DES MOINES – Seven of the nine candidates vying to become the next congressional representative of Iowa’s First District gathered in Des Moines for a forum conducted by the Iowa Credit Union League. The participants included all five announced Democrat candidates and two of the four Republican candidates, State Rep. Walt Rogers of Cedar Falls and Marshalltown attorney Gail Boliver. Rod Blum and Steve Rathje declined invitations.
Perhaps that was a wise move on the part of Blum and Rathje because several of the candidates suffered from verbal gaffes during the 90-minute forum.
The stumbles started with Gail Boliver during his response to the first question, which was about how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the field.
“We have to do something with those people that are already here,” Boliver said, without saying which people he was referring to. Obviously, he meant illegal immigrants, but never said it.
Things got worse seconds later when Democrat State Rep. Anesa Kajtazovich tried to explain what separated her from the rest of the field.
“We have to make sure we have the skilled workforce shortages that’s impacting us,” Kajtazovich said. Yes, a Democrat candidate for Congress advocated for making sure we have skilled workforce shortages.
The topic of Obamacare was particularly troubling for the candidates. Moderator Dean Borg asked a multiple-choice question: Should the Affordable Care Act be (A) left in place, (B) modified to change major provisions of the law or (C) repealed and replaced.
Boliver answered first, saying, “The answer to that is B.”
He then called the bill a disaster and seemed to advocate for repealing it, but his answer “B” is to modify major provisions of it. So we are left with an unclear view of where a Republican congressional candidate stands on perhaps the number one issue in the campaign.
Anesa Kajtazovich then struggled to find an answer on Obamacare. She advocated for the bill, but thinks it should be improved. However, Kajtazovich did not say what specifically should be improved and stopped short of supporting major changes to it. So, she never really answered the question.
Republican State Rep. Walt Rogers should have knocked this answer on the park, but the verbal gaffe virus struck him as well.
“Let’s be honest. It was passed on a bipartisan vote. Purely bipartisan,” Rogers said.
Audience members then tried to correct the Cedar Falls Republican, saying he meant “partisan”.
“It was passed purely with Democrat votes. How does that sound,” Rogers asked.
Later in the forum, he admitted to getting ‘bipartisan’ and ‘partisan’ mixed up.
Overall on the Obamacare question, Pat Murphy and Dave O’Brien went with ‘A’ (leave Obamacare in place), Dandekar and Vernon ‘B’ (keep it with major changes), Toliver said ‘B’ but I think he meant ‘C’, Rogers answered ‘C’ (repeal), and Kajtazovic’s answer was at best a mix of A and B.
Obamacare was one of the few topics where the Democrats differed in opinion, although all of them support keeping the bill.
Each Democrat offered varying answers on economic development issues, but they all fit in with the same liberal mindset likely shared by the group: collective bargaining, increased spending, raising taxes on corporations, etc.
All the Democrats advocated for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Republican Gail Boliver said it should be phased in, eventually increasing to $10.10. Walt Rogers was the only one onstage opposing an increase in the minimum wage, citing a small business owner who is a friend.
“If minimum wage goes up to $10.10, my business is done. My business is done because I’ll be priced out of the market,” Rogers recalled his friend saying. “So, what does that do for the economy? What does that do for jobs? It doesn’t help it.”
A study from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released on Tuesday noted that an increase in the minimum wage would kill 500,000 jobs, while also lifting some Americans out of poverty.
The verbal gaffes and brain cramps from some of the candidates are easy mistakes to make when speaking extemporaneously. However, in a heated campaign, one verbal gaffe could do major damage to a candidate if used properly by the opposition. Some of the participants need to improve their presentations quickly.
Overall, on Democrats side, Dave O’Brien did the best job of displaying his true liberal stances, barely edging Pat Murphy for that distinction. O’Brien was also the most polished speaker on the stage, again edging Murphy.
It is difficult to gauge the true winner of the forum because the attendees were Iowa Credit Union members from all over the state. It is unknown how many live in the First District and how many would participate in the Republican or Democrat primaries.
Judging just in terms of presentation, here are my rankings for the respective parties:
Vernon sounded knowledgable. Kajtazovic is not ready for prime time. Swati Dandekar is obviously an intelligent and accomplished woman. However, she speaks in broken English and I don’t think that translates very well to a wide electorate.
Amongst the two Republicans, Walt Rogers fared slightly better than Gail Boliver, though neither had a very strong outing.
Rod Blum, a Dubuque businessman and the runner-up in the Republican primary in 2012, probably would have come across very well in this setting.
Governor Terry Branstad and Secretary of State Matt Schultz also addressed the Iowa Credit Union League’s statewide gathering on Tuesday.
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