DES MOINES, Iowa -- Democratic Senate candidate Roxanne Conlin debated Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) Sunday, although Grassley was not actually present.
Conlin's campaign held a debate at the Central Des Moines Public Library and conducted the "empty chair routine," leaving an open podium where Grassley would have stood. A room filled with mostly Conlin supporters listened to Conlin answer questions for herself and for the absent Senator, while at times playing clips of Grassley from appearances on IPTV, C-SPAN and other video footage.
"He was here [Friday] to listen to Sarah Palin speak," Conlin said after the event. "Apparently he spends a lot of time tweeting, and perhaps that time could better be used."
Grassley's campaign calls the event a "publicity stunt," although Conlin said the idea came from Grassley's wife, Barbara, while she campaigned for Republican Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
When pressed on on whether it was a publicity stunt, Conlin said "Well it's gotten some publicity."
Conlin will formally debate Grassley on Oct. 26 on WHO Radio. She said she believes Grassley is reluctant to debate her and defend his record.
Early in the event, Conlin brought up the Medicare donut hole she accuses Grassley of creating.
She pointed out she refuses to take money from Political Action Committees, while Grassley's top career donor industries, according to OpenSecrets.org are "Insurance, Health Professionals, Lawyers/Law Firms, Pharmaceuticals/Health Products." During the 2005-2010 election cycle, he took in $241,650 from the pharmaceutical industry, $347,076 from health professionals.
This comes the same day as a Des Moines Register editorial criticizing Grassley for the 2003 Medicare "reform" bill; Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, which Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said was "hijacked" by the pharmaceutical industry and HMOs.
Grassley is currently running a television ad titled "He Wrote The Bill," where he touts the 2003 Medicare bill which he said "beat the drug companies." A so-called donut hole was created in Medicare Part D, by creating a benefit the government did not provide any funding for. The health care reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act, addressed the donut hole.
Conlin said Grassley sent out an email while he was still part of the "Gang of Six," a group of Senators charged with writing part of a health care reform bill, ensuring that he would not vote for "Obamacare."
During the joint appearance on IPTV's "Iowa Press," Grassley said he would support the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, since he did not vote for it, specifically the health insurance mandate. Conlin fought back that his name was on a bill in 1993 to require mandatory coverage.
Conlin also addressed the accusations from the Grassley campaign that she and her husband received a generous amount of federal money for an apartment building she and her husband own.
"She ought to repay that money immediately, especially when she complains that the biggest reason for running is because she was mad at Washington for bailing out businesses," said Grassley spokesman Eric Woolson in a statement Tuesday. "She couldn't be more hypocritical because she's the recipient of a $1.28 million bailout that went right into her pocket. No wonder she supported the stimulus program; she personally profited from it and she cannot point to a single job being created due to the taxpayer funding of her purchase of an apartment complex from herself."
Conlin said the money went to help create low-priced housing for nearly 2,000 people and provided 2,300 jobs in the process of building the apartments.
"I want to be sure everyone understands that money is what we used to build these apartment buildings," Conlin said. "It doesn't come to us, it goes into the buildings. It's a way of financing property that's rented to people at below market level that could not otherwise be built."
Conlin played a video of Grassley defending why he participated in the farm program, receiving subsidies for a farm he runs with his son, where he tells a caller "If you're trying to make a case that I've lived off the public tit all these years, I think you're saying correct in the years I've been in the Congress but not the years before I came to Congress."
Grassley's campaign did not reply Sunday afternoon to an email requesting a response.
It turns out Grassley was in California taping a segment with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) about adoption for Dr. Phil's television show.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more