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DES MOINES — Differences over a hard line on when to send U.S. troops to Ukraine and over ethanol policy were among the few contrasts to emerge during a televised debate Saturday night between the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Iowa.
Mike Franken, a retired three-star admiral in the U.S. Navy from Sioux City, was the only candidate to establish a scenario under which he would send U.S. troops to Ukraine to assist in the country’s defense against Russia’s military invasion, which is in its third month.
“There are issues associated with being the world’s broad-shouldered democracy. And I do believe though if (Russian President) Vladimir Putin uses a nuclear weapon against Ukraine, like-minded countries like the United States and others should put American souls along with other nations’ to help pick up the pieces internal to Ukraine,” Franken said. “That’s a red line. We must step forward, we cannot let the use of weapons of mass destruction against a large population and a democracy ever be used and go without retort.”
Abby Finkenauer, a former congresswoman and state legislator from Cedar Rapids, and Glenn Hurst, a physician from Minden, both said the United States should support economic sanctions on Russia and provide assistance like weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but should not devote U.S. troops.
“I support making sure that we are doing everything we can short of sending in U.S. troops to support Ukraine, whether that is additional spending that we’re sending over, in terms of weapons, in terms of making sure they have what they need,” Finkenauer said.
Said Hurst, “We should be sending humanitarian efforts to all of the refugees that are pouring into Poland and countries surrounding the Ukraine. We should be opening up the borders here in Iowa to bring more refugees to our community.”
Finkenauer, Franken and Hurst are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination in Iowa’s 2022 U.S. Senate campaign.
The incumbent is Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is running for an eighth six-year term. He also faces a primary challenge, from Sioux City lawyer and state legislator Jim Carlin.
Grassley is widely expected to survive the primary challenge, and the three Democrats clearly agree, as all took turns criticizing Iowa’s longtime U.S. senator.
Iowa’s primary election is June 7. Early voting begins May 18.
The second and only other scheduled TV debate for the Senate Democratic primary will be on Iowa PBS and its statewide affiliates. That debate will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. on May 19.
The candidates also had varied viewpoints on ethanol policy. The renewable fuels industry supports roughly 37,000 jobs in Iowa and accounts for nearly $4 billion of the state’s GDP, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
Finkenauer said she supports President Joe Biden’s use of an emergency rule to lift the federal ban on the higher E15 blend of ethanol being sold during the summer driving months. She also said the federal government must ensure oil companies are complying with federal ethanol blending regulations.
“This is the time when we should be using what Iowa does best, and we should be making sure that we are supporting that industry,” Finkenauer said. “But (also) make sure that these big oil companies aren’t just skirting the rules.”
Franken said he also supports the year-round sale of E15, but said that should be considered a temporary solution. He said the government should be looking for alternative uses for ethanol, such as in airplane or ship fuel, or for power generation.
“We’ve got the latitude and the topsoil and the initiative and the intelligence in this state to reconstruct the energy grid,” Franken said. “And ethanol will be on the helpful side.”
Hurst said the government should move away from financing ethanol production because more new vehicles will be powered by electricity. He said the government should encourage Iowa farmers to produce another crop, and as an example cited hemp and its oils and fibers.
“Vehicles are going to be (electric-powered), and we can as a state either try to squeeze every little last drop out of ethanol as we can, or we can take a progressive idea of introducing a third crop into our duopoly of corn and soy and make it a profitable center, a profitable market for Iowa farmers,” Hurst said.
In a statement, Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann said the Democratic candidates in Iowa’s U.S. Senate campaign hold “extreme” positions that are out-of-step with Iowans.
“Iowans know these candidates don’t have the spine to stand up to Joe Biden and their national party,” Kaufmann said in the statement. “As inflation continues to skyrocket, the crisis at the border gets worse, and the future of our country looks more and more bleak, these Democrats’ only solution is to continue down the path toward socialism.”
The hourlong debate was hosted and broadcast live by four Iowa TV stations: KCCI-TV in Des Moines, KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, KTIV-TV in Sioux City and KWQC-TV in Davenport.
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