event in Clear Lake last week, Branstad told TheIowaRepublican.com that he had studied Culver’s 2006 debates and acknowledged that the incumbent Democrat governor proved to be a formidable debater against Congressman Jim Nussle.
Once again, Culver proved to be up for the challenge a debate poses for any incumbent office holder. Culver’s game plan was apparent early on in the debate. Regardless of anything that Branstad said that was critical of Culver or his administration, Culver would simply shake his head no and tell the audience that Branstad was either lying, dishonest, or being untruthful.
It is likely that some people who don’t follow state government very closely might fall for Culver’s tactics, but a number of the things that Culver said Branstad was lying about are easy to proven to be true. Culver accused Branstad of lying on everything from Iowa’s unemployment numbers to the actual costs of his I-Jobs proposal. While Culver might have fooled the uninformed, he simply was not believable throughout the entire debate.
One of the most outrageous moments for Culver was when he denied the fact that the DeCoster family had given over $400,000 to the Democrat Governors Association, which, in turn, gave that amount and much more to Culver. DeCoster has been under scrutiny lately for the salmonella outbreak at his Wright County chicken farm.
Branstad wisely made the connection between Culver and DeCoster, pointing out that the DGA is Culver’s largest backer. If that wasn’t bad enough, Culver then accused Doug Gross, Branstad’s former Chief of Staff, of being DeCoster’s lawyer. Ironically, it is actually Culver’s big backer and advisor, Jerry Crawford, who serves as DeCoster’s legal advisor.
Culver tried his best to make the case that Iowa under Terry Branstad was far worse than the last four years under his own leadership. Not only is that just not believable, it’s laughable, and there are plenty of stats that prove otherwise.
Currently under Culver, Iowa’s current unemployment rate stands at 6.8 percent, when Branstad left office in 1999 it was 2.5 percent. In January of 2007, just after Culver was elected, 59,900 Iowans were unemployed. In May of this year, 115,400 Iowans were unemployed. Iowa’s unemployment rate has doubled under Culver, and 55,500 more people joined the ranks of the unemployed. Culver said that Branstad was lying when he brought this up in the debate.
Culver even refused to answer many of the questions that he was asked. When the candidates were allowed to ask each other a question, Branstad sited a recent Culver TV ad where the Governor says that he has made some mistakes. Branstad asked him to list the three biggest mistakes he has made as governor.
Culver didn’t even pretend to be interested in answering the question. Instead he just attacked Branstad. Later in the debate, Culver was asked what he would do differently in terms of his response to the 2008 floods. Culver said he wouldn’t have done anything differently. It looks like the real liar is Culver himself, who says one thing in his TV ads and a different thing, or nothing at all, when asked a question in a debate.
Branstad deserves praise for his debate performance. Branstad is not known as a skilled debater, and his performance in the primary debates were less than stellar. Outside of his question about the debate rules, Branstad was obviously well prepared for the debate. His answers provided specifics that Culver’s answers lacked.
Branstad was also on the offensive last night. Branstad landed some direct shots on Culver. In addition to attacking Culver for his close association with DeCoster, he also called Culver’s two-year response to the 2008 floods tragic when he pointed out that he had the books closed on the 1993 floods in just one year.
He also landed a solid shot on Culver when he talked about Culver’s inability to follow though on his promises to workers who lost their jobs at the John Morrell plant in Sioux City and at another factory in Lake Mills.
Branstad wins the debate because he provided Iowans some real substance on the important issues facing the state. As for Culver, all he offered voters was a campaign of confusion to try and discredit his opponent.
After the debate, Jeff Boeyink, Branstad’s campaign manager said, “Governor Culver demonstrated ugly, personal attacks against Terry Branstad tonight. While Terry Branstad offered a positive, forward-looking vision, Gov. Culver unleashed personal attack after personal attack. Terry Branstad won this debate, and it wasn’t even close.”
Last night’s debate will do little to shake up polls that show Branstad leading Culver by a comfortable margin. The debate does give Iowans a good idea about what the fall campaign will be like. Instead of a substantive debate about the issues, Governor Culver will instead claim that Terry Branstad is simply misleading Iowa. Get ready for the classic, he said vs. he said campaign.
At a time when Iowans need a competent leader at the helm, Governor Culver seems content to run a smear campaign against anyone who is critical of his first term in office. Iowans deserve better, and last night, Branstad offered Iowans a better option than their current leader.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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