Borg: Calculating the challenge. Republican Christopher Reed wants to represent Iowa in the United States Senate, the seat currently held by four-term Democratic incumbent Tom Harkin. Campaign strategy from Republican challenger Christopher Reed on this edition of Iowa Press.
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On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, June 6th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.
Borg: Earlier this week Lynn County Republican Christopher Reed won a primary election squeaker edging out Stratford's George Eichhorn and Steve Rathje of Cedar Rapids by just a few hundred votes. Reed is now facing, though, even bigger odds between now and November's general election. He'll be trying to persuade Iowans to deny fifth-term Democrat Tom Harkin another term and instead send him to the U.S. Senate. Congratulations on the nomination.
Reed: Thank you very much.
Borg: And welcome to Iowa Press.
Reed: I'm glad to be here. Thank you.
Borg: The gentlemen across the table from you, you may know them. We're welcoming back today Des Moines Register Political Columnist David Yepsen and Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover.
Glover: Mr. Reed, as Dean mentioned you won a fairly narrow election. You won by about 415 votes out of about 71,000 that were cast. Will that stand?
Reed: I think it will but what I think it serves to say is that there was three fine candidates running. With such a narrow margin it shows the quality that the Republican Party is putting out.
Glover: And let's walk through sort of mechanically what happens from here. There will be a canvas at the first part of next week because the election was closer than one percent.
Reed: Right, by automatic standards there's automatic recount of canvas and then George can elect to or not to do a recount on his own also.
Glover: And the state convention is coming up, not this weekend but next weekend, have you been invited to speak at that? Will you speak at that?
Reed: I will. I've been invited to events Friday morning and everything leading up to it.
Glover: So, as far as the party is concerned you are the nominee to oppose Tom Harkin?
Reed: Presumptive, yes.
Yepsen: Mr. Reed, give us the scenario. How do you beat Tom Harkin?
Reed: I think you lay out a clear path to all Iowans the distinct differences between status quo politics as usual and new face, new life and new ideas in Washington.
Yepsen: Well, what is that? Tom Harkin has $4 million in the bank, you don't. He is the incumbent, you aren't. It looks like a Democratic year, you're a Republican. Is there a credible scenario for defeating this guy?
Reed: I think there is. I think that people in Iowa believe that Washington is broken and there is no way for it to be fixed by sending the same man back for a fifth term. If we really want to enact new ideas and a new attitude in Washington we can't send the same people back over and over again.
Borg: I noticed when Dave asked that question you said, a new faith in Washington.
Borg: Face, okay. Well, I still want to know who you are. What is your background?
Reed: Small town, graduated from Solon, Iowa, then I joined the United States Navy for five great years, did a tour aboard ship, it was great and then I came back to Iowa because it's the best place to raise a family. I got the opportunity to start a business and I took that opportunity and ten years later we're still going strong.
Borg: How are you going to raise campaign funds? I'm sure without even looking I know you're way behind, millions behind Tom Harkin.
Reed: We have already started and what we're appealing to is the Iowans out there that really believe it's time for new life in Washington. So, we've been getting calls from people of support, money has already started coming in.
Glover: Mr. Reed, one of the things you're going to have to deal with is you have a Republican nominee, John McCain, he's not favored by many in the social conservative movement. Where are you with John McCain?
Reed: I think John McCain, I'm in the John McCain camp because national security is one of my top issues and I believe this country is in the best hands with John McCain. Without national security, without our country all the other things have no bearing. If we don't have our country there's nothing. So, the first line is to protect and defend this country and I think John McCain will do that the best.
Borg: Was John McCain the best candidate among the field?
Reed: He won.
Yepsen: Who did you support?
Reed: I had a couple of people in mind, I like real conservative, Mike Huckabee did a really good job of articulating his point. He won Iowa without the most money. But I still think John McCain is the best because of the national defense issue.
Yepsen: Mr. Reed, what kind of problem do you think John McCain will have in Iowa? The polls show Barack Obama leads him. We know he finished fourth in the caucuses. Obama has a better organization. There are a lot of Republicans who were with another candidate. You mentioned Mike Huckabee. What sort of problem does John McCain have in this state and can it be overcome?
Reed: Well, I think when the awe comes off of Barack Obama and the euphoria wears off people are going to see that there's nothing there. There's no substance. It's all style, no substance with Barack Obama. John McCain is the straight talker, he will come out and tell you -- no matter what with John McCain you will always know what you're going to get. He is not afraid to tell people exactly what he thinks and what he's going to do. Barack will tell you whatever you want him to tell you and do what you want him to do in order to get your vote. I think that will become crystal clear by November.
