CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Democratic Gov. Chet Culver sharply criticized his Republican challenger Thursday, saying Terry Branstad has repeatedly lied about his record, while Branstad retorted that Culver has put Iowa deeply in debt with all of his spending.
The two tangled in a spirited debate, with Culver lobbing a series of charges, many focused on Branstad's propensity for raising taxes when he was governor. Polls show Culver badly trailing Branstad, a four-term governor who served from 1983 to 1999.
"Terry Branstad raised taxes on hardworking Iowans 60 different times," Culver said. "He's broken his promise time after time when it comes to taxes. He raised the gas tax 13 cents, he raised property taxes all over this state."
Branstad shot back that the state's fragile economy speaks for itself.
"There are 114,000 people out of work in this state," said Branstad. "The fact is his policies have been failure. His plan is this big debt plan."
It was the second debate for Culver and Branstad, and it was far livelier than the first. The two argued before about 1,100 people at Coe College, with neither candidate committing a campaign-altering gaffe or lodging new charges.
Branstad said the central theme of his campaign is a pledge to create 200,000 new jobs, a claim Culver dismissed.
"Terry Branstad has been a serial promise-maker and a habitual promise-breaker when it comes to jobs," Culver said.
He noted that unemployment was higher during Branstad's tenure than it is now. "When he was governor, it was at 8.3 percent, the highest in state's history," Culver said.
Branstad argued that Culver went on an enormous spending spree during a recession, running up more than $800 million in debt for flood recovery and infrastructure repair under a state economic stimulus program pushed by Culver. The state used bonds to raise money for the program.
"Watching Governor Culver budgeting, you almost get whiplash," said Branstad. "He passed the biggest budget in state history."
Culver said he has proven he can govern and can balance the budget. "Terry Branstad, on the other hand, cooked the books for 10 years," he said.
Culver said he used tough spending cuts to close budget gaps, while Branstad used big tax increase.
"I believe in taking good care of the taxpayers dollars, and in my second term we will continue to get the job done," said Culver. "When Terry Branstad was governor they had budget gaps for years and years, and the key is how you close the gap."
Branstad said Culver cut state spending across the board by 10 percent, which the Republican said was a broad approach that doesn't set priorities.
The two also split over Culver's plan to expand state-paid preschool to almost all Iowa youngsters — a $90 million effort Culver said is crucial to children's development.
Culver said Branstad would instead use the money for corporate tax breaks.
"He's putting corporations above children," Culver said. "We have the resources to do both. That's what he's not being honest about."
Branstad said he favored preschool programs but doesn't want to make them free for everyone.
"We only have a limited amount of resources," he countered.
They also disagreed on whether voters should be able to vote on amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court last year struck down a state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
"It has not had an effect on the state of Iowa other than allowing people to make their own decision," Culver said. "We should not write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution."
Branstad said, "I believe the people have a right to vote on an issue of this magnitude."
The debate was sponsored by KCRG-TV and the Cedar Rapids Gazette and was broadcast statewide. The final debate later this month will be in Des Moines.
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