Point/Counterpoint: Who won Iowa’s second gubernatorial debate?

BY DI STAFF | SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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Branstad held his ground

“You stop lying about me, and I’ll stop telling the truth about you,” said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, as he quoted former President Ronald Reagan in the gubernatorial debate against incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad. Through claps and cheers, Hatch no doubt felt satisfied as he used the line he seemed to have waiting in his back pocket, along with other one-liners, since long before the debate began.

Hatch, however, spent a large portion of the night attacking Branstad on his actions as governor and less time arguing in favor of his own policies.

While Branstad did his fair share of finger-pointing, it seemed that with the distinction of “Iowa’s longest serving governor” on his résumé, Branstad was free to all but dismiss Hatch’s accusations and point to the success he has had as governor thus far and to programs he plans to implement and continue in the future.

Hatch made sure to use buzzwords and phrases such as “an explosion of economic opportunity” and “[building] the economy from the community up, not the top down” in an apparent attempt to get Iowa citizens, as opposed to corporations, excited about his campaign. The only thing missing from some of Hatch’s statements, it seemed, was a Twitter hashtag. But outside of pointing to Branstad’s shortcomings and making these blanket statements, Hatch did little to express what he specifically planned to do as governor.

Branstad, on the other hand, pointed to his goals of increasing not just jobs in Iowa but “good jobs,” with a focus on improving both economic stability and workforce development. Moreover, he maintained his focus on improving education and keeping the cost of in-state tuition low.

When Hatch challenged Branstad, saying that many of the jobs created by the Iowa Fertilization Plant went to out-of-town workers, he reinforced Branstad’s position. This challenge set the governor up brilliantly to explain that the reason some of the jobs did not belong to Iowans was because there was a lack of a skilled workforce, which Branstad tied to his desire to increase workforce development and improve education. Furthermore, Branstad pointed to the economic development that the jobs provided for Iowa regardless of to whom they went.

Although Hatch made some good points throughout the debate, many revolved around the alleged missteps of the Branstad administration and did not point to solutions. While Branstad focused on the future and improving the programs he had already created, Hatch primarily focused on Branstad’s past.

— Joe Lane

Branstad took a beating 

The second governor’s debate had the Republican incumbent Terry Branstad squaring off with the Democratic challenger, Sen. Jack Hatch. The topics of this debate were the economy, jobs, and infrastructure, with both candidates reinforcing the priorities of their plan.

As indicated by recent Quinnipiac University polls, Branstad has a solid lead in the race, making Hatch’s primary goal to shift public opinion on the current governor. From the very beginning of the debate the tone quickly shifted to a pugilistic, “he said, she said” banter between the two, with Hatch very clearly out for blood. Branstad did his best to counter the onslaught of accusations and criticisms from Hatch but ultimately could do little more than hide behind his reputation and shaky statistics.

Given that he was a bit of an underdog going into this debate, it was clear that Hatch needed to make voters distrustful of Branstad as a person and a politician. Throughout the debate, Hatch focused on painting the incumbent governor as a morally questionable politician who cared more about corporations than he did people. Hatch’s offensive was relentless and ranged from listing the various lawsuits being brought up against Branstad to dismembering any and all statistics or figures used by the governor to describe his progress. Branstad made an effort to rely on his policies and plans alone, but playing solely defense may have harmed his credibility overall. Branstad rarely offered any impressive rebuttals and instead used any opportunity he could to remind people he was in fact born and raised in Iowa or that he was not nearly as bad as the governors of Illinois.

At one point when discussing the veracity of claims made in his campaign ads Hatch told Branstad to “stop lying about me, and I’ll stop telling the truth about you” quoting former President Reagan. The use of this quote sums up Hatch’s strategy in the debate, which consisted more of branding Branstad’s supposed dishonesty into the minds of the voters instead of relying solely on the strength of his own platform. While it did come off as overbearing at times, Hatch did a great job of positioning himself as a man of the people, and it is hard to blame him for playing to win when the odds are against him. Branstad may be able to stand on the strength of his past merits in this election, but pound for pound, he certainly took a beating from Hatch in this debate.

— Marcus Brown

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