Abby Finkenauer and Ashley Hinson faced off with each other last night at the first major Iowa congressional debate of the general election, held on Iowa PBS. The one-hour affair featured sharp, concise answers from both candidates, a refreshing departure from debates where every candidate runs well over their allotted time every chance they get. There was the occasional sparring and accusations between the two, but those few moments stuck to policy, and the moderators covered a lot of topics in limited space.
What the debate also featured was something Hinson’s campaign may not have been ready for: a sharp, measured and informed performance from Finkenauer that was passionate when it needed to be.
It’s notable for many reasons, but in particular for an underappreciated undercurrent in the 1st District race – Hinson and her team absolutely despise Finkenauer.
Ever since Finkenauer arrived in the Iowa House at the age of 26, a group of mostly male Republican staffers and consultants in the state have hated her and the early success she’s achieved. They’ve convinced themselves she’s unqualified, too ambitious and not smart enough for the job.
And Hinson has surrounded herself with advisers from that same group of Republican operatives for her candidacy, producing an extra, nasty edge to the tone of the campaign matching the hate.
So, it may have come as an unpleasant surprise for Hinson and her team when the Finkenauer that showed up to last night’s debate didn’t match the version they have in their heads.
“You voted with your party in Des Moines nearly 100%,” Finkenauer charged Hinson during an exchange on worker rights. “Some of those votes were to gut collective bargaining in our state that went after our teachers, our corrections officers, our bus drivers, folks who are working their tails off, trying to provide for their family. You went out of your way to make their lives harder.”
This was an expected topic for a Labor Day debate in a working-class district. Hinson replied that the 2017 bill was a “great bill to protect Iowa taxpayers” and that many of her votes were on bipartisan topics.
Asked by moderator David Yepsen “what would you say” to that, Finkenauer pressed on.
“I would say now let’s do worker’s compensation, where you voted to make it harder for folks who are working 40 hours a week … who get hurt on the job to get the fair compensation they deserve,” she said. “That too was one of the bills I saw quite personally to me as my dad, again, was one of the Building Trades members whose body got wrecked over the years.”
Finkenauer also got in some shots on the minimum wage.
“You cannot raise a family on $7.25 an hour … Rep. Hinson, you actually took away a wage increase for your own constituents,” Finkenauer said. “Linn County voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and then in the Statehouse, you voted to undermine that, to say you couldn’t do it.”
Hinson responded that Finkenauer’s support for $15 an hour was far too high, and cited businesses that told her they employ people with disabilities but couldn’t with a higher minimum wage. It’s a way that Republicans frame it where they think they’re being compassionate, but fail to realize they’re also implying that people with disabilities should only get hired if businesses are allowed to pay them low wages.
Hinson had a couple of lines of attack ready, though some were simply to clarify Finkenauer’s stance on what Republicans think is a winning issue. Finkenauer disappointed them on their framing of defunding the police.
“No, I do not support defunding the police. In fact, I think right now we need to make sure there’s enough funds there to have proper training,” Finkenauer said.
Then, instead of turning it into a contentious issue, Finkenauer turned and thanked Hinson for voting for the policing reform bill that quickly passed through the Iowa Statehouse after George Floyd’s murder.
When pressed on “sanctuary cities,” Finkenauer responded that there weren’t any in Iowa, and that she spoke with sheriffs who warned that passing bans on it would only frighten local residents.
Hinson also tried to frame Finkenauer’s stance on women’s reproductive rights as an “extreme position.” Finkenauer had a simple and to-the-point response.
“I support Roe v. Wade as it currently stands,” she said. “And I also know and believe that women’s health care is complicated. It is not black and white. And at the end of the day, legislators do not belong in the doctor’s offices of pregnant women.”
There weren’t any major new developments in the debate, nor did either candidate make any damaging mistake. Both dodged a few questions. Hinson did have one odd proposal — that instead of passing a paid leave act, Congress should allow people to borrow from their 401ks to pay for maternity leave. One wonders who Hinson talks with each day that have large 401ks when they’re pregnant in their 20s.
Defeating an incumbent is never easy, and a challenger needs a few wins or lucky breaks throughout the campaign.
Hinson didn’t get one last night.
You can watch the full debate here.
by Pat Rynard
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