I've left my luxuriously appointed red velvet seat in the front row at Sinclair Auditorium, charges and counter charges and big promises still ringing in my ears. The Show at Coe is history.
Gov. Chet Culver and former Gov. Terry Branstad did battle for 60 minutes. And the race for governor probably didn't change a whole lot. That's bad news for Culver, who polls say is trailing badly. He peppered the outfield with singles, but he needed a home run. Sort of like the Twins. Don't get me started.
So how did the candidates do, based on the scorecard I published this a.m.?
Answering Questions -- They did a much better job tonight than they did in Sioux City. At one point, Culver tried to use a question about casino expansion to explain how his I-JOBS bonds will be paid off by gamblers, many from out of state, not average Iowa taxpayers. Branstad chided him by saying, "I'll answer the question." But then he turned his answer into a shot at Culver over questionable contributions he got from Fort Dodge casino boosters.
The gambling tussle was one of the debate's better moments. Branstad got in his shot, but Culver fired back that the original bills opening the door to Iowa's gambling gold rush bear Branstad's John Hancock. I scored that one for Culver. I find it tough for Branstad to portray himself as anti-gambling as the father of the casino feast.
Details -- There were moments of explanation. Branstad got into his plans for making the Iowa Department of Economic Development a public-private partnership. He still hasn't explained how that improves a lack of oversight he contends plagues the Culver-era department.
"Reckless and Irresponsible" and "Unprecedented" -- Correct me if I'm wrong, but, miraculously, I don't think either candidate fell back on those chestnuts. Points galore.
Branstad did introduce "whiplash" to describe Culver's binge/purge budgeting practices.
Flood mitigation/Watershed Management -- A plan proposed by Mayor Ron Corbett, who both candidates love to death, incidentally, to pay for flood protection with state sales tax proceeds sparked an interesting exchange. Branstad said the plan is worth exploring. Culver endorsed it and accused Branstad of being against it before he was in favor of exploring it. To be fair, Branstad never opposed the plan, but does oppose another Corbett-backed plan for allowing cities to boost hotel/motel taxes from 7 to 9 percent. The governor go mixed up.
There was the usually back and forth over who blew the epic flood under their watch -- 1993/2008 -- but there was no mention of retired generals. Score.
Culverisms -- Dang. Not a one. No brain suck. This displeases me, but good for the governor.
Wayback Machine -- "Back when I was governor" was uttered early and often by the former, four-term governor. But I thought Branstad did a good job emphasizing his steady-hand-here-to-clean-up-the-mess theme. He tried to stay above the fray, and did a better job this time than in the first debate when it looked like he was letting Culver get underr his skin. This time, at least twice, he refused to even rebut Culver's charges.
Hyperbole Highway -- These things are sometimes hard to judge, but I think Culver went down this road a couple of times. First, he accused Branstad of favoring moving Iowa jobs to Mexico. Later, he argued that Branstad's plan to lower commercial property taxes would cost $2 billion, which is a whoipping cost in need of elaboration. Branstad keeps promising to create 200,00 jobs, as if government action actually creates jobs.
Culver was at his best when he was pushing the notion that Branstad broke promises before and will again. It's his campaign's strongest argument. At one point he said Branstad is a "serial promise maker and a habitual promise breaker when it comes to jobs." Good line.Surprises -- Sadly, no big ones. Although I was a little surprised how the same-sex marriage/judicial independence issue fired up the auditorium. Culver said the only impact of the Supreme Court's ruling for marriage equity is that people get to live their lives and make their own decisions. He called for continued judicial independence. Branstad said an issue of this "magnitude" deserves a public vote, to which someone in the audience yelled "Why can't I vote on your marriage?" or soemething to that effect. Both candidates' responses drew cheers from their respective camps. Guess the marriage issue remains hot. Not as hot as the temperature in the auditorium, maybe, but still hot.