IA-Sen: Final Braley/Ernst debate liveblog and discussion thread

In a few minutes, Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst will hold their third and final debate. KCAU in Sioux City and ABC-5 in Des Moines are televising the debate locally, and C-SPAN is showing it nationwide. I’ll be liveblogging after the jump.

Before the first debate, I was concerned that Braley might lose his cool, but he did well both that night as well as in last Saturday’s debate.

UPDATE: C-SPAN has the debate video archived here, for those who missed it.

The candidates will not have opening statements in this debate but will have closing statements. Audience is asked not to applaud during debate.

First Q to Braley about his resume: Braley starts by honoring memory of Libertarian Senate candidate Dr. Doug Butzier (who died in a plane crash this week), thanks debate hosts and Sen Ernst, most of all thanks his wife who taught today in Waterloo and surprised him by showing up at debate.

He has introduced and passed much more than one bill. Describes job training bill on biofuels, bill that helped keep jobs in Iowa, another bill that helped veterans stay in their homes, helped unemployed veterans.

Q to Ernst: why should voters consider someone with your limited legislative resume for this position? Thanks hosts and “Congressman”; also extends her prayers to Dr Butzier’s family. I am an average Iowan who has had extraordinary opportunities. Have served local communities, state and nation. We are facing a crisis in Middle East, and I’ve had my boots on ground leading troops in Iraq, will always stand for servicemen and women.

Next Q about ebola virus. What should fed govt be doing to protect me and my family? Braley was just in Washington for emergency meeting about ebola; he says there was “plain talk” and “honest questions” to govt officials; he asked tough questions and demanded answers. We need to protect American people; he would consider travel bans or restrictions, or changing hospital protocols. Important for him to be at that hearing today because one of the leading companies for developing a vaccine for ebola is based in Ames.

Ernst says it’s a tragic disease sweeping through western Africa. As a mother, to see families experience this is devastating. We need to do more. Unfortunately, our administration and Congressman Braley has been reactive rather than proactive. She supports temporary travel bans, screening, and aid to those nations, supporting research.

Braley says he has to respond. Ernst supported plan to shutdown the federal government, and that led to funding cuts for CDC, NIH, and foreign aid. Policies she supported would make it more difficult for us to address problem. He wants more funding for vaccine research.

Ernst says it’s a huge tragedy, says “failed leadership” from Congressman and Obama. Only today did they call a hearing on the issue. We should have been looking at travel bans earlier.

Braley says Republican leadership were the ones who scheduled the meeting. That’s why he was there today.

Ernst says she issued a statement on ebola before “the Congressman” did.

Next Q is on abortion/contraception. Starting with Ernst: she co-sponsored “personhood” amendment, meaning a fertilized egg would be considered a person. Does this mean you are against certain forms of contraception, in vitro fertilization?

First, do you believe life begins at conception? She does believe that. She will always support life. This is a very sensitive issue, so we have to have civil discussions. I will always support life. We as Rs and Ds have to come together to find areas we agree on when supporting life. As when they banned partial birth abortion. Congressman Braley doesn’t even agree with that life-saving method,

Ernst says there would be certain exceptions to ban on abortion. We need consensus. Right now there is no consensus.

What exceptions? Ernst says again, I support life, so life of the mother is important.

Would you consider banning any form of contraception? No, she’s said over and over she supports a woman’s right to safe and reliable contraception. Cites Washington Post fact-checker. I’m a woman, mother of three daughters, it’s laughable for me to be lectured on issues of

Should in vitro fertilization be banned because embryos may be destroyed? Ernst says she has friend with two beautiful children conceived that way, she is glad her friend was blessed to be a mother.

Q to Braley: at what point in fetal development should abortion be banned? He opposes all late-term abortions that aren’t necessary to save life and health of mother.

Do you support employers selecting birth control that will be covered? No, not at all. Senator Ernst says she supports access to birth control but she supports Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers. She voted against access to birth control in Iowa Senate and would repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Q: why does it matter that Ernst supports personhood since abortion rights are protected under Roe v Wade? Braley notes that ACOG says personhood amendment would do all the things he has talked about: ban all abortions and interfere with in vitro fertilization.

