- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

AMES, Iowa (AP) - To call the gathering of Republican U.S. Senate candidates in Iowa on Wednesday a debate would be a stretch.

The four GOP hopefuls who spoke to more 70 people on the campus of Iowa State University agreed that the 2010 health care law must be scrapped and replaced, that Iran poses a threat to U.S. interests and that Social Security would not survive for future generations without significant changes.

More than anything, they agreed that U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, the lone Democrat running for Senate, was wrong for the job.

“All of them would be better than Bruce Braley,” former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker said, motioning to his rivals.

Whitaker, of Ankeny, was among four of the five GOP hopefuls participating. They included Sioux City radio host and college professor Sam Clovis, state Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak, and businessman Scott Schaben of Ames.

The fifth, former energy company CEO Mark Jacobs of West Des Moines, didn’t attend, due to a scheduling conflict, aides said. Clovis subtly noted the absence. “I want you to note that not all of the candidates are here,” he said. “It seems to me it would be important for all the candidates in this race to be here.”

Instead of critiquing each other directly, they focused their attention on Braley, who has been the only Democrat seeking the open seat for more than a year, since shortly after five-term Democrat Tom Harkin announced he would not be seeking a sixth.

Braley, of Waterloo, has come under fire by Republicans in the last week for saying during a January fundraiser in Texas that he had long fought caps on court-awarded damages in civil cases. Republicans generally support such caps, and often refer to them as “tort reform.”

In a video recorded at the Corpus Christi event, Braley said he’s “literally been fighting tort reform for 30 years.”

Ernst said she favors repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act and replacing it with “free market alternatives,” that include caps on court damages.

“Why is he fighting tort reform when it would make the prices of our health care products much better?” she said.

Braley helped people who had been injured by representing them as a private practice lawyer, his profession before entering Congress, aides said Wednesday.

“For nearly 25 years, Bruce worked to seek justice for people who had the deck stacked against them,” campaign spokesman Jeff Giertz said in a statement.

The latest analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that government health care programs could save $41 billion over 10 years if nationwide limits on jury awards for pain and suffering and other similar curbs were enacted. Those savings are nearly 10 times greater than the CBO estimated just last year.

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