Iowa PBS to host in-person Democratic Senate debate May 18

4 candidates have been limited to online forums

The four Iowa Democrats seeking their party's nomination for the U.S. Senate - Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa
The four Iowa Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate — Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield and Eddie Mauro — are shown at an April 19 online forum. The candidates will have their first in-person debate May 18 at the Iowa PBS studio in Johnston. (Screengrab)

In addition to their specific stances on health care, the Green New Deal and other issues, the Democrats seeking their party’s U.S. Senate nomination will be divided by acrylic shields when they debate later this month.

The shields are among precautions being taken for the May 18 in-person debate in the Iowa PBS studio in Johnston.

While the debate will be broadcast statewide, no audience will be in the studio because of the coronavirus social-distancing guidelines.

The hourlong debate will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. on Iowa PBS and streamed on, YouTube and Facebook.

The candidates be questioned by “Iowa Press: moderator David Yepsen and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

The candidates competing in the June 2 primary are Mike Franken of Sioux City, Kimberly Graham of Indianola, Theresa Greenfield of Des Moines and Eddie Mauro of Des Moines.

All or most of the hopefuls — there were five, but now four — have participated in at least a half dozen virtual forums over the course of the campaign. The winner of the June 2 primary will face Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in the Nov. 3 general election.

Given the limitations the candidates have faced because of coronavirus, the debate in front of a statewide viewing audience is a big deal, said Kimberly Strope-Boggus, campaign manager for Franken.

“There’s a clear difference between a debate and the forums we’ve done,” she said. Candidates can deliver their stump speech in a forum, “but a debate is where we differentiate between people with experience and those without.”

Graham is looking forward to Iowa voters have the opportunity to see all of the candidate.

“I love talking about the issues, answering questions and standing up and speaking out about what our nation can do when we elect regular working people to Congress, she said.

The debate will be an opportunity for Greenfield to show why she’s the best Democrat to take on Ernst, her spokeswoman Izzi Levy said, referring to a Public Policy Polling poll this week that found the Des Moines business woman trailing Ernst 43 percent to 42 percent in a head-to-head contest.

Greenfield has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. She’s also raised nearly twice as much money from Iowa than the other Democrats combined.

However, Mauro claims his internal polling shows he’s tied with Greenfield for the nomination. The Mauro campaign surveyed 1,000 Democrats on May 2 who had requested absentee ballots. He and Greenfield were “in a dead heat within the margin of error” at 14 percent. Franken and Graham had the support of less than 5 percent of the early voters. The sampling has a margin of error of 5 percent.

A candidate needs at least 35 percent of the primary vote to secure the nomination. If no one receives 35 percent, the nomination will be decided by the party’s state convention, scheduled for June 13.

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