Five Takeaways From Democrats’ Final Gubernatorial Debate

By Pat Rynard
May 31, 2018

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

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.



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