Who is busy?

2013-08-23 08:54
The White House. (AP)

The White House. (AP)

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Simon Williamson

While it is way too early for the media and public to begin speculating about the presidential election in 2016 (although I did so last week), it doesn't seem too early for prospective candidates.

How do I know this? There is little reason for officials to be wandering around Iowa at this point in time, or any time. Why on earth would anyone go to a sparsely populated Midwest state that has very little to do with the constituencies that elected the officials who are there? Indeed, this summer has seen visits from Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. And that's just the Republican contingent.

For Democrats, Joe Biden is due to attend a political event later this year in the state, and he is following in the footsteps of Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley who headlined the same event last year. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has also done the rounds.

Why Iowa? It is the first state in which both parties begin electing their candidate for president, and doing well there (and in the state that comes immediately afterwards, New Hampshire) is an amazing boost for candidates. Winning, or doing better than expected, in either of these two states can be a great insight into who actually has the goods to win the nomination.

It was before the Iowa caucuses in 2008 that Barack Obama began gaining on Hillary Clinton, who seemed to be the inevitable nominee in that race. But it was the results of the state's caucuses that showed Clinton to be beatable, and by the man who would eventually take the Democratic nomination (and the presidency). The man who won the 1972 Democratic nomination, George McGovern, explained the importance of Iowa thus, "Iowa is terribly important. It's the first test in the nation, where we get any test at all."

The press keeps an obsessive eye on Iowa, and doing well there naturally results in an explosion of press attention - in fact it was this that basically catapulted the aforementioned McGovern into the public eye during the Democratic contests in 1972, where he ended up triumphing in a crowded primary.

Iowa doesn't remotely look like the rest of America. It is 93% white - a good deal higher than the nation's 78%. It is also a good deal more conservative, particularly when picking Republicans - the somewhat infamous Rick Santorum won the most delegates from the state the last time it went candidate picking, and he followed evangelical favourite Mike Huckebee in 2008. The state's Democratic Party is oddly liberal - you saw it with Obama, who defeated Hillary from her left.

Because of the press' reaction to the results of Iowa caucuses, and the consequences thereof, candidates tend to start putting the feelers out there early. Securing endorsements, beginning to build campaign machinery, tapping Iowa political experts (this is a legitimate category of person in US politics) for advice, finding pollsters who understand the state and so on all begins much earlier than anyone would like to admit. And because of this there is huge attention paid to who lands at Des Moines’ airport. And this summer has been a revolving door.

So, by who went to Iowa this summer, this is who you should be watching out for in 2016:


Texas Senator Ted Cruz

Where was he?

Cruz spoke at a conservative Christian event at Iowa State University alongside the Republican runner-up in 2012, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, two Saturdays ago. He also visited earlier this year, and is due again in October.

What is he all about?

Although Cruz has only been in the Senate for a few months, having been elected in 2012, he is a conservative icon, representing the far right when it comes to policy. He is a strict conservative: a vociferous defender of gun rights, anti-gay marriage, pro-death penalty, wants to defund the government unless Obamacare is repealed, has rejected the country's attempt at an immigration overhaul.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum

Where was he?

Santorum's presence at the aforementioned event at Iowa State University was the culmination of a three-day tour of the state, including the highly conservative western part of Iowa. According to NBC Santorum is using the same bakkie to drive him around Iowa this time as he used to visit all of the state’s counties in 2012.

What's he all about?

Much like Cruz, Santorum is very conservative, with most of his ideology based in his faith, which is at the forefront of his politics - hence a massive evangelical following. Santorum is ideologically opposed to abortion under any circumstances, and is known to reject any sort of gay rights. He is a believer in the power of government, much like George W Bush was, and a big military. In a nutshell Santorum believes his interpretation of Christianity would fix most of the USA's problems.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

Where was he?

In July Paul delivered a 30-minute speech to 600-odd Christian ministers at a private venue in Iowa.

What is he all about?

Paul has picked up the mantle of libertarianism his father, Ron Paul, so enthusiastically carried in the years he ran for president. Rand believes strongly in libertarian attitudes toward foreign policy - ending American intervention in foreign conflicts, cutting aid to uncooperative regimes (he has been on this topic regarding Egypt since the military hoofed and replaced the elected President Mohammed Morsi) and to avoid future conflicts. He is a more palatable libertarian to his electorate when it comes to social policy: he is for a countrywide ban on abortion, but believes gay marriage is best left up to the states. His libertarian leanings conflict with the US’ war on drugs, which he has accused of targeting minorities, and has single-handedly spent 2013 trying to shore up support from minority voters.

Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown

Where was he?

The Iowa State Fair, this past weekend, where he said to the state's top newspaper, the Des Moines Register, "I hate it when politicians show up at places right before an election and that's it."

What's he all about?

Brown became a Republican star when he won a special election to fill the seat of liberal icon Ted Kennedy, in deeply liberal Massachusetts, after Kennedy died. Brown is a Republican at heart, but holds many moderate or in some cases liberal views: civil unions for gay couples, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, abortion rights, contraception, and laws over the sale of guns including an assault weapons ban. He also voted against an internet censorship bill. He is, however, a fan of increasing penalties for criminals, the death penalty, hawkish foreign policy, and deregulating the US' financial services industry. His short reign in the US Senate saw him as the second-most bipartisan (he voted with his party only 54% of the time) member.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Where was he?

Walker has made a number of private trips to Iowa this year, as well as New Hampshire.

What's he all about?

While Walker is a classic Republican - he has seen social issues form part of his agenda this year - his is best known for union-busting and tax cuts. And because of his war on the unions (which he won), he faced a mightily expensive recall election from which he emerged victorious.

Others to watch

Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal left a National Governor’s Association indaba earlier this year to schmooze with a Republican donor in Iowa.

Former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan will "headline" Iowa Governor Terry Branstad's birthday party later this year.


Vice President Joe Biden

Where was he?

He wasn't anywhere, but he will be an invited guest at veteran Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry, which is one of the largest Democratic political events in the state’s calendar.

What's he all about?

It is well known that current veep Joe Biden has designs on the presidency; he already ran twice, in 1988 and 2008, falling out early both times. And credible media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, are speculating he will have a go even if Hillary Clinton decides to run. Biden is pretty palatable to liberals and unions, but does come with some moderate streaks: he backs the death penalty, and is hawkish on foreign policy.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Where was he?

He did Harkin's steak fry last year, where he was the keynote speaker.
He also used to trip to cement his relationships with two major Iowa unions.

What's he all about?

O'Malley has led from the front during his tenure as governor, legalising gay marriage, banning the death penalty, passing gun laws, advocating for clean energy and the like. He is term-limited and will end his gubernatorial job at the beginning of 2015, just in time for an early start in the presidency race, should he decide to run.

Others to watch

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was in Iowa over the weekend to speak at the Northern Iowa Democratic Party's Wing Ding fundraiser - the most high-profile of many visits she has made to the state next door to hers.

Read more on:    us

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