Democrat Christie Vilsack is meeting U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, in debates as they campaign for Iowa’s 4th District U.S. House seat.
Democrat Christie Vilsack is meeting U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, in debates as they campaign for Iowa’s 4th District U.S. House seat.
Friday, September 7, 2012

Democratic congressional candidate Christie Vilsack, who has talked of her fondness for hunting, came loaded for political bear Thursday night in the first 4th District debate on WHO Radio.

Early in the hour-long session, Vilsack challenged the character of U.S. Rep. Steve King. R-Kiron.

“Frankly, he’s been a bully and he’s been an embarrassment,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said King has given western Iowa a black eye by repeated animal references where immigrants are concerned.

At a May event in Pocahontas King talked of immigrants as being like dogs in a litter.

“You want a good bird dog? You want one that’s going to be aggressive? Pick the one that’s the friskiest, the one that’s engaged the most and not the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner,” King said in Pocahontas.

In the debate, King said his opponents have distorted the words, that the remarks were meant as a “compliment” to the best and brightest immigrants who have come to the United States from other nations — which King has referred to as “donor civilizations” for America.

King said he sees his role as defending the free market and the American way of life itself.

“The pillars of American exceptionalism are under assault from the hard-core left,” King said.

He added that the end game of modern American liberalism is nothing short of the “nationalization of our economy.”

King said Iowa agriculture is far better off today than it was 10 years ago when he was first elected to Congress in western Iowa’s 5th District. But he said the lion’s share of the responsibility for that rests with innovators, the private sector.

“I’m not here to take the credit for it,” King said.

The debate, King’s first one in a general election since 2002, revealed clear differences in the way the two candidates see the role of a member of a Congress, the job description itself.

Vilsack, who says she views the position as “very local,” challenged King’s visibility, charging that he’s using the elected platform to behave as a publicity hound.

“He’s on television a lot, and he talks a lot,” Vilsack said.

King said his responsibility isn’t just to represent Iowans but Americans, and that he seeks national media outlets, and gets involved in politics in other states, to promote an agenda he thinks benefits Iowa.

“It’s about moving the Iowa agenda in the
nation,” King said.

For example, King said he is one of the leading opponents nationally of the Affordable Care Act, health care often referred to by Republicans as Obamacare.

The reform, which includes a health-insurance mandate, will create more waiting for services and reduce research and development, King said.

King said it makes more sense to scrap the bill and work toward, for example, allowing Americans to purchase health-insurance plans across state lines.

“That will do the most to cut down on the costs,” King said.

Vilsack said Iowans are telling her they want civility and compromise, an end to the continuous campaigning and talking-points politics. She said the 4th District race is as much about temperament as it is policy issues and party loyalty.

“I don’t think Steve King is capable of getting into a room and compromising with people,” Vilsack said.

King and Vilsack did agree on one major issue. Both supported development of the Keystone XL Pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Canada to the American Gulf.

President Barack Obama blocked TransCanada’s application to cross the border based on environmental concerns, most notably those coming from Nebraskans.

King and Vilsack have cited the job-creation potential as a reason to move forward with the pipeline — which has split Vilsack’s party over labor and environmental interests.

The two candidates are scheduled to debate again Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Spencer at the Clay County Fair.