U.S. Rep. Steve King (left) greets his wife, Marilyn, as congressional candidate Chrisite Vilsack of Ames welcomes her husband, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, to the stage in Orange City following a 4th District debate Thursday.<span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em> Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns</em></span><br /><br />
U.S. Rep. Steve King (left) greets his wife, Marilyn, as congressional candidate Chrisite Vilsack of Ames welcomes her husband, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, to the stage in Orange City following a 4th District debate Thursday. Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns

Friday, September 28, 2012

ORANGE CITY — The two candidates for the newly drawn 4th Congressional District Thursday night faced their first pointed debate questions on three of the more defining social issues in modern politics. And the answers of U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, and Ames Democrat Christie Vilsack showed clear differences on same-sex marriage, gun rights and abortion.

In their fourth debate, sponsored by Sioux City’s KTIV-TV on the 1,240-student Northwestern College campus in Orange City, King and Vilsack fielded questions for an hour at the school’s Christ Chapel before an estimated crowd of 800 people — the largest attendance at a debate so far.

Several students asked questions with the first one coming on gun issues.

“The reason we have the Second Amendment is to guard against tyranny,” King said.

King said guns are heirlooms in his family, as they are for many rural Iowans.

“We pass our guns down from generation to generation,” King said.

When pressed on what measures he would support to reduce violence King said the people behind the trigger, not the weapons, are the culprits in crime.

Vilsack said she understands the cultural and recreation significance of firearms in Iowa.

“I come from a family where hunting is very important,” Vilsack said.

That said, Vilsack said she’s not sure Americans should be able to access certain ammunition on the Internet or own assault weapons.

The debate media moderators asked King and Vilsack for their positions on gay marriage and abortion.

“I am pro-choice,” Vilsack said. “I think abortion should be safe, legal and rare.”

Vilsack said she has worked with the Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies. The affordability and availability of contraception are vital as well, Vilsack said.

King said firmly that he believes life begins at conception.

“Unlike the president and unlike my opponent I know when everyone’s life began,” King said.

King said he supported the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) which would have banned gender-based abortion. King said he’s concerned the United States is following the lead of certain nations in Asia where baby girls are aborted based on gender for population control and government-directed cultural reasons. The legislation failed in the U.S. House in May.

The contenders revealed a strong divide on gay marriage as well.

“I think when two people love each other they should be allowed to marry,” Vilsack said.

King said one-man, one-woman marriage is foundational to human civilization. And the congressman noted that he helped write language as a state senator advocating such a view.

On economic issues, King said he supports the elimination of the inheritance tax — what he called a “death tax.” The congressman said the tax amounted to a direct hit on the American Dream as the government uses it to interrupt multi-generational enterprise among families.

Vilsack said the law should exempt at least the first $5 million in estates from inheritance taxes, and possibly more as the price of agricultural land is soaring.

“We probably need to raise that a little bit,” Vilsack said.

Immigration served as another break point for the candidates.

Vilsack said the United States must secure its borders. But she sees a way forward to provide legal status to undocumented people here in the nation already, many of them with several generations of family involved in community life.

“We also need to make sure that people have a pathway to citizenship,” Vilsack said.

Repeating a familiar attack line, Vilsack said King’s high-profile heated rhetoric on immigration harms Iowa’s image as a welcoming state.

“When he speaks on national television he often embarrasses us,” Vilsack said.

King shot back that “Mrs. Vilsack is for amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

Anything short of enforcing the law as it stands preserves a “jobs magnet” for illegal immigrants that drives down wages for work American citizens would otherwise take, King said.

“You’re rewarding lawbreakers,” he said of Vilsack’s position. “When you do that, you get more lawbreakers.”

On farm issues, Vilsack pressed King on the absence of a farm bill as Congress leaves for the campaign season.

“I have one question for Congressman King,” Vilsack said. “Where is the farm bill?”

King said he wouldn’t be pressured by liberal interests looking to boost food stamps through a farm bill. And King said he expected to be named to a Senate-House conference committee in the lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections that would iron out farm legislation.

Earlier Thursday, the King and Vilsack campaigns touted competing polling data showing King with his closest general election in 10 years.

A new poll commissioned by the conservative American Future Fund and conducted by American Viewpoint finds King leading Vilsack by a 48 percent to 41 percent margin.  The poll was conducted on Sept. 23 and 24.

Public Policy Polling released a survey Thursday showing a tighter race with King leading Vilsack 48 percent to 45 percent. That polling took place in recent days.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which did internal polling for Vilsack, conducted a survey over the same time period showing what it purported to be a race within the margin of error with King at 46 percent and Vilsack at 44 percent.