What good is an endorsement? That’s an open question in any political campaign. Some bring an army of volunteers, others bring only the single vote of the endorser.
State Senator Rob Hogg has a lot of public endorsements in his quest for the Democrats’ nomination for U.S. Senate: AFSCME, the Iowa Federation of Labor, over 90 current and former legislators. One of them, former State Senator Daryl Beall, did his best this past Tuesday to deliver Webster County for his old friend.
Hogg meets his former colleague from the legislature at Bloomers, a downtown Fort Dodge coffee shop. Beall has gathered 20 of his friends this morning, most in their 60s and 70s.
“Here’s Jeff, the guy that was interested in climate change,” Beall says as he takes Hogg around to each person one by one. The former legislator also makes sure everyone signs up for the campaign on a clipboard.
“He literally wrote the book on climate change,” Beall says in his introduction for Hogg to the assembled group of Democrats. “What I love about Rob – I worked with him for eight years – is that he, in addition to his intellect, has a good heart.”
“If we had a Congress that works, we’d have a vibrant, full-employment economy,” Hogg starts his speech with, then starts ticking off his policy issues. “When I was first starting to toy with this idea in 2015, [climate change] is what motivated me to run. Because our country is not succeeding in our fight against it.”
Hogg notes that he officially announced his campaign last year in Callender, Iowa. Most heads in the room nod, and Hogg says it’s nice to be in a place where people have actually heard of the tiny town not too far from Fort Dodge. He explains he wanted to announce there to symbolize that he cared about small towns, rural Iowa and family – it’s where his grandmother was born in 1902.
“I’ll be darned, small world,” an older man in the back of the room says – his grandchildren attended Callender schools.
Hogg jokes about Beall’s penchant for taking pictures with everyone and the former Senator has his phone out snapping photos often. On their way out Beall gathers a group of four women from the local high school class of ’64 and ’65 to pose with Hogg.
“Don’t put this on Facebook, Daryl,” one woman protests.
Hogg has gotten a lot better at this whole campaigning thing during the months he’s been in the race. A well-respected Senator who likes to get into the minutia of policy detail, early on he could get a little long-winded with dry monologues on in-depth issues. Just before his first official campaign speech last July, he nearly tripped on his way to the podium. But over time his delivery has gotten much sharper and notably more energetic. Now he’s a candidate who can really get a crowd revved up with a legitimate rally speech.
“You’ve got to get comfortable saying why you’re running and what you want to accomplish,” Hogg says in a later interview. “As easy as I wish I could say it looks – it’s not easy, and it’s not always perfect. Candidates running for public office are human beings just like anyone else.”
And then there’s the part about remembering names. Hogg started to develop a reputation around the Statehouse for having a bit of a difficulty with recalling people’s names, which can obviously cause some problems for a politician. He seems to have worked on that a lot too.
“J.J., Colette, Nick,” he repeats each person’s name several times in the coffee shop after meeting them. “Kristie, whose real name is Shirley.”
By the time he’s finished his first event, Hogg has memorized the name of every attendee, personally thanking each on his way out.
After the coffee shop visit, Hogg and Beall head over to the east side of Fort Dodge, where Hogg is speaking in front of Beall’s Kiwanis Club at the local Pizza Ranch. After filling up his plate with fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes and salad (about as healthy a meal as you’re going to get at a Pizza Ranch), Hogg sits down at the table, surrounded by a banker, a priest and an attorney.
Hogg swaps stories about law clerking, attending the University of Iowa, Kent Sorensen (the pastor at the table looks like the indicted former senator), chicken farms and a new feather-plucking machine, mixed bathrooms in Jamaica, and religion. Also, Daryl Beall’s diet.
“Daryl, I saw you sneak in an extra piece of pizza,” Hogg chides his old friend.
“I can cheat a little bit,” he insists.
“When I was a kid, I’d come into a place like this and just pig out on everything,” Hogg says, noting his metabolism is not what it used to be. “I cut way back, now I say I only eat twice as much as a normal person.”
“I do love food,” Hogg adds.
Twenty-one Kiwanis members sit back and listen as Hogg gives them his stump speech, with a few more bipartisan topics added in for this mixed group.
“I believe strongly that we need to change how politics are done if we’re going to get our political system to work better,” Hogg tells them. “It’s turning off a generation of young Americans from the voting process, and that is not good for our country. We want people to be engaged and participate. I’m trying to change the way we do campaigns.”
He also brings up an interesting point about political leaders working together, using Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil as an example.
“Sometimes people say [they worked well] because they liked to drink together – the stuff I’ve read says that’s not necessarily true,” Hogg says. “I think the fundamental reason was they knew that if they didn’t get an agreement to keep this country working, we were going to lose out to the Soviet Union … We don’t have a national consensus like that anymore.”
The next stop on this Beall-led tour of Fort Dodge is Central Community College’s campus, where Beall was the student body president 50 years ago. They head into the bioscience center, an eco-friendly building that won multiple energy efficiency awards. There Hogg takes a look at their biofuels labs, which tests various types of ethanol from all over the world. A machine testing the viscosity of the fuel whirls and clicks while he speaks with the lab techs.