Ernst says she agrees with Supreme Court ruling [Hobby Lobby] but that doesn’t outlaw birth control, women can still get it from their doctor. [but that would cost hundreds of dollars!] On abortion, she says there has to be consensus, where there is no consensus there will not be a law.

Braley says words have consequences. You can’t say you want to repeal ACA and then want to increase their costs. You can’t say you support the right and say you support employers interfering.

Q on Obamacare: 20,000 young people on their parents’ insurance in Iowa, 1.2 mil Iowans can’t be discriminated agst for pre-existing conditions. Can Ernst  She says everyone deserves affordable quality health care, but Obamacare isn’t the answer. It’s a job-killer and massive tax increae. It takes health care decisions out of our hans, puts it in hands of nameless faceless bureaucrats in Washington, DC. Congressman promised us Obamacare would lower costs, but he was wrong, policies are going up.

Why is it a job killer? Ernst says she’s heard from businesses all ver the state that don’t want to have 50 employees and be subject to mandates in ACA. They are not expanding, they are lowering full-time employees. BC/BS laid employees off because of Obamacare. She wants to replace it with real health care that would address pre-existing conditions. She claims Iowa already allows young people to stay on She wants insurance to be able to sell across state lines, small biz should pool policies

Braley: words have consequences. 47 mil Americans didn’t have access to quality health care. It’s not perfect but we need to fix it. Voting 50 times to repeal it doesn’t make it better. Cites bills he has voted for to fix problems. We can’t go back. His 2 year old nephew had liver cancer and couldn’t get coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Follow-up Q about flaws: Braley says he already mentioned some but adds Medicare reimbursement formula that doesn’t give as much to doctors and hospitals in Iowa. I was their champion during debate on ACA. We need to reward quality patient outcomes. 100,000 Iowans now have coverage because I worked with Gov Branstad on expanding Medicaid.

Ernst says under Obamacare there are still 31 million Americans with no care. We are seeing costs go up, policies canceled. You said years ago you wouldn’t change a thing about bill. You said you read bill. Either you didn’t understand bill or you were misleading Iowans.

Braley says when you pass a huge change, there are bound to be bumps along the way. That’s why you have to fix things. Repealing does nothing to solve those problem, takes coverage away from Iowans.

Q: what personal quality sets you apart? Braley says I’m a bridge-builder, not a bridge-burner. I spent a lot of time getting to know colleagues, I have them over to dinner. I’ve had success working with Republicans to pass legislation. Mentions getting benefits to Iowa National Guard who served in Iraq. Bill that helped disabled veteran stay in his home. Says Grassley and Harkin have worked for Iowans.

Ernst says she is a public servant. Has served in her community, state, and nation, has worked with volunteer organizations. Still is a Sunday school teacher. Committed to her hometown. She has helped people in many ways in National Guard, in Iowa and overseas. She says sound bites have consequences. She has a pure heart, but Braley behind closed doors poked fun at Grassley. I don’t call that bridge building.

Braley says she knows he apologized to Grassley and farmers. If you’re questioning my pure heart, I have served as an elder, and I have taught in my church.

Ernst says what you said behind closed doors matter to Iowans. Maybe you apologized to Iowans but my father is a farmer.

Braley starts to talk about Ernst’s meeting with Koch brothers behind closed doors, but moderators cut him off.

Q: Iowa or Iowa State? Ernst says Iowa State. Braley says he graduated from both but cheers for Iowa State when they play each other.

What do you admire about your opponent? She has served nation and state in National Guard. Braley’s father served in WWII.

She says she thinks Braley is a great father.

Next Q is about immense money spent on IA-Sen race. Many Iowans are disgusted by all the negative advertising. What ad run on your behalf embarrassed you the most?

Braley talks about ad showing people looking into a box. It wasn’t effective, didn’t show differences between us. He says he’s the only candidate who voted to limit the influence of these big money groups with secret donors. Supreme Court decision that was a threat to democracy puts no limits on outside groups. He has called on Ernst to join him in calling on outside groups to pull their ads.

Ernst says it’s been a negative campaign, starting the day after she won the primary, Braley’s ad compared her to a baby chick. She doesn’t watch tv and doesn’t pay attention to ads, so she can’t comment on any ads run on her behalf. When you have a failed record in Washington DC, you have to tear down your opponent.

Follow-up: You don’t want tv? I don’t watch tv.

