It likely won’t remind observers of the historic Lincoln-Douglas debates.
When the first debate of the 2010 Iowa gubernatorial race unfolds Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City, political analysts doubt the event will feature great oratory by either Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad or Democratic Gov. Chet Culver. The event is sponsored by Lee Enterprises, parent company of the Sioux City Journal, and KCAU-TV.
Both Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, and Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University, say Culver and Branstad are underwhelming speakers when on the stump or in press conferences.
“They are not good orators. It will not be an elegant debate,” Schmidt said.
Said Goldford, “Neither one is a great speaker. Neither one is a Bill Clinton or an Obama or a Reagan. They are pretty much, as politicians go, average speakers.”
Goldford said the debate will be well-followed by political operatives in the state, but the general public may not be interested enough to tune in.
Those who do watch may not be attuned to some of the governmentese that may be slung around, Goldford said. Making sense of competing assertions and “dueling arithmetic” about the status of the state budget can be difficult, he added.
That doesn’t mean, however, there won’t be key moments to watch for.
Schmidt said he’ll be looking to see if one of the two commits a gaffe, like the halting performance a week ago by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer when debating.
“Are there any major glitches where somebody just really makes a major, major mistake or as the governor of Arizona did, suddently just freezes up and can’t think of anything to say. That will be very damaging to anybody who does that. If they both kind of do OK, I’m guessing the polls are not necessarily going to be moved a whole lot by the debates,” Schmidt said.
Goldford said people expect governors to be sound managers of state government, and a flourishing speaking ability isn’t necessarily an attribute for the job. But he said people expect their leaders to communicate ably and the best lawmakers can detail a “vision” for what they plan to pursue with public policy.
Schmidt said history has shown Iowa gubernatorial candidates have never been superb orators.
“I don’t think you have to be elegant,” Schmidt said. “The most important thing is to come across as knowledgeable, honest and competent. I think those are the three things that people are going to look for.”
BATTLE OF HEAVYWEIGHTS
Goldford said the debate will be interesting for the fact that two former governors with knowledge of state government will be answering questions on the stage.
“They are going to stand there like mutual incumbents,” Goldford said.
“Each one will go after the record of the other one. I think Culver will maybe make the point (Branstad) was a good governor — I don’t think he’ll go that far — in the 1980s and 90s, but we are in the 21st century. And Branstad will say state government, or at least the budget, is broken and we need to fix it.”
Goldford said he expects Branstad will want to stay in his comfort zone and not talk about social issues while focusing on the budget.
“Branstad people used to joke 20 years ago that he should be called Minister for Trade rather than governor, because that was his main focus,” Goldford said.
Both professors noted Culver is the underdog in the race. He has trailed in every poll when pitted with Branstad for about a year.
“I’m going to look and see if Culver can redeem himself and be the Comeback Kid of Iowa,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt advised Culver, who is considerably heavier than Branstad, to stay behind the podium and not step out.
“We know this, from a lot of research that has been done … the visuals are very important. We remember that from the Kennedy-Nixon debate,” Schmidt said. “A person who is substantially too heavy often looks less like a leader than a person who is a little more fit and trim. I think on the visuals that Branstad, just without anything that he is saying, will look better.”
PARTY CHAIRS EXPECT BIG CROWD
Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Somsky of Sioux City said he expects the debate will likely draw the biggest audience of the three debates, since the Sioux City event is first in the process.
Somsky said the debate is groundbreaking, for having two former governors. “You can’t look at it as two candidates, you’ve got two governors,” he said.
He said the two men will undoubtedly have to defend their political records, a point with which Woodbury County Republican Party City Co-chairman Jacob Bossman of Sioux City agreed.
Bossman said he expects well-prepared competitors.
“For both of them, they’ve done it before,” Bossman said. “I don’t think it is going to catch either of them off guard. I think neither will be nervous and I would anticipate that both are going to be extremely prepared and have their points that they want to get across.”
Name: Chet Culver
Residence: West Des Moines
Number of gubernatorial runs: Two
First became governor: Jan. 12, 2007
Name: Terry Branstad
Number of gubernatorial runs: Five
First became governor: Jan. 14, 1983
Iowa political science professors and political party officials gave their expectations on top issues they expect to hear discussed Tuesday during the Terry Branstad-Chet Culver debate in Sioux City.
* Economy/jobs/budget: Expect Branstad to attack Culver’s state spending and the I-JOBS program. Culver, meanwhile, will likely focus on Branstad’s mixed record as a fiscal conservative.
* Gay marriage: Culver will likely defend the Iowa Supreme Court ruling while Branstad has proposed changing the way the court is selected.
* Education: Culver is pushing for a 4 percent increase in education funding in the next budget cycle. Branstad will defend his plan to eliminate free, universal preschool.
* Disaster relief: Branstad has said Culver over promised and under delivered after devastating floods struck Iowa. Expect Culver to attack Branstad’s disaster relief record when he served as governor.
-By Bret Hayworth, firstname.lastname@example.org