SPENCER, Iowa — It was tough to tell which group was more polarized here Saturday: Hawkeyes and Cyclones, or Republicans and Democrats.
More than 600 football fans and northwest Iowa voters alike flocked to the events center at the Clay County Fair to watch a debate between Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King and his Democratic opponent Christie Vilsack.
The debate started late — about 15 minutes after the Iowa-Iowa State football game ended. The game was shown on a big-screen TV inside the events center.
It was the candidates' first debate of the campaign. They were scheduled to debate later this month in Ames, but those plans were scrapped due to a disagreement between the King campaign and event sponsors over the format.
The candidates sparred on health care, immigration and bipartisanship in Congress at what is dubbed the “world's greatest county fair.”
Vilsack, wife of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Iowa's former first lady, went after King.
She questioned his record and accused him of caring more about making provocative national television appearances to further his ambition than about issues that matter to Iowans, such as passing a farm bill.
She wondered if King was “capable” of working across party lines to get things done for Iowa.
“What has he done?” she said. “We need people who are leaders in Washington.''
King, seeking a sixth term, defended his record and said he is working on the farm bill.
He blamed polarization between the GOP and Democrats on President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He said he and his staff are willing to work with anyone to help Iowans get what they need from Congress.
“Everybody in my shop has a green light and a long leash to help everybody as much as they can,” he said.
King, who lives in Crawford County, is seeking support from new voters in the eastern part of northwest Iowa's redrawn 4th Congressional District, which now stretches from Sioux City to Ames.
Vilsack moved from Mount Pleasant to Ames to run, and she has been focusing on independent voters and women.
The candidates agreed that financial worries over Social Security can best be addressed through job creation.
“The more jobs we create, the more wages we create and (protect) Social Security,” Vilsack said.
King said Congress was looking at several options to address Social Security, such as capping benefits, raising the retirement age or changing the cost of living adjustment.
“We should look at all of the options that are out there,” he said. “Some of them make me uncomfortable.”
While it was unclear which candidate won the debate, one thing was certain: the Cyclones beat the Hawkeyes, 9-6.
Neither candidate mentioned which team they had been rooting for.
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