“Petroleum fuels – that is carbon that has been locked up in the earth’s crust for millions of years, and it has not been a part of what happens up here on the surface,” a lab worker explains as he discusses climate with Hogg. “Every single lump of coal you bring up from the ground is new carbons going up into the atmosphere … [Alternative fuels] are not contributing new carbons to the atmosphere.”
Hogg talks about extending the bio fuels tax credit in the Iowa Legislature, and the lab techs tell him they noticed when the national credit was delayed – they received much less fuel to test and many smaller bio fuel companies shut down.
A quick walk across campus brings Hogg and Beall to a room full of educators from the TRiO program, a state/federal-funded project that helps low-income, first generation and people with disabilities receive college educations. After that, Hogg sits down with Dan Kinney, the president of Iowa Central, who tells him about the importance of year-round Pell grants and rising tuition costs.
“Get elected I’ll burn your ear off, not going to lie,” Kinney promises Hogg after thanking him for traveling the state to learn about these issues.
On their way out Beall spots a janitor he knows and waves him over to meet Hogg. The man is also an avid rural photographer and the three chat politics.
The most interesting visit of the day comes afterward. Beall takes his friend over to Trinity Regional Medical Center, where they have an entire floor dedicated to a simulated hospital for medical students to practice in.
“Rob, I was born at this hospital. I plan to die here too, but not right away,” Beall says on their walk through the building.
The simulated hospital has very advanced setups – interactive, robotic mannequins serve as test patients in fully-equipped medical rooms. They can talk in multiple languages, react to medicine and even give birth.
The program administrators take Hogg into each room to view the lifeless test patients. Hogg reacts with a mix of excitement and dry humor, and also a bit of awkwardness of a serious political candidate standing over odd-looking mannequins.
“Now, is there any medical significance to Hal wearing a Godfather’s Pizza shirt?” he asks the staff in a simulated intensive care room with a named robotic patient.
“Hal is actually seizing right now,” a staffer notes as small internal lights turns Hal’s face blue.
“Oh, Hal,” Hogg says sadly.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t become a nurse. I’m panicking right now with the mannequins,” he adds.
The tour guide points out that they can even change out the sex of the patient for different scenarios and starts to lift the bedsheets.
“Uh, let’s let him or her have their privacy,” Hogg insists.
Following the hospital tour, Hogg and Beall head across town to visit a clinic with patients that are actually alive. The staff at a federally funded health clinic that serves low-income residents informs Hogg that they’ve had 3,000 new clients who signed up for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act. One of the few places in Fort Dodge that takes Medicaid patients, they’re now planning an expansion to the building. Hogg reiterates his support for the ACA and commitment to improve it even more.
“I think you’ve made a lot of friends today,” Beall tells the candidate as they finish up the Fort Dodge circuit.
Making introductions to local voters isn’t the only thing Hogg’s endorsers have helped him out with. He usually has a free place to crash for the night wherever he goes. That’s proven useful considering how much he’s traveled. At the end of this week he will have hit 89 Iowa counties. But many of Hogg’s endorsers will need to do what Beall did today – help mobilize their local constituencies to back the Senator – if he’s to have a good shot against Patty Judge.
After being the clear favorite for the nomination before Judge’s entrance into the race, Hogg now faces a challenging race against a better-known and better-funded opponent. While most of the grassroots activists, elected officials and labor unions are with Hogg, Judge’s name ID advantage holds a lot of weight when Hogg doesn’t have a ton of money to spend. In the 2010 Democratic Senate primary, nearly 70,000 votes were cast. Even with Hogg’s robust travel schedule, that’s a lot of people for him to meet and make an impression on.
Part of politics, however, is luck – Hogg, whose signature issue is climate change, runs as the topic is more prominent than ever. Judge, whose biggest weakness is her water quality record, entered the race in the middle of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit. That’s kept Hogg in the fight and gives him an opportunity for a win on June 7 that many Iowa insiders wrote off when Judge first jumped in.
It’s an opening Hogg is keenly aware of at his final campaign stop of the day, a dinner with two dozen of the Calhoun County Democrats in the small town of Manson. Hogg does his usual glad-handing and name-checking before giving a speech to the Democrats crowded around two long tables in a local bar.
“Do you know Tyler? He’s running for County Supervisor” Hogg offers, introducing the locals to each other.
Hogg awoke today at 5:30 in the morning in Cedar Rapids to make the drive out west, and comments throughout the day how tired he is, but he ends up giving the most energetic of his performances here in Manson as the sun starts to set.
“We’ve got to uplift our democracy,” Hogg implores the local Democrats. “I need your help, I need you to get engaged in this race, I want you to take ownership of this race, I want you to help us upset a 42-year incumbent who started with a $4 million head start, and that’s how we transform American politics. Let’s go win in 2016.”
After his speech a younger attendee who came into the local party via Bernie Sanders asks Hogg directly about how he differs with Judge.
“Look, if she gets the nomination, I will whole-heartedly support her,” he begins, sticking to his usual practice of withholding criticism of his opponents. But it’s a mere three weeks out from the primary on this day, and Hogg realizes he needs to close the deal, and presses a little further.
“She lost the last statewide election she ran, she says she’s running because Scalia died, and she’s not so much an advocate for clean water,” Hogg says.
If that message resonates with voters – and Hogg and his allies are able to communicate it to enough of them in the final two weeks – he may yet end up as the Democratic nominee to face off against Chuck Grassley.
by Pat Rynard