Democrats saw their only debate for the 3rd Congressional District last night in Des Moines, with Cindy Axne, Pete D’Alessandro and Eddie Mauro using what time they had to distinguish themselves before the vote on Tuesday. There was very little back-and-forth between the candidates, but it was still much more engaging than your typical forum. The moderators pressed the Democrats on key differences they have between each other, and asked tough questions on the feasibility of some of their ideas.
You can watch the whole thing here if you missed it. Here is Starting Line’s seven takeaways from the debate held in Des Moines at the State Historical Society Building.
1. Spoken like a true believer. D’Alessandro came off as the most engaging person on stage, in large part thanks to his very clear-cut answers on his policy beliefs that fall on the left of the party. He proposed breaking “ICE up into a million pieces,” passing a $15/hour minimum wage and implementing a Medicare-for-all system, all of which required none of the sound-good, vague language that many others use. “I think if we are using terms of ‘affordable,’ we are having the wrong conversation,” he said on healthcare. Most notably on his Medicare-for-all plan, he admitted it would require raising some taxes, but encouraged listeners to do the math. They’d be saving several thousands of dollars per year in healthcare costs for just a 2.2% increase in taxes, which would easily be a net gain. It was an effective way to confront the political drawbacks of the plan by treating the voters like adults (though that doesn’t always work out).
Other candidates should take a look at how D’Alessandro presented his views. You don’t even have to be running on a Bernie Sanders-like platform to sound forceful and authentic, though. You could be a raging moderate, so long as you really believed that a more middle-of-the-road position was what would work best, and not just what you’re using to avoid offending swing voters.
2. Spoken like a true believer (in Christ). Mauro has been notable on the campaign trail for his comfortable usage of his Catholic faith to explain some of his Democratic political views. You don’t see it from many Democrats, which is a missed opportunity. “We’re living under a morality of selfish money,” Mauro warned at several points, contrasting it with his beliefs. “We are doing what Christ is asking us to do,” he said of treating immigrants with respect. It never hurts to remind voters that there’s a lot of Christians in politics driven by the religion’s views on compassion and love instead of anti-gay nonsense. Some Democrats might wince when he talks about “our Christian brothers and sisters,” feeling it’s not inclusive, though I think you get where he’s coming from.
3. Money matters. One of Axne’s best parts in the debate came when talking about the influence of money in politics. Some activists have viewed her campaign as another DCCC-like operation that keeps the candidate in the call room forever. But Axne was refreshingly honest on the matter, lamenting that “it’s a heck of a lot of time to raise money” in the campaign, adding that she’s worked extremely long hours to both bring in the money needed and still travel the district. Then she laid out several ideas to ease the burden of fundraising on members of Congress so they can spend more time on constituent outreach, including caps on how much could be spent on TV. Meanwhile, D’Alessandro criticized two mailers sent out in the race recently. He didn’t specify it in the debate, but he was referring to two pieces in support of Mauro that came from a mysterious organization that just popped up.
4. The progressive vote. Part of D’Alessandro’s problem in this race is that Mauro is working to grab the progressive label as well. Mauro called his earned income tax plan the “bolder, better and more progressive plan.” D’Alessandro thinks that’s bunk and said so briefly in the debate, but Mauro’s stance on it wasn’t challenged too much. It’s been a fascinating contrast throughout the race. Mauro actually has been plenty involved in many progressive efforts, but it’s been more on the community-based, local issue side of things in the Des Moines area. That earned Mauro the backing of some left-leaning leaders like Ed Fallon. D’Alessandro has been more involved on the political and campaign side of the progressive movement, and Bernie Sanders’ endorsement obviously has helped a lot. But unless you’re deeply involved in either movement, two candidates calling themselves the “progressive” choice may just split some of that vote.
5. Agreement on climate. Republicans have enjoyed mocking Democrats who answer climate change to the question of what’s the biggest national security threat. None of the three Democrats minded, though, putting that as their choice above things like terrorism or Russia or North Korea. It’s probably the correct answer, though also a cerebral one that the average voter who hasn’t studied the effects of droughts on Syrian migration may not appreciate. And when they’re running their general election campaign, any Democrat would probably do an ad about fighting terrorism before overseas climate change impacts, but it’s still nice to see them say it in the debate.
6. Nancy who? The field got asked the question they’d all prefer to just avoid: will you vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker? Radioactive with the broader electorate, Pelosi is still well-liked in many Democratic circles and holds immense power within the House Democratic caucus. So, everyone hedged. Mauro and Axne were essentially “maybe”s on Pelosi. D’Alessandro noted that she was a very effective speaker, but that he’d vote for his friend Tim Ryan if he ends up running again (not a likely scenario – Ryan told Starting Line last month he won’t run for leadership). And that all matches reality. Many Democrats running for Congress probably wouldn’t mind some fresh blood in leadership and they don’t want to commit to Pelosi in order to avoid the clip getting used in ads, but they all know they’re going to have to vote for her at the end of the day.
7. Sneaky skeletons. KCCI and the Register reused a couple questions they asked the gubernatorial candidates the night previous, giving this group of Democrats a better chance to prepare. When the question about whether any of them had potential skeletons in their closet that would come out in the general election, each was ready. D’Alessandro admitted people could question his judgement from having passed on working on Barack Obama’s Illinois campaigns before the presidential run. Mauro just said “no,” then talked about how he implemented good sexual harassment policies at his work (referencing the Nate Boulton situation). Axne had a funny response, saying that after doing self-research, “the only thing I’ve learned is I’m a lot less exciting than I thought I was.” She also noted that her campaign thoroughly vetted her husband as well. That must be a fun thing to ask of your spouse.
by Pat Rynard