Yepsen: One of the things we like to do on this program is give candidates just kind of a free throw, give us a chance for your commercial. So, give us your campaign commercial. Why you over Tom Harkin? Why should Iowans send you to the United States Senate?
Reed: I live in Iowa, for starters. I am the antithesis of Tom Harkin. People in November will get to choose do they want status quo, big government, politics as usual, high taxes, socialized government, do they want all of those things? Or do they want personal freedom, ingenuity, small taxes, government out of their lives and a new idea in Washington? That's what I'm going to offer the people of this state.
Glover: Let's kick down through a few of those issues, Mr. Reed. Let's start with the war in Iraq. Would you have voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq? And have you been happy with the way the war has been prosecuted?
Reed: I think that over the last year since the increase in surge I agree with what is going on in Iraq and I support it. The Iraqi troop level is up to over 540,000. They are outspending us 70 to 1 on their own reconstruction and there's currently 90,000 volunteer forces which is made up of Sunnis and Shiites working together in their streets every night as volunteers. When their own militia can't be there, they're kind of policing their own areas. Those are two factions that people said couldn't get along and they're working together as volunteers.
Glover: How do you deal with the polls that show the American people overwhelmingly oppose the war?
Reed: I'm not sure that Americans overwhelmingly oppose it. I think the idea that they're not getting all the correct stats on like the three that I just gave, if more of that positive news came out instead of just the doom and gloom of Iraq came out I think more Americans would see what's really going on over there.
Glover: So, it's our fault.
Reed: No, I wouldn't say that. I just think that people need to be informed of what's going on.
Yepsen: How long do you think the U.S. is going to have to have a substantial troop involvement in Iraq?
Reed: I would say until we're comfortable that the Al Qaeda threat and fundamentalism threat and people who want to destroy Americans just for being Americans is quelled.
Yepsen: So, there's no two years, ten years?
Reed: I would never put a timetable on that because all that serves to do is give our enemies a timetable to relax and wait for us to get to that timetable.
Yepsen: And some people who are critical of the Iraq war say that it's actually fostering terrorism, that the U.S., that Al Qaeda was not in Iraq, now they are, that it's a rallying point for Islamic fundamentalists, Islamic terrorists. What do you say to that argument?
Reed: I would take that spin and spin it back to say that might be a good thing that all the terrorists are coming to Iraq to fight us therefore they're not trying to fight us over here on Main Street, U.S.A. or another American interest around the world.
Glover: What do you say to the argument that the war in Iraq is really all about oil?
Reed: Propaganda. I think it was a madman that had possession and had used weapons of mass destruction before and was willing and able to use them again and we had to make sure that wasn't going to happen.
Borg: Afghanistan is another front and it seems to be stretching the U.S. military very, very thin to be fighting two wars and elsewhere in the world too. Would you favor an increase in military manpower? You're recently out of the military yourself.
Reed: I do agree with that. I don't know if you're trying to go towards a draft situation but I'm not for it.
Borg: That’s the next question.
Reed: I wouldn't be for a draft. We have an all volunteer force and it's the greatest fighting force in the world. I think a draft tends to take the well-to-do and the connected people who have a way to get out of it -- we have an all volunteer force right now and it's working fine. And, like I said, this is the greatest fighting force in the world. And as far as Afghanistan goes that’s a different scenario than Iraq. Iraq is kind of centralized and smaller, Afghanistan is mountainous, deserts, it's a large country. The Russians tried for years to win there and they couldn't but I think what we've accomplished there shows our might and our diligence.
Yepsen: I want to switch gears, Mr. Reed, one of the biggest issues confronting Iowans today is the question of high gas prices. What would you do to lower gasoline prices?
Reed: Well, currently right now our two houses of Congress are led by Democratic leadership. The current policy in Washington is go to other countries and tell them, look, we're not willing to pump our own fuel so we would rather be beholden to you and rely on you to provide us with our fuel. That needs to stop. What we need to do is show those other countries who think they have power and hold over us we are going to pump our own. Anwar is open. Anwar is the size of five eastern seaboard states and we need a space the size, less than the size of Dolas Airport to get in and get out of there. There is some 80 billion barrels of oil there. We use a million barrels of oil a day in this country.
Reed: We've also recently just found a huge find in North Dakota that is more than Saudi Arabia's oil combined. So, we need to start showing other countries that we can't be manipulated, we're going to tap our own resources.
