COUNCIL BLUFFS — On Sunday night, all six GOP candidates for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat met on stage for the first time, in order to reach western Iowa's largely Republican voters.
They broadly agreed on most issues — the nation's debt is out of control at $17 trillion, and NSA spying on Americans without cause is bad — and there were no fireworks.
Said candidate Joni Ernst of Red Oak, referring to the expected Democratic candidate: “Any one of us would be better than Bruce Braley.”
But there was some disagreement on whether the recently approved federal budget should have been passed and whether the debt ceiling should be raised.
The candidates have participated in previous forums, but Sunday's was the first in which all six were together. The debate took place at the Lewis Central High School gym.
The six contenders are: Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Des Moines; Ernst, an Iowa state senator; Mark Jacobs, former chief executive officer of Texas-based Reliant Energy, who moved back to Iowa last year; Sam Clovis, a professor at Morningside College and former radio talk show host on KSCJ; Scott Schaben, a former car salesman from Ames; and Paul Lunde, an attorney from Ames.
The winner will probably go up against Braley, a member of the U.S. House. So far he is unopposed on the Democratic side.
During the debate, Jacobs touted his business credentials.
“I'm a business guy. I'm not a politician,” he said, adding that he wants to bring “common sense, real-world perspective to Washington.”
On the budget, Jacobs said he would have voted for it, even though he found aspects of it troubling. “At the end of the day, our government has to pass the budget,” he said.
Whitaker talked up his experience as a prosecutor. He said he wanted a budget passed but does not support the one that passed last week.
“The tax code has five times the words of the Bible and none of the good news,” he said.
Ernst spoke of her experiences in the Iowa Senate, passing tax relief measures and legislation that kept Bellevue abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart out of Council Bluffs. She said she would not have voted for the budget.
Schaben said his retail experience would help him get along with other senators from various walks of life to get bills passed. Lunde suggested several amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Clovis advocated what he called a “fair tax,” a consumption tax that would replace the income tax with a nationwide sales tax on goods and services.
Given the opportunity to answer a question on social issues, most reiterated their opposition to abortion and their support of traditional marriage before pivoting to economic issues.
Lunde pointed out that he was the only candidate who is an abortion rights advocate. “Pro-choice is not pro-abortion,” he said. “I oppose late-term abortion.”
The candidates were unified in their opposition to the National Security Agency's collection of data on U.S citizens.
“In no case should any intelligence agency ever spy on an American,” Clovis said to widespread applause.
The Iowa primary is set for June 3. The race is important because, for the first time in 40 years, a U.S. Senate race in Iowa will not include an incumbent.
The race could also help determine which party controls the Senate. Republicans are pouring money into Iowa in hopes of picking up the seat.