In what has become a regular feature of Iowa 1st District campaigns, the candidates are debating — debating whether they’ll debate and, if so, how often.
U.S. Rep. Rod Blum has proposed 12 debates across the 20-county district and suggested he and his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, start with two later this month.
“We’ve got four months, so if we do three debates a month at various places around the district, that would be a good thing,” Blum said.
“I think it’s a good thing for constituents to hear from both candidates on the issues versus trying to make the decision on who to vote for based on $5 million of attack ads paid for by out-of-state special interest groups,” he said.
Although Blum carried the 1st District with more votes than President Donald Trump and Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2016, political handicappers call the race against Finkenauer a tossup.
Finkenauer said she is looking forward to “debating the important issues at stake in this election, but hasn’t agreed to specific dates or venues.
“We intend to spend the coming weeks establishing a debate schedule that works for both campaigns and gives voters the opportunity to hear from both candidates,” Finkenauer said.
Blum challenged Finkenauer to 12 debates immediately after her primary election victory in June.
“Fun. Awesome,” she responded.
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Blum agreed, saying getting started soon will be the key. Referring to the invitations the campaigns have received from television stations KWWL and KGAN/KFXA, he proposed debates July 20 and July 27.
“If the first one doesn’t happen until October, then obviously we’re not going to get many in,” he said.
Debates about debating are common in congressional races. Typically, it’s the challenger who requests an unrealistically high number of face-offs.
In the 1st District, it’s been Blum pushing for more debates.
In 2016, he proposed 10 debates his Democratic challenger, Monica Vernon of Cedar Rapids. She called for two in keeping with “the precedent set” in previous election cycles. It was late October before they agreed to a single televised debate.
In the 2014 race for the open 1st District seat, Blum and state Rep. Pat Murphy of Dubuque had two debates.
In a letter to the Finkenauer campaign, Blum said the campaign should be “an honest contest of ideas.” Debate would give voters “an opportunity to hear for themselves about our differing visions for America.”
He’d like some debates in front of live audiences as well as some in-studio debates. Blum’s open to various venues, “as long as it’s in an environment where the audience can hear the answers ... not one supercharged with booing and jeering,” which was the case when Blum had four public forums around the district in the spring of 2017.
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