U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, and Democrat Christie Vilsack of Ames took 15 questions during a one-hour debate on the campus of Morningside College in Sioux City Tuesday night.<span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em> Daily Times Herald photos by Douglas Burns</em></span>
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, and Democrat Christie Vilsack of Ames took 15 questions during a one-hour debate on the campus of Morningside College in Sioux City Tuesday night. Daily Times Herald photos by Douglas Burns
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

SIOUX CITY — Moderators in Sioux City Tuesday night launched a 4th District congressional debate with a direct challenge to Democratic candidate Christie Vilsack. Is she truly a rooted a representative of the sweeping 39-county territory or a political carpetbagger who moved to Ames for the sole purpose of seeking office?

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, offered what one northwest Iowa political science professor termed a “more radical” approach to Medicare reform than the voucher program proposed by GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

King and Vilsack debated for an hour at Morningside College in a session sponsored by The Sioux City Journal, KCAU-TV in Sioux City and WOI-TV in Des Moines. With the Des Moines-Sioux City broadcast collaboration, the debate, the fifth of an expected seven and possibly eight, had among the most television audience reach. An estimated crowd of about 600 people attended the event

Vilsack, a native of Mount Pleasant, moved to Ames in August 2011 with her husband, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“This district is like home to me because every small town is very similar,” Christie Vilsack said. “It’s an agricultural district and I wanted to make my home in this district.”

Vilsack, who served as First Lady of Iowa from 1999 to 2007, said she’s prepared to represent any part of Iowa, not just the southeastern section in which she was raised.

“I’ve already represented everybody in the state for eight years,” Vilsack said.

King said his western Iowa bona fides are indisputable. He was born in Storm Lake and raised in Denison and started a construction business in Kiron in 1975.

“I didn’t have to move here to run for Congress,” King said, adding that the district could count on him remaining a resident regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 6 race.

Linda Kourpias, a King supporter from Sioux City, said in an interview that Vilsack is looking to trade on her husband’s name.

“The real reason she’s here is name recognition because they just don’t have what it takes to run against Steve King,” said Kourpias, a service representative.

A fierce opponent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, King said he expects it to be repealed under the administration of President Mitt Romney, an outcome the congressman predicted in the White House race. With the death of the Affordable Care Act, King said, he supports the purchase of health-insurance plans across state lines. King also said he backs a plan in which American workers would build health savings accounts that could be used when they are seniors to purchase what he termed a “Medicare replacement policy.”

Patrick McKinley, chairman of the Political Science and History Department at Morningside College, said King’s proposal goes beyond what many high-profile conservatives advocate.

“Medicare even as a voucher would not be there,” McKinley said. “It is primarily you saving for yourself. So that’s even more radical than the Ryan plan.”

Vilsack said King is clearly intent on “voucher-izing” Medicare, a prospect she believes threatens the security of older Iowans.

“I just want the seniors of this district to know that I will not turn my back on them,” Vilsack said.

The moderators also cited govtrack.us, a non-partisan site that shows King is the primary author of only one successful bill during his tenure in the U.S. House, the 2003 naming of the U.S. Post Office in Glenwood after former Republican Congressman William Scherle — a measure that earned the support of U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who ran against Scherle unsuccessfully for the House in 1972 before defeating him in 1974.

King said analyzing the number of bills he’s authored is the wrong way to measure a member of Congress. King said he is effective at using amendments to accomplish important business, and quoting President Ronald Reagan, said it’s amazing what people can accomplish if they don’t care who gets the credit.

Reinforcing positions from earlier debates, Vilsack and King showed clear differences on abortion.

“Life begins at the moment of conception and it ends at natural death, and that’s where I’ll put my commitment,” King said. “That’s where it’s always been.”

Vilsack said she has worked aggressively to improve circumstances for women so there are fewer unintended pregnancies. But she suggested federal money should be available to organizations like Planned Parenthood to fund abortion services for women who are victims of rape and incest.

King wants to strip all government money from Planned Parenthood, regardless of how the organization says it may use the funds.

“They promote abortion,” King said. “That’s their business.”

King and Vilsack also found themselves on opposite sides of the voter-ID issue, with Vilsack saying photo verification isn’t necessary and that King is “making a mountain out of a mole hill” when he suggests a significant problem with voter fraud.

“I think it’s been shown that there’s not really a voter-fraud issue in Iowa,” Vilsack said.

King said he has information about at least three pending indictments related to voter fraud in Iowa.

“It is one of the most difficult things to prove,” King said.

Moving to the Second Amendment, Vilsack said she is from a family of hunters and that she once had to clear her own home of guns before a Secret Service sweep when hosting 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore. Americans should be able to own weapons for hunting and collections, she said.

“We need to have a conversation about assault rifles and if you can just go online and get access to all the ammunition you want,” Vilsack said.

King said his family owns semi-automatic weapons that could fall prey to political definitions.

“The most popular coyote hunting weapon in the entire United States of America is an AR-15 and a number of people in my family own them,” King said. “You are not going to take my AR away from me just by defining it as an assault weapon.”

McKinley said the one-liner recalled the late Charlton Heston’s  “cold, dead hands” bravado at a National Rifle Association convention.

“To be honest, those are kind of softball questions in this environment,” McKinley said. “It’s interesting, but gun-control issues are just not high on the agenda for most Iowa voters.”

He added, “I don’t think either one is interested in mixing that up a whole lot.”