Braley says it’s time to get secret donors out of politics, period, so we can focus on My family and I also don’t watch tv anymore. I have already voted for DISCLOSE Act that would require disclosure of

Ernst says she believes in political free speech. First Amendment right. I don’t like it, I’m being heavily outspent by outside interests, but I believe in standing

Braley says you know you’re not getting outspent by outside interests. I’m saying to these groups, you have to disclose donors and take down your ads. I am sticking up for  the political free speech of secret donors is not more important than free speech of Iowans. I will vote for real campaign finance reform.

Ernst says she is being mischaracterized. She has been outspent by $2 million, a lot of money in Iowa airtime. Says Braley has earned Pinocchios on birth control and Social Security.

Moderators cut her off. Next Q is on Social Security. We know Braley has four-point plan which is kind of vague. What concrete thing would he do to help Soc Secur solvency?

Braley says he said in Davenport that millionaires and billionaires should be paying Soc Secur taxes on all of their earned income, which is not happening now. He also wants to increase the minimum wage ,which would put more $$ into Soc Secur and Medicare Trust Funds. he wants to invest in crumbling infrastructure, and workers in jobs created will pay into trust fund.

Ernst asked to name one specific thing she would do. She says she will always stand up for seniors like her mom and dad. We always have to keep our promises. Any solutions should not affect retired or those nearing retirement. One option would be bringing in state and local workers that are not engaged in Social Security system. The Congressman wants to raise min wage but that would eliminate 20,000 jobs in Iowa, 500,000 jobs nationwide.

Next Q is on ISIS. How can we defeat them? Braley thanks veteran who asked question for serving the country. Just today he got a confidential briefing on our military campaign against ISIS. He voted with Republican colleagues to give president limited authority to arm Syrian rebels. He got an update today on what allies around the world are willing to contribute.

Ernst says ISIS needs to be destroyed. They are extreme terrorists. Before we commit to military action, she has several criteria: do we have intelligence outlining threat to our national interests, do we have clearly defined mission with enough resources, and do we have a withdrawal plan, and will we be caring for service members on return. She says in June, Braley voted for no combat funding in Iraq. I don’t know where he stands on that.

Braley says Senator Ernst knows the vote she is referring to has nothing to do with ISIS. 23 House Rs joined me to make sure Obama came to Congress to get authority to take action against ISIS. We can’t be world’s police force. He mentions Colin Powell’s criteria and says he agrees with Ernst’s criteria, but she left out making case to American people that investment of blood and treasure is necessary.

Ernst says that case has been made. Says Obama and Braley have been reactive, not proactive. Again says Braley voted to defund troops on ground in iraq and Afghanistan.

Braley says Sen Ernst knows that’s not true. He voted to end decade-long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are you saying you support a decade of troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, and that’s what Obama should have done?

Ernst reminds you that my boots were on that ground now held by ISIS. I take this very seriously. This threat has been out there for years, administration refused to acknowledge it.

Next Q is about e-Verify system for businesses to check immigration status. Braley says what would it cost businesses to comply, and what assistance can we give businesses? We should’t be encouraging hiring illegal immigrants. But most important immigration challenge we have now is comprehensive immigration reform. He supports the Senate immigration bill that passed with 68 votes, bipartisan support.

Won’t e-verify fix those problems? Braley says it won’t solve problems of what to do with millions of people in this country and won’t solve problems of employers either.

Would Ernst require all businesses to use e-verify? Yes, but we have to look at costs and provide support. There is a greater issue with immigration. She spent time overseas in college in Soviet Union. People on collective farm wanted to talk about what it’s like to be an American. I understand why people come to US but we are a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. We need to secure the border first. Not just issue of immigration but also one of national security.

Would you ever support raising taxes on Iowa voters? Ernst says no, we can make govt more efficient. She says she implemented one of the largest tax cuts with leadership of Gov Terry Branstad, Iowans will save $4.4 billion over ten years. Talks about reducing job-killing regulations.

Follow-up on raising cap for Social Security: Ernst says it’s an option but there are better options.

Braley says Ernst had a chance to name other options for shoring up Social Security, but she didn’t do so. He supports getting rid of tax loopholes that reward companies that ship jobs overseas. Ernst has supported a 23 percent national sales tax that would increase burden on working-class families. She has talked about that as option she’s willing to consider. I won’t.

