DES MOINES (AP) — Republican Gov. Terry Branstad presented himself as an experienced workhorse while Democratic challenger Jack Hatch pledged to bring new ideas to state government during the first debate of the Iowa governor’s race Thursday.
The candidates sat before hay bales in an auditorium at the Iowa State Fair for the hour-long face-off, which was sponsored by the Iowa Public Television program “Iowa Press.” This was the first of three debates in the race.
Branstad, 67, is running for an unprecedented sixth non-consecutive term. He focused heavily on his record over the past four years, touting a property tax cut, new education spending and job creation efforts. He unveiled one new proposal, an expanded plan to improve broadband internet access in rural Iowa and stressed that he was ready to serve another four years.
“I’m a lifelong Iowan. I grew up on a farm. I love this state ... I have the energy and the enthusiasm to serve this state,” Branstad said, responding to a question about whether he might step down midway through another term for health reasons or to benefit his lieutenant governor. “I’m committed to serve the entire term.”
Hatch, 64, a longtime state lawmaker, sought to criticize Branstad’s administration over a recent revelation that some former state workers were given confidential settlement payments. He also promised to cut taxes for the middle class, raise the minimum wage and increase the state gas tax to fund infrastructure spending.
“There needs to be new leadership and there needs to be a fresh start in education and job development and taking care of rural Iowa,” Hatch said.
Branstad said he wanted to come up with a plan for repairing crumbling bridges and roads that didn’t include raising the gas tax, which he said would hurt poor Iowans. Branstad also spoke about his efforts to maintain the amount of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply, given Iowa’s role as the nation’s leading producer of ethanol, a fuel additive primarily made from corn.
Hatch questioned tax cuts the state gave to a fertilizer plant that located in southeast Iowa, asking “why are we giving these kinds of incentives to corporations, instead of looking where job growth really is, it’s in the small towns, it’s in the small businesses.”
Branstad argued that the deal created jobs for state residents. He also attacked the fiscal policies of the previous Democratic governor, seeking to tie Hatch to a leader that he said didn’t balance the books.
Branstad is the presumptive favorite in the race. He had about $4 million in his campaign account at the end of the latest reporting period in mid-July. In comparison, Hatch only had $183,000 in cash at the end of the latest reporting period, which will make it hard for him to get his message out. He has also loaned personal funds to his campaign.