Yepsen: What about off shore drilling off California and the coast of Florida?
Reed: 45 miles from the Florida Keys, the Chinese, with the help of the Cubans, are currently drilling. Our own policies in this country won't allow us to do that. They say that it's not green, it's not safe for the environment but yet here we have two communist countries 45 miles off our shores, which should be scary in and of itself, but they're pumping that oil that could be ours.
Glover: And one of the issues facing Congress right now is President Bush pushed through Congress a series of significant tax cuts. Those tax cuts are set to expire. Would you make them permanent?
Reed: Because withdrawing a tax cut is a tax increase and I am not for tax increases.
Glover: What do you say about the budget deficit the nation is currently running and the debt that we're piling up for your children and my grandchildren?
Reed: I would say in alignment with the Laffer curve, lower taxes, increase revenue.
Glover: Why have lower taxes?
Reed: Because of out of control spending in Congress.
Glover: So, you're okay with the deficit that we've piled up?
Reed: No, I'm not. I would say we need to curb some of our spending on superfluous programs.
Glover: Such as.
Reed: The enormously out of control Farm Bill that has Title 19 subsidies in it that don't belong in the Farm Bill.
Glover: And what would you change in the Farm Bill?
Reed: I wouldn't have all the food stamps and welfare programs. The Farm Bill is an antiquated bill that was based in the 1930s to help farmers get through the Great Depression. It's no longer doing that. It's providing subsidies for millionaire farmers that live in New York City just because they own stake in a ...
Glover: Would you eliminate farm subsidies?
Reed: I would not eliminate farm subsidies but I would make them for what they were originally intended to help the small farmer compete on a global scale.
Glover: And how would you do that?
Reed: The Farm Bill needs to be completely revamped and start from new, make sure that the people who are getting the subsidies are the ones that really need it to be getting them.
Glover: The question I'm getting at is how do you do that? Do you put an income limit on people who can get subsidies?
Reed: Well, you can't just put an income level because you've got assets as well. You've got farmers who I think you've got to take the whole scope into it. You can't delineate just on one level. You've got to look at it but what you've got to decrease is the people who are getting the subsidies that don't necessarily need them to be competitive.
Borg: One of the things that has been in the Farm Bill, added in recent years and then intensified is the conservation reserve. Right now we're a little bit land short, there isn't enough land to do us all of the food that is needed. Do you think that the conservation reserve ought to be cut back?
Reed: I think it really needs to be looked at because the CRP program was put in place 30, 40 years ago when we have way better farming programs right now, farmers are using better techniques with soil conservation and buffer zones, things like that. So, the CRP was put in place to eliminate wasting of the ground and depleting it. But now with today's farming techniques I think more land should be opened up.
Borg: Even highly errodable land?
Reed: With today's farming techniques and technology I think that land can be manipulated.
Yepsen: You were starting to go through a list of some ideas you have for where the federal government could save money. You can have tax cuts but you'd have to reduce some spending, you've said. Other areas besides the Farm Bill you think can be cut?
Reed: Well, I think first thing that can be cut is earmarks and I've heard statements that earmarks and perk spending only make up four percent of the budget. But I would argue that's four percent. It's something. If you start there, John McCain has said when he's president he won't sign any bills that have earmarks in them. I think that's a good start. He is a good model for other senators, he's never taken an earmark, he's never written one into a bill so that shows that you can go to Washington and you can survive without making earmarks and I think that would help the budget. Entitlement programs, Planned Parenthood's $300 million a year that they receive in tax funded money, I think that could go away. And those might be drops in the bucket compared to the entire budget but every little bit helps.
Yepsen: We'll go back to the Farm Bill a minute, you were critical of the fact the food stamp program is part of the Farm Bill and yet historically it's been done that way because that's the only way that you attract votes from urban members of Congress. So, you're willing to cut that loose. Then why would an urban congressman have any incentive to vote for the Farm Bill?
Reed: Because an urban congressman knows that our farmers in America feed the world. So, if the Farm Bill is not blown up out of control with two-thirds of it going towards Title 19 programs and new incentives and earmarks they're going to be more willing to sign onto a bill that knows that this country is going to feed the world but we're not going to blow it up with outrageous extra expenditures.
Glover: Let's look at some other major programs. You centered on the Farm Bill as one place to cut federal spending. What other major programs because if you're going to cut spending significantly you're going to have to dip into major programs, Medicare, Social Security, where would you cut?