Ernst says we need to lower taxes on hard-working Iowans immediately. Scrap the IRS, start all over with tax code that’s fairer, flatter and simpler. Let’s make life better for hard-working Americans. Braley’s answer for everything is higher taxes or more spending.

Sen Ernst’s answer to everything is scrap it. Get rid of IRS. Get rid of Department of Education. Get rid of EPA. Get rid of Clean Water Act. She’s throwing darts at the board. Talks about how she wants to privatize student loans, which would cost Iowans money.

Follow-up to Braley: would you raise taxes? He already said corporations should not get tax benefits from shipping jobs overseas. He wants to change law, so those companies would get higher taxes.

Ernst says Braley has voted 8 times to raise debt ceiling, national debt has doubled. My daughter’s share of debt is $50,000. I don’t believe in bloated federal bureaucracy. Iowans know what’s best and we need to return power to states.

Closing statement from Braley: Congress isn’t working now, and one reason is partisan gridlock. People won’t compromise to get things done. I am a bridge-builder, not a bridge-burner. Iowa has been blessed to have Grassley and Harkin working together on things that help Iowa, even though they don’t agree on everything. I’ve worked with Grassley on wind tax credit, Renewable Fuels Standard. I will focus on economic policies that strengthen the middle class, because that’s what Iowans have always depended on. I will work hard to make sure your lives are better. I’m here tonight to ask for your help and for your vote.

Ernst thanks hosts and Braley. Tonight you’ve seen clear differences. I’m not a Washington politician. I grew up on a farm in SW Iowa. I am a mother, soldier, independent leader. I don’t support Braley and Obama’s policies on higher taxes, more spending, Obamacare, amnesty, the list goes on. Braley has a failed record and because of that, he is running the most negative campaign Iowans have seen. I believe in the Iowa way. If you give me your vote I will work hard for Iowans. I will protect Soc Sec and Medicare for our seniors. I will fight Washington to change Washington and make sure more Iowans can pursue American dream.

End of debate. A lot of the ground covered was similar to the first two debates. I thought Braley did well. Right after the debate, a Braley positive ad about bipartisanship and a DSCC negative ad about Ernst and education policy aired on ABC Channel 5 in the Des Moines viewing area.

Ernst didn’t do as badly as in the second debate, but she does fall back on her talking points in a much more obvious way than, say, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the GOP candidate in Iowa’s second Congressional district. If you watch the video of Miller-Meeks’ debate with Representative Dave Loebsack, you’ll see what I mean. Ernst doesn’t seem to engage with the question that was asked. She just reverts back to her scripted lines.

  • Will it turn the tide,

    did Bruce do well enough to get the base fired up for the final push?

    Liz Warren and Amy Klobuchar definitely help.

    Being a political junkie I grew tired of soldier, mom, blah blah after the 250th time. She did look scripted tonight and stumbled on woman’s rights. Need 2 things right this second an endorsement by the DMR and Big DOG! He will seal the deal. Working the colleges appears to be paying off. Indies are breaking our way. GOTV will carry 1 maybe 2 points so let’s keep it close. The GOP early voting numbers surprised me.  

    • don't get your hopes up

      for a Des Moines Register endorsement. I am 90 percent sure they will endorse Ernst.

      Polls are mixed on whether independents favor Braley or Ernst. I think it’s so hard to get a handle on who will vote. No-party voters turn out at a tremendously lower rate for midterm elections.

      • endorsement

        OTOH, we could actually hope for a DMR endorsement of Ernst. The Register’s endorsements are, as often as not, the kiss of death, no?

      • kidding aside

        I agree with your assessment that they will probably endorse her.

      • Register endorsement

        I am a little surprised by your statement that you are 90% sure the Register will endorse Ernst.  I haven’t seen  anything to make me suspect that and I wonder why you are so sure?

        • three reasons

          1. They endorsed Romney in 2012, contradicting policy positions taken in dozens of unsigned editorials the newspaper had run over the years. Which I assume was because

          2) The president and publisher, Rick Green, is a Republican.

          3) The Register’s senior political correspondent, Jennifer Jacobs, has been publishing work slanted toward Ernst and GOP talking points about Braley all year.

