CEDAR FALLS — In their first head-to-head meeting, incumbent 1st Congressional District Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer defended their records and debated whether this election is a referendum on President Donald Trump.

The debate Friday night in Cedar Falls was the first of two planned between Blum, 63, and state Rep. Finkenauer, 29. Both are from Dubuque.

For an hour the candidates fielded questions from KWWL-TV news anchors Ron Steele and Abby Turpin.

They discussed their records. Both were given time to address ethics charges their campaigns have faced.

Finkenauer was questioned about failing to note her change of employment when she became the director of Make It Work, a nonprofit organization.

“I had a public job that I actually reported in the newspaper when we got it. I’m proud of that job, it was for a non-profit,” Finkenauer said. “We fought for equal pay, family leave, affordable child care, working family issues, and I’ve got to tell you the second I found there was a new way or new requirement to report the employment to the Iowa House I did so.”

Finkenauer went on to attack Blum’s record.

The House Ethics Committee has taken up an inquiry into whether Blum failed to disclose his involvement in Tin Moon, a Dubuque firm that claims it can bury derogatory information about businesses in online search results. The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the case in mid-July. A decision on a course of action is expected before Dec. 17, according to the committee office.

“This is a $1,000 company, it started with $700 investment from myself, and $300 from another partner. That has resulted in $2 million of attack ads,” Blum said. “I forgot to list on my disclosure report that I was on the board of directors of a $700 company. I apologized, and I self-reported as soon as I found out about it.”

Finkenauer than asked Blum about why his congressional chief of staff made a fake testimonial about working for one of his companies.

“I work probably about 70 to 80 hours a week being a congressional representative,” Blum said. “I don’t have time to run the companies that I’m involved in, and I own a few companies.”

The candidates also answered questions about whether they support tariffs and the new trade deal called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“The NAFTA deal is a good deal, the new NAFTA deal,” Blum said. He went on to defend the deal made by Trump, saying the United States was being taken advantage of on the old deal.

“He (Trump) broke Canada, and we will break China,” Blum said.

Finkenauer was less than enthusiastic about being patient waiting for the plan to benefit Iowa. She said farmers are concerned about tariffs now.

Blum disagreed, saying he believes Iowa will see a 20-year period of prosperity for farmers starting next year.

The crowd was vocal throughout debate, prompting Steele to call for quiet several times.

Prior to the debate supporters for both the candidates held rallies outside Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, shouting slogans and chants at each other while holding signs endorsing their candidate.

Another debate is scheduled for Oct. 16 hosted by KGAN and KXEL at the CBS 2 Studio in Cedar Rapids.

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