Reed: Well, as a fiscal conservative we just need to curtail our spending in Washington. On the debate the other night I was asked what I would ask Americans to sacrifice so that we can get Washington back in control and I took exception to that question because it's not a question of asking Americans to sacrifice their lifestyles or make changes, it's a question of making changes in Washington. Out of control spending needs to be taken care of.
Glover: But it's very easy to talk about out of control spending but tell me what programs you're going to cut to control that spending. You've talked about the Farm Bill, what about a program like Medicare, Medicaid? Would you cut into those?
Reed: Would I cut into them? No. But I would make sure that there is the waste and the fraud and abuse of that is taken care of.
Glover: The waste, fraud and abuse is an easy phrase. But how do you actually cut spending?
Reed: Well, I guess I would have to go there and I would have to look at what is in there and what isn't and write bills appropriately that take care of those measures.
Yepsen: Mr. Reed, the Comptroller General, former Comptroller General David Walker has said we face a fiscal tsunami because of this and we're going to have to do a lot of horrific things like increase taxes or revenues of some kind from Social Security and Medicare, reduce benefits. How do you feel about things like raising the retirement age?
Reed: Well, I think that is a broken promise to Americans. They were told, they were sold a bill of goods when the Social Security came out, that's a promise this country made people, we have to honor it.
Yepsen: How do you feel about something like means testing where wealthier Americans don't get the same Social Security benefit that lower income Americans get?
Reed: I think if they paid into Social Security they should get what they paid into it but I think Americans need a chance to opt out of Social Security if they choose to. In Galveston, Texas they were allowed to opt out of it and those retirees now are making ten times that amount of their counterparts that are withdrawing Social Security.
Glover: So you favor some kind of a private account?
Reed: I would favor the option. You should be given the option in this country. You shouldn't have to be given to a socialized system. If you want to opt out of and be in control of your own retirement you should be allowed to in this country.
Glover: Let's look back to history for a second. Social Security was a Depression era program when the nation didn't have a retirement system, a lot of people were in poverty. Was it a mistake?
Reed: I think it was a benevolent idea but when you take the power out of the people's hands and put it into the government hands that's not going to solve anything.
Glover: So, it was a mistake?
Reed: Possibly yes.
Yepsen: Another issue that is facing the country is immigration. What we do with the people who are here illegally and to prevent more of them from coming? What is your plan to address that?
Reed: Okay, well they've already funded a fence, a real fence. We need to get a border fence built across the entire span of our southern border because that is where the majority of our problems are coming from. What people don't necessarily understand is there's what they call OTMs which are other-than-Mexicans crossing that border every night. That includes Arab males sneaking across our border in the dead of the night, it's been documented, vicious gang members like MS13 from South America, their only goal is to infiltrate our cities, drug trade, human trafficking, cop killing, that's what their goals are, they are a very malicious gang, they're coming across every night. So, as far as our policy goes we need to get the fence built, enforce it, fortify it. Right now we have a catch and release program. We catch them, if we deport them they're coming right back in the next day or the next night. And one of the other things is we need to work with Mexico. Right now they drop leaflets from the air in their country with explicit instructions telling the people where to cross the border, where are safe places to go, where water finds are so they don't die in the desert, their country is advertising how to break into our country illegally.
Borg: Do you favor a guest worker program? What would you do with the undocumented people who are here already?
Reed: If they are undocumented and they're in this country they are lawbreakers. They need to be sent back to where they came. We can not foster lawbreaking and allow it. We tried amnesty in the 80s and all that did was serve to show other illegals that if they come in enough droves we'll just throw our hands in the air and allow them to be here.
Borg: So, you were happy about what you saw at Postville?
Reed: Was I happy with it? I wasn't happy with it. It was kind of a sad day in my eyes. But it was a step in the right direction for ICE.
Yepsen: What about cracking down on employers and people who hire people who are illegal?
Reed: I think that is a major point because if we didn't have these places for the people to come to then they wouldn't be able to come here. In Farmers Branch, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, the city council got tired of it. They said they were going to take their city back. They passed city ordinances that made it, it's already illegal to employ workers, but they passed laws that businesses would be fined up to and including losing their businesses. Any landlord found to be leasing to illegal immigrants we fined up to and including losing their domiciles. The illegal immigrants, the illegal aliens were fleeing that city because it was no longer hospitable to them.
Glover: And there are roughly 12 million, it's estimated, illegal aliens in the country right now. Where do you get the resources to round them up and ship them out? That's going to cost a lot of money. Their estimates it would take the equivalent of everything spent in the United States on policing right now to do that alone. How would you get the resources to do that?
