Two stand-ins for President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, managed to bash each other's candidate without raising their voices Wednesday at a debate agriculture in Des Moines, Iowa, sponsored by the Farm Foundation and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).
"I think we've shown that two long-time friends who disagree about things can have a civil debate," said Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska, who represented Romney.
Former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge complemented Johanns for laying out Romney's positions on the farm bill, saying that she hadn't heard as much from Romney. "Could that be because he is a candidate who doesn't understand a lot about these issues?"
Johanns said he spends much of his time as a U.S. Senator fighting regulations proposed by the Obama administration.
"I don't use this terminology lightly, but he has been anti-agriculture," Johanns said.
Judge said Obama has supported rural America and farmers and ranchers through his support for production agriculture, exports, local and regional foods and renewable fuels. And his administration has helped farmers during the drought with more than 1,600 county disaster declarations, low interest loans and a longer period of time to pay crop insurance premiums.
Johanns said that "the Romney plan is to get government out of agriculture," including the elimination of estate taxes. Romney would also seek trade promotion authority from Congress in order to work for a new World Trade Organization agreement and more bilateral trade agreements with other nations.
The debate was moderated by Mike Pearson, host of Iowa Public Television's Market to Market. The debate was webcast and Pearson asked Johanns and Judge to answer the most frequent submitted question: Should there be a one-year extension of the current farm bill?
Judge said that Obama favors passing a new five-year farm bill now and "has really thought it is not a good idea to piecemeal this."
Romney "has said very clearly, 'let's get it a farm bill done and let's do it right,'" Johanns said. But "we can't underestimate that there is a significant farm policy difference between the two bills," he added, referring to a bill passed by the Senate and another passed in the House Agriculture Committee that has not come up for a vote on the floor of the House.