US Senate debate: Harkin v Reed

The two 2008 major party candidates for Iowa's US Senate seat — Democrat incumbent Tom Harkin and Republican challenger Christopher Reed — are going to be on your TV screen tonight at 7 p.m., if you have it tuned to IPTV.  They taped a "conversation" with David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register this afternoon at IPTV studios. (UPDATE:  scroll to the end — Reed accused Harkin of being anti-American and a traitor to his country.)  

After a taped introduction featuring music that was "regal" according to one wag, the first question: "Senator Harkin…why should voters give you another term?"

Harkin began with a thank you to DMR, IPTV and to Iowans.  "During these very tough, turbulent times what we need in the senate is a steady, effective hand," Harkin said, before recounting his roots in the town of Cumming through the celebration of his 40th wedding anniversary.  "We're kind of your neighbors here in Iowa.".

Yepsen, to Reed, "Mr. Reed, why should you replace Senator Harkin."

"I want to go to Washington because I believe Washington is broken," Reed began, quickly referencing the fact Harkin is seeking a fifth term.  "I was playing with Tonka trucks when he was a rookie," Reed said, referencing Harkin's start in congress in 1974.

Yepsen redirected to Harkin, asking for his reaction to what Reed said.  Harkin said he agreed with some of the things Reed said, then moved to talking about health care.  Yepsen interrupted: "Haven't you had your turn?  34 years."

"The fact is I have fought for change all my life," Harkin said.

"He went to Washington as a man of average means," Reed interjecting, adding that Harkin & his wife – in his opinion – are a wealthy now.  "…He just tried to tie me to Bush/Cheney.  I am not tied to their campaign."

Yepsen tossed the ball back into Harkin's court. "These kind of personal attacks and stuff, that doesn't solve anything.  That doesn't help anybody get a job," Harkin said, talking for a few minutes and winding up in a discussion of renewable energy and biofuels.

Yepsen:  "Isn't Senator Harkin's seniority worth something to Iowa?"

Reed:  "First all, any senator's going to take care of their state….These Harkin grants, it's not him and Ruth writing a check to the state. It's the people's money."

Harkin then expounds on the "Harkin grants" to schools, saying he's proud of them.

Yepsen brings up the subject of "toning down" the partisan bickering in DC.  Both take a swat at the subject.

About 15 minutes into the program, Reed brings up a bill Harkin co-sponsored on derivatives.

"I think that shows poor leadership," Reed said.

"I guess I'm going to be fending off attacks over the next 45 minutes," Harkin said.

"It's not an attack when it's the truth," Reed said.

About half an hour in the two debated regulation of the marketplace for several minutes before talking about flood relief, energy policy — including removing the tariff on importing sugar-cane-based ethanol, and Iraq.  Yepsen pointed out that Harkin voted to give Bush authority to go to war in Iraq. 

"One of the worst votes I ever cast," Harkin said, "…because I was lied to (by Bush Administration)."

Reed criticized the idea of putting out a "timetable" for US withdrawal from Iraq, then charged that Harkin was a "Tokyo Rose."

"We need somebody who believes in the United States of America," Reed said.  "…Don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

Yepsen asked when Reed meant by the term "Tokyo Rose."

"Providing aid and comfort to the enemy," Reed said.  

Yepsen asked if Reed was accusing Harkin of treason?

"I'm accusing him of giving our enemies the playbook," Reed said, adding that – in regards to the treason question: "I believe that some of his positions and speeches were." 

Yepsen asked Harkin for a response: "Well, it's hard to know where to begin.  I'm very proud of my military service and I am dismayed by torture….I think we have to be better than that.  I think what the Bush Administration…what they did has given us an image around the world that we shouldn't have, that we're going to engage in the same kind of torture our enemies are….So, yes, mark me down as someone who is going to do everything he possibly can…to make sure that no one in our military….can engage in things like waterboarding and torture," Harkin said, adding later: "These kinds of personal attacks of what people get sick of….This ankle-biting personal attacks.  This is nonsense."

Yepsen bounced the ball back to Reed, asking him if it was "over the top" to accuse Harkin of treason.  "For 34 years we've seen the exploits of Senator Harkin," Reed said, adding later than Harkin had sided with "enemies" of the U.S.

"I have never derided any person who puts on our uniform," Harkin began.  Reed interjected: "YouTube, ACLU speech."

"That's never happened," Harkin said. 

"Let's move on to another subject: immigration," Yepsen said.

UPDATE:  Harkin issued a statement, calling Reed's attack "vile."

UPDATE:  at 10 a.m. on Friday Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach issued a statement, via the Obama campaign.


Spencer –   Speaking in Spencer, former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach called the comments made by Christopher Reed, the Republican Senate candidate, about Tom Harkin, “the lowest in modern-day Iowa politics.”

"To describe Tom Harkin as ‘the Tokyo rose of Al Qaida,’ is to impugn the patriotism of a distinguished Iowa citizen who happens to be a Senator,” Leach said.

“Negativity dispirits society,” he added.  “When it is aimed at a Vietnam-era veteran like Tom Harkin, is particularly preposterous,” Leach noted .

“The temper and the integrity of campaigns are more important to the cohesiveness of society than the outcome of any election,” Leach noted.

“For years, I have told students that unrelated to party or philosophy, they should judge candidates on whether they accentuate the positive or for political gain, attempt to tear down the social fabric that binds America together.

“There are honest issues in American politics.  Let’s not confuse them with demagoguery that undercuts mutual respect.

“How the game of politics is played matters,” Leach concluded.

UPDATE:  at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, a group of Republicans issued this news release:

Republican Leadership Calls For Unity Around Christopher Reed

In last night’s United States Senate debate Republican candidate Christopher Reed described Democrat incumbent Tom Harkin as “Al Qaeda’s Tokyo Rose”.

Harkin’s only response in the debate was to say Iowan’s didn’t want negative campaigning.  After the debate was taped but before it aired Harkin blasted a mass email in which he described Reed as “vile”.

Newly elected Republican National Committee members Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman together with Polk County Chairman Ted Sporer are not going to let Harkin get the last word this time.

“This is vintage Harkin” said Scheffler.  “I’ve been in politics for over two decades in Iowa.  Whenever Sen. Harkin’s radical record catches up with him he buries the facts with a blizzard of denials and personal attacks.  Well, this time we’re not going to just drop the subject” Scheffler concluded.

"You’ll notice that Sen. Harkin did not deny the facts behind the accusation” Sporer observed.   “Sen. Harkin began his political career by lying about American atrocities in Vietnam, supporting anti-American regimes in Central America and Cuba and is now regularly providing our terrorist enemies in Al Qaeda and Iran with propaganda to use against the United States.  We challenge Sen. Harkin to defend his history of anti-American rhetoric” Sporer added.

Lehman hoped that Harkin’s blatant hypocrisy would not be lost on the media.  “I find it remarkable that a man who called our Vice President a coward and endorsed Hugo Chavez calling our President the Devil would complain about negative campaigning.  While Sen. Harkin has struggled with the truth he has always been quite well versed in the art of personal attack” Lehman finished.

All three Republican leaders are issuing a call to action by Iowa Republicans.  Republicans cannot allow Sen. Harkin to bully Christopher Reed and other critics into silence.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.