Reed: I'll answer your question with a question. How much are we spending right now in resources on free medical care in emergency rooms in rural areas that are going out of business because illegal aliens are using this as their main source of medical care? How much are we losing in schools hiring interpreters and teaching English as a second language? How much are we spending right now on illegal immigration? I would submit that it far outweighs what we would spend on rounding them up and sending them back to where they came.
Yepsen: What do you think we should do -- we've been talking about illegals in the United States but many of them have children born here or they came here as very young children and now they're running into a problem of they are graduating from high schools and they can't afford to go to college. How do you deal with the children of illegal immigrants and their desire to go to college?
Reed: First of all, we are the most compassionate country the world has ever known. However, just because somebody decides to break the law and come here and have children or drag their children abetting their children into lawbreaking as well we can not afford with our own sovereignty and our own country to capitulate to these people just because there are children involved. They need to go back and they need to do things the right way. This country was built on immigration but built the right way.
Borg: I’m going to go back and change the subject here for just a second because you expressed support for John McCain. John McCain does not like ethanol subsidies. How do you come down on it? You'd be representing, if you're elected, a farm state. Senator Grassley has been a champion as has Senator Harkin of ethanol subsidies. Where do you stand on that?
Reed: I would stand with Mr. Grassley on the fact that, you know, it's easy to demonize a small state like this for ethanol subsidies. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison came out the other day, she's from Texas, an oil state, criticizing ethanol subsidies but oil is subsidized more than ethanol right now. We need to foster new plans. I think Iowa, the fields of Iowa offer great opportunities for the world and we can be at the forefront of that. So, we need to foster some of that new technology and see where it can take us.
Glover: And there are a couple of issues that are sort of perennial issues any time you have a political campaign, they are social issues. Abortion and gay marriage, where are you?
Reed: I am very pro-life.
Glover: And what does very pro-life mean?
Reed: I do not agree with abortion.
Glover: Under any circumstances?
Reed: Under any circumstances, life is a gift from God under any circumstances it's granted.
Glover: And gay marriage?
Reed: Marriage is between one man and one woman only. It is a license by the state to recognize the unity of a family.
Glover: And should the Constitution of the state of Iowa say that?
Glover: How would you go about making that happen?
Reed: In the state of Iowa I wouldn't because that would be a state issue and I'm a federal campaign candidate.
Yepsen: Mr. Reed, we've got about a minute left. I'm trying to give our viewers an idea of just who you are, you're a relative newcomer to the political scene in Iowa. What have we missed here? What is your campaign stump message that you want Iowans to know about?
Reed: The stump message is that Washington is broken. It can't be fixed by sending the same man back with his out of control spending, his socialized plans for America. This is the freest, greatest country God has ever put on the face of the Earth and it was made that way by people coming across the ocean from Europe to settle a new country, to be entrepreneurs, to be free. We don't need policies and plans that take us back to European socialism.
Glover: And what role would the government play in your society that you envision?
Reed: Getting out of people's way. The government is there to protect its citizens. The preamble to the Constitution says promote the general welfare, not provide the general welfare. That's the difference between the two parties. One wants to promote it, one wants to provide it.
Yepsen: Mr. Reed, have you ever held public office before?
Reed: I have never held public office and I think that's my biggest asset in this race.
Yepsen: Historically Iowans don't elect people with a lack of experience to the United States Senate. What do you say to people who say, I agree with you, but you've got no experience?
Reed: I say to them that that's probably what Washington needs right now is a newcomer, a new face, someone that is going to go there and really turn things on its ear and not be beholden to the insiders. People in there get attached to the beltway with our cocktail parties and the politics. We don't want that any more. This country needs to go somewhere else, get some new ideas and new blood pumping in Washington. The way the founders interpreted -- when they first started the two houses of Congress they didn't have in mind 30 year politicians in Washington. They had in mind the pitchfork farmer putting down his pitchfork, going there to serve his people and then return himself back and be replaced.
Borg: I’m sorry, I have to interrupt because we're out of time. In fact, we're over time. Thank you, Mr. Reed, for being with us.
Reed: Thank you very much, my pleasure.
Borg: On the next edition of Iowa Press we're staying with congressional topics and we're talking next week with Representative Steve King. You'll see the conversation with Congressman King at the usual airtimes, 7:30 Friday night, 11:30 Sunday morning. I hope that you'll be watching. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.
Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association, for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals.