In the final debate of the race for the Democratic nomination for governor last night, five candidates made their case for who is best qualified to take on Gov. Kim Reynolds in the general election.
The debate was held before a live audience at the State Historical Building, sponsored by the Des Moines Register and KCCI-TV.
Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell has been leading in the polls, financing his campaign in part with his personal wealth.
In her campaign ads, Reynolds has been stressing her working class background. Hubbell was asked how he would handle any class issues that might come up in a general election.
“I don't think Iowans care what your background is, in terms of how you grew up, what school you went to, did you bag groceries, or did you work in this business,” Hubbell said, referring to the governor’s first job at a Hy-Vee store. “I think what Iowans want to know about is do you care about them, do you listen to them, are you going to help improve their lives, or are you just talking about it, and you never do anything.”
Former Chief of Staff for Gov. Tom Vilsack, John Norris, used his opening comments for some of the debate’s sharpest criticism of Gov. Reynolds, and what he called the “increased influence of the corporate lobby.”
“You can see it in example after example under the Reynolds administration,” Norris said. “Look at the privatizing of Medicaid, a backdoor corporate lobby deal, the lack of a serious water quality initiative in Iowa that’s responsive to the corporate lobby, and look at these tax cuts and tax breaks that are eroding our capacity to invest in education and health care.”
Union activist Cathy Glasson was asked whether her views are too progressive for a general election campaign against Kim Reynolds, and whether she would have to “move to the center” and risk losing her base.
“I don’t think we need to move to the center at all,” Glasson said. “I think that's why Democrats have lost 11 out of the last 14 governor’s races in the state, by putting forth the same losing formulas and strategies.”
Health care executive Andy McGuire was Democratic Party Chairman during the divisive 2016 presidential caucus campaign that pitted Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. She her role inthat campaign will not harm Democratic unity in a general election campaign for governor.
“This is not about Bernie and Hillary,” McGuire said. “It’s about the terrible Republican majority.”
Former Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn has struggled to raise money. He said that doesn’t have to work against him.
“Iowans don’t want to see money dictate results,” Wilburn said.
All five candidates assured voters there was nothing in their personal backgrounds that could arise in a general election campaign, referring to former candidate Nate Boulton’s withdrawal from the race after allegations of sexual misconduct.
Gov. Reynolds has been touting Iowa’s recent recognition by U.S. News and World Report as the best state in the country. All five Democrats listed the ways Iowa is not number one, including education, mental health, and gay rights.
Each candidate criticized the tax bill Gov. Reynolds signed into law on Wednesday, and all spoke in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. They disagreed on how quickly it would be possible to dismantle Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system.
Cathy Glasson got the biggest laugh of the evening with her answer to a question posed to each candidate: who will you call first on the phone if you win the nomination.
"I'll call Kim Reynolds and tell her I'm sorry," Glasson quipped.
Two Des Moines residents who attended the debate, Ben Busiek, 32, and Bree Palmer, 34, were impressed with Cathy Glasson.
“I thought she came across as confident,” Busiek said. “She seems to have her ducks in a row.”
“John Norris was also impressive,” Palmer said. “His ideals spoke to me.”
In a statement, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann confirmed expectations that Hubbell will be attacked for his wealth if he becomes the nominee.
“As expected, tonight served as a final coronation for Sir Frederick Hubbell to be the Democrat nominee, meaning Iowa will once again have an elitist, out of touch candidate at the top of the ticket,” Kaufmann said.