Steve King Tells Democratic Opponent That He Hasn’t ‘Earned’ The Right To Debate Him

As ThinkProgress has previously noted, right-wing congressman Steve King (R-IA) has never had to defend his outlandish statements and rhetoric in a formal campaign debate since he was elected in 2002. King’s Democratic opponent, Matt Campbell, has been publicly challenging him to a debate.

Yesterday, Campbell attended King’s town hall meeting in Sioux City, IA, to confront him about his fear of engaging in a debate. After some introductory remarks, King — seeming not to know who Campbell was — recognized Campbell for a question. Campbell politely asked, “You have never debated an opponent in eight years since you’ve been in office and I’d like to know whether you this year will participate in a live televised debate for the viewers to be informed as to the decision they are making.”

King responded by claiming Campbell hadn’t “earned” the right to debate him:

And my answer to that is that, judging by the fashion that you’ve conducted yourself, you have not earned it. Thank you. Next question.

Sadly, much of the room — filled with King supporters — broke out in applause. A gentleman in the front row who appeared to be a Campbell supporter then stood and defended Campbell’s stance. Another questioner asked why Campbell hadn’t “earned” the right to debate. King responded that “there needs to be a campaign that’s run that is focused on the issues,” complaining that Campbell’s campaign was just focused on attacks.


A town hall participant who identified himself as a tea party activist said he supported the concept of a debate. Recognizing that King was disregarding the question, Campbell then turned and left the room. Much of the room again broke out in applause. Watch it:

King was asked after the meeting if debating a political opponent is a vital part of the American democratic process, as Campbell contends. “I don’t know where that rule would be written. I debate people every day,” King said.

Campbell told ThinkProgress earlier this month that King should exhibit more courage: “I would say to him personally, if I have the opportunity, is that we’ve got men and women standing in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq, facing bullets and land mines, and he certainly can stand in a room and answer questions and discuss the issues.”