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Braley, Ernst Debate Dark Money

Ernst and Braley campaign Facebook pages.

The topic of out-of-state money flooding Iowa's airwaves featured heavily in Saturday's U.S. Senate debate.

Morning Edition host Clay Masters and reporter Sarah Boden discuss the performance of candidates Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst.


CM: It’s Morning Edition on Iowa Public Radio. Good Morning, I’m Clay Masters. Over the weekend the major party candidates for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat met in Davenport for their second debate. Iowa Public Radio’s Sarah Boden covered the debate between Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley. She’s with me this morning. Good Morning, Sarah.

SB: Hey, Clay.

CM: Now the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll came out just moments before Saturday’s debate. It shows Ernst and Braley pretty much back to neck-and-neck status. Ernst is now just is one point ahead of Braley. Sarah, what was the biggest issue of the night?

SB: Outside spending, or “dark money,” is an issue on many Iowa voters’ minds this election. It seems Ernst and Braley got the message, because the topic dominated Saturday’s debate.  Anyone who owns a TV has almost certainly seen commercials from organizations like the Koch Brother’s American Crossroads or from environmentalist Tom Steyer’sNextGen Climate. 

CM: So, how did Ernst and Braley address these concerns?  

SB: Each attempted to play up their opponent’s affiliation to these out-of-state entities. Here’s Braley:

         Braley: The truth is you attended two secret donor meetings in California that were host by the Koch          Brothers.  You called them wonderful at that meeting. You credit them with launched your Senate                campaign. And these are the same Koch brothers who have seven different organizations attacking            me right now in Iowa. 

SB: And now Ernst.

         Ernst: There are probably reforms that could be made, but again I am being outspent by $2 million            dollars by these very organizations that are supporting Congressman Braley. So here he is calling for reform, and yet we’re being tremendously out spent on the airwaves.  

CM: Many political analysts have dubbed this midterm election the "Seinfeld Election," in that’s an election about nothing. But there were a lot of topics that two differed on in the debate, including gun control.

SB: With gun control, Braley wants mandatory background checks for anyone purchasing a gun, so as to screen out criminals or individuals with mental health issues.  He said the Bill of Rights aims to preserve the balance of individual liberty and the public good, and seemed to imply that currently there is a lack of balance.

Ernst wants to enforce gun control laws already in place, while also strengthening mental health care throughout the county. She said improving the country’s mental health system would address gun safety and violence concerns. The state senator cited the recent reforms of Iowa’s mental health system, which she claims have made services more readily available.  

CM: OK, on to another topic that came up. That is, when should ground troops be committed to fight the group that identified itself as the Islamic State?

SB: Both candidates agreed that ground troops should be committed during a conflict, only if there was a clearly defined mission that prevented a threat to national safety, and also, if veterans and their families would be cared for after the fact.

While on this topic Ernst, a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Braley voted to defund combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Braley said Ernst was mischaracterizing his vote, which he says, was based on the fact that the mission for Iraqi combat troops wasn’t clearly defined.  

CM: OK, were there any real memorable moments in this debate?

SB: The moderator had to admonish the audience several times to not clap, since outbursts took away time from the candidates answering questions.

Ernst got one of the biggest applauses of the evening when she brought up a comment Braley made about Sen. Grassley not being an appropriate chair for the Senate Judiciary Committee because he was quote, “just a farmer from Iowa.”  

           Ernst: Now I think it’s very important to have farmers in the United States Senate. When you talk              about your words, behind closed doors at a fundraiser in Texas, you poked fun at Sen. Grassley                  for being just a farmer without a law degree. (*Clapping*)

CM: Now Braley got a big laugh at one point during the debate as well.

SB: Yeah, here he is addressing a commercial attempting to link him with gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg.

         Braley: “The answer is I’ve never even met Michael Bloomberg, Ron. (*Laughing*) Um, I have no                idea what these ads are based upon.”

CM: Ok, Iowa Public Radio’s Sarah Boden. Thanks so much.

SB: Thanks, Clay.