Five Takeaways From Democrats’ Final Gubernatorial Debate

The Democratic candidates for governor gathered in Des Moines last night for their final debate, though this time there were only five people present following Nate Boulton’s withdrawal. It was not the most exciting debate we’ve seen in Iowa politics, nor did it drastically change the dynamics of the race, but there was still some interesting moments.

Here’s five quick takeaways from the evening:

1. No one tried to shake up the race. By all intents and purposes, Fred Hubbell is leading the primary with just a couple days to go. In the second debate, multiple candidates aimed their fire at Hubbell to try to trip him up on a number of fronts. The only thing that happened in this outing is that Norris cautioned him to not sound like he was against the GOP tax cuts before he was for it, echoing a line once used against Norris’ own John Kerry. It was a legitimate point, but Hubbell parried it fine, simply explaining that while he would have vetoed the bill, now Iowa has it and has to deal with it. And to him that means perhaps not repealing every single section of it. Hubbell left the stage last night in the same way he entered it: in first place.

2. Practice makes perfect… or at least better. This debate was a good example of how primaries can better prepare the eventual nominee for the general election. Everyone was a little more polished, including Hubbell. He had some strong moments in the second debate, but he also had some rather weak and awkward ones too. This evening, Hubbell seemed much more comfortable and had better responses to tricky questions. When pressed on whether voters will see him as too rich or out of touch, he replied simply, “I think Iowans care about if you care about them.” He’ll still face concerns over that in the general election, but he’s getting much better at handling it.

3. The limited impact of late debates. One has to wonder where Norris might be in this race had we held any heavily-publicized debates earlier in the campaign. His performances at each have been very compelling, which should help him pick up some late deciders. But much of the cake is already baked in at this point, with key activists, elected officials and donors making their choice months previous. Late debates can reshape the race if someone screws up, but early ones can better benefit candidates who perform well on stage.

4. What else could have been. Andy McGuire had a couple funny moments in this debate and her healthcare background and knowledge continue to serve her well. Her initial TV ad was well done. But she still hasn’t gone anywhere in the polling and you don’t see many people in Democratic social media circles moving her way after Boulton’s exit (of course, the electorate is much broader than that). We’ll see what she ends up with on Election Day, but it’s interesting to consider how she’d be faring were she not the IDP chair in one of the worst electoral years ever for Democrats. That kept many activists and donors from considering her in the first place. Had she entered the race simply as a healthcare expert, business executive and woman in a year where Democrats are eager to elect them, this primary may have been much different.

5. Marijuana differences. One of the few interesting policy differences of the evening came on marijuana laws, which the Des Moines Register did up a whole story on. With the retirement of some Republican lawmakers who were staunch opponents to any progress on marijuana, this might actually be a policy that sees some real movement, especially if there’s a Democratic governor. Everyone agreed on medical marijuana expansion. Glasson took the further-left stance, saying it should be legalized for recreational use. Hubbell said he wanted to wait and see how other states’ decriminalization laws went before considering reducing penalties for it. Ross Wilburn wanted to see how recreational legalization proceeded in Colorado and Oregon before committing to backing it.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 5/31/18

11 Comments on "Five Takeaways From Democrats’ Final Gubernatorial Debate"

  • How anyone can be against or unsure about legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2018 is beyond me. This state has a major cash problem. It’s a no brainer: Legalize it and use that tax revenue.

  • Hubbell seemed to not understand the difference between decriminalizing and legalizing, which is concerning. And we know the effects of decriminalization are–we stop jailing people (with non-whites being disproportionately affected compared to whites) for possession of a mostly harmless plant.

    • Hubbell lives in a world of his own. He is detached and not in touch with the average worker-voter. He is not the best candidate.

  • Every Democrat planning to vote in this primary could find a candidate they really liked on that debate stage last night. Strong field. That said, while there were no knock downs, on my +/- score card John Norris clearly took the evening on points. He seemed to talk to voters right through the camera–emphatically committed on issues but tolerant in listening to other points of view. One of his best points was rightly declaring that his experience in D.C. working for U.S. Sec. of Ag Tom Vilsack would be a major asset he’d bring to the Iowa Governor’s Office. Whoever wins this primary should look to this field of candidates when putting together a campaign team for this fall’s general election and beyond.

  • John Norris has the most relevant experience of any candidate in the race. He is also the only candidate who can relate authentically to rural and small town voters. He is a fine person and would be a great governor.

  • I am one of many, after last night’s debate, who felt Cathy Glasson was the strongest, by far…Earnest, up-front, relatable, knowledgeable. Many of her solutions were fresh, not the same old tired usual middle-of-the-road. How refreshing.

  • I thought John Norris was spectacular and that he should be our next Governor. He does his homework. An example of that was how he responded to the story from US News and World Report ranking Iowa as the #1 state in the nation. He took each data point used in the report and explained how it was outdated, given what the Republicans have done in recent Legislative sessions. That kind of detail is important in the Governor’s job and John understands that well. He was Vilsack’s chief of staff and instrumental in turning Iowa around then. I hope he’s our next Governor -I know he could get this state back on track.

  • Norris and Glasson would be a very nice Gov./Lt.Gov team. I know, probably not likely but since this crop of Dem candidates hasn’t spent time ripping each other to shreds, there might be some coalition building potential here. I’m thinking any of these folks are better than Reynolds so…have at it Dems but leave each other alone enough for the rest of us to heartily support the winner.

  • While I liked them all, Norris decisiveness, command of the facts, and experience showed. It seemed he was the one who understood the US News and World Report, the only one who called out Kim Reynolds for Steve King, and was able to take what the moderators thought was his weakness, (living in DC Etc.) and turn it into a positive. He can easily take her on this fall.

  • My takeaway from the rather timid debate is everyone is positioning themselves to be Hubbell’s running mate – Lt Gov on the ticket. If Gov. Reynolds is vulnerable it will never be more obvious than on her first statewide race without Terry on the ticket. Iowans have a tendency to re-elect our governors, Culver was the exception and he never inherited his daddy’s campaigning skills. Is nominating a “1%”, a rich white male the best choice???

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