Republican Senate hopeful Mark Jacobs used Monday’s 90-minute debate at Bettendorf High School to point out differences between himself and Sen. Joni Ernst, the perceived frontrunner. 

Mirroring recent television advertisements, Jacobs called out Ernst for voting for an increase in the gas tax and for votes pertaining to Internet taxes.

“One of us has supported tax increases in the past; four of us have not,” Jacobs said. “We’re not going to defeat Braley with the same policies.”

“I made a mistake,” Ernst responded. “Every once in awhile, you get something wrong. I’m not perfect, but when I make a mistake, I’ll own up to it.”

While the five candidates agreed on a majority of the issues during the open-discussion forum in front of a crowd of about 450 people, it was the back and forth between Jacobs and Ernst that animated the debate, which was sponsored by the Scott County Republican Party, the Quad-City Times and KWQC-TV, Davenport.

Jacobs also criticized Ernst for missing 40 percent of the votes in this year’s legislative session.

Ernst responded by saying over the range of her legislative service, she has a 90 percent voting record. 

Ernst called out Jacobs for what she said was support of the 2009 cap-and-trade bill passed by the U.S. House.

“I’m opposed to that, and I think most of us would be opposed to that,” she said, declaring it the largest tax increase on energy in history.

Jacobs rebutted by saying he had never personally supported that bill, but did to avoid devastating his company, Reliant Energy.

“Sadly, cap-and-trade was the least damaging approach,” he said.

Although the candidates agreed on many issues during the debate, they weren’t afraid to call one another out on their differences and promote what sets them apart from Rep. Bruce Braley, a four-term U.S. House member from Waterloo, and the only Democrat seeking the seat is held by retiring five-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

While responding to Bettendorf High School student and panelist James Gomez during the event, Ames auto salesman Scott Schaben promoted his ability to relate with younger students.

“We’re going to have to find the candidate that breaks out of the old, rich, white male and out-of touch mold,” Schaben said. “We need to talk with younger people, treat them with respect and let them know their vote matters.”

Sioux City college professor Sam Clovis intervened with some humor.

“You know I’m a college professor. I do that all the time,” he said, adding he cannot imagine anyone who contrasts more with Braley than he does.  Clovis gave a forceful defense of living up to the rule of law and adhering to the Constitution.

Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker asserted himself as a new face of the Republican Party, and alluded to his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires a certain amount of renewable fuels to be mixed in with the nation’s gasoline supply. That stance would put him at odds with most politicians in the state.

Whitaker presented the question about the size of government as a fundamental one.

“It’s a choice between more government and more freedom.”

The debate followed a recent Loras College poll that favored Ernst by 11 percentage points.

The five are vying to win at least 35 percent of the vote in the June 3 primary. If no candidate meets the threshold, a party convention will decide the nomination.