          • Predictions

            I see what you are saying desmoinesdem but I believe you are mistaken.  My predictions for Register endorsements are:



            HD 01, Murphy

            HD 02, Loebsack

            HD03, Appel

            HD04, Mowrer

            • they have endorsed a full slate

              of Congressional Democrats before, in 2008 and 2010 (at least in the House races–they endorsed Grassley for Senate that year). I don’t think we will see that again.

              Logically, they should endorse Braley, since his policies line up more closely with their editorial stands, and they have written glowing endorsements of him before. But I still think they will go with Ernst.

              I would not be surprised if they go for David Young in IA-03 as well, although if they did endorse Braley they would almost have to endorse Appel (otherwise they would be backing every man running against a woman).

            • if they do endorse Ernst

              today’s unsigned editorial will be fun to link back to:

              It’s fascinating to see Ernst yearn for the good old days, when the government felt no obligation to provide food, clothing or health care, basic necessities of life, to families in need.

              Perhaps Ernst never had to rely on a food pantry for a macaroni and cheese dinner. If she had, her golden-hued memories of their wonderfulness might be tempered by the grim realities that even today make food pantries a necessity. […]

              Sad to say, with 400,000 Iowans now living at or below the poverty level, and one in five Iowa children not having enough to eat, food pantries are not charming relics of Joni Ernst’s past. They are present-day symbols of genuine hardship and suffering.

          • endorsements

            My predictions for Register endorsements are:



            HD 01, Murphy Yep, check.

            HD 02, Loebsack  Yep, check.

            HD03, Appel

            HD04, Mowrer

  • Scripted vs. dynamic

    Ernst comes off as coin-operated.  If I put a quarter in, she thanks me for asking the question, reiterates that the issue is important, talks about herself, then actually gives a question.

    Braley was a little more alive tonight.  But, I think Braley loses points when he tries (and has tried) to ask Ernst about “what did they say to you behind closed doors?”

    It comes off as personal and for whatever reason it flies flat in the scripted debates that we now have.

    Ernst is not a public speaker and it comes off that she cannot think on her feet.  He answer to the birth control-related line of questions was littered with mash ups of talking points, she would say things like “Of course I always support women’s access for to affordable birth control.”

    This (R) is glad that Braley’s name was checked on my ballot when I voted early.  

    • gives an *answer*

    • she is incredibly scripted

      All politicians use some talking points, but I have rarely seen a candidate speak in such a robotic way. As you say, Ernst cannot think on her feet. The contrast between her performance and Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the debates with Loebsack is striking.

  • Stepford candidate

    I just watched last night’s debate. Joni Ernst is the perfect “stepford” candidate: military, female, Sunday school teacher, blah, blah, blah. She’s the perfect vessel in which to pack a libertarian yoyo (your-on-your-own) agenda. Joni believes that the “government is the problem” and that things should only be handled by the State. If Joni and her puppet masters get their way, who is going to fund research and development in cases such as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic or virus like ebola start spreading? The Kochs?

    I wish the moderators would have addressed the model that Branstad and Ernst want to ban of abortion teleconferencing with doctors/nurses. This would have taken the debate out of hypothetical ideology and into real world situations that women deal with.

  • Bottom line

    After all is said and done, the question is can the candidate connect with voters? Clinton had ” it “, GWB did. BHO did in 08.

    Up til very recently Ernst has done a good job with that, Braley not so much. Voters are looking for something different and JE offers that. But with the last two debates, JE does look scripted and maybe people are starting to think she might not be what we thought she was. Problem is BB not giving voters much to warm up to. Also how many voters really pay attention to debates? Reminds me of Vilsack Lightfoot. In the closing days voters woke up and said ‘hold on, not THIS guy.’ (Also Lightfoot opposed totally nude dancing, but I digress.) I just hope Iowans are smart enough to know what they are getting if they elect Ernst. If they do, people get the govt they deserve.

    Same with Govs race – TO or better yet Janet Peterson or Pam Jochum would have given TB a much better run. People want a change there but that’s only half the equation. Dems needed to give them a candidate to vote FOR. And I offer that as someone who believes Jack would make a great Gov.

    • no one would have a chance

      without money. Who could have raised a few million to run against Branstad? Especially after the Democratic Governors Association left Iowa off their list?

      Agree that not many voters pay attention to debates. Which is too bad–I would love to show this video to every undecided Iowan.

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