Iowa Pole Position: How Democrats Set Up Caucus Runs with 2014 Visits

Senator Elizabeth Warren led a Braley rally in Des Moines. Photo courtesy of Zebulon Beilke-McCallum

The midterms before the Iowa Caucus provide an excellent opportunity for potential presidential candidates to visit the First in the Nation state. Early trips to Iowa can connect candidates with grass-top activists, pique interest in local and national media, and build up political favors that can be cashed in on later. 2014 was no different. Republican hopefuls came en masse, while a smaller contingent of Democrats dipped their toes in the early speculation water. Hillary’s shadow looms large here, even in a state known for upending front-runners (including her). What did each Democrat gain with their visits?

Martin O’Malley

Days in Iowa: 7

One of the most active of the early presidential contenders, Governor O’Malley spent considerable time and resources to curry favor with Iowa political insiders. Just like Evan Bayh did in 2006, O’Malley sent several of his political aides to serve as campaign staff to Iowa candidates in important races. He also crisscrossed the state, headlining nearly 20 events, many of which were for targeted down-ballot candidates. This strategy will serve O’Malley well when/if he returns as an official candidate, with a pocket full of favors and a rolodex stocked with Democratic influencers.

Governor O'Malley stumps for Jack Hatch and Monica Vernon in Sioux City. Photo courtesy of Kim Weaver
Governor O’Malley stumped for Jack Hatch and Monica Vernon in Sioux City. Photo courtesy of Kim Weaver

Hillary Clinton

Days in Iowa: 2 (3 if you count Bill)

Hillary Clinton made the most of her limited time in the state that caused her so much difficulty in 2008. Just showing up assuaged many Democrats’ fears that the front-runner could skip the first nominating state altogether. Hillary and Bill Clinton drew a massive crowd at Tom Harkin’s final Steakfry, and both later stumped for Braley in the final stretch. Her appearances went a long way in exciting her base of supporters eager for another shot at electing the first woman to the White House.

While Hillary herself boosted the Democratic faithful at rallies, the Ready For Hillary organization provided ground support. Ready contributed money to key campaigns and county organizations, and deployed over a dozen staff to the Democrats’ coordinated campaign in the final month. While Ready for Hillary couldn’t coordinate in any way with actual Hillary, their efforts demonstrated a real and broad base that’s excited for her to run. In particular the group bussed a large number of college students to the Steakfry to see her – that demographic was solidly in her opponent’s camp at the 2007 Steakfry.

The Ready for Hillary bus made several stops in Iowa. Photo courtesy of Rick Smith
The Ready for Hillary bus made several stops in Iowa. Photo courtesy of Rick Smith

Bernie Sanders

Days in Iowa: 9

Senator Sanders spent over a full weeks-worth of events throughout 2014, though his visits didn’t always get as much attention as the bigger names. His trips focused on progressive enclaves around Iowa. He spoke to several Citizens for Community Improvement groups, a liberal activism organization whose type of members would likely fuel a Sanders run. Sanders’ biggest audience was at Progress Iowa’s holiday party in December. His presence attracted a crowd nearly double what the event had the previous year, along with a sizable press contingent.

The Senator from Vermont’s real goal may be to pull the Democrats’ policy conversation to the left, but he still needs to actually become a Democrat first. The Draft Elizabeth Warren movement complicates his candidacy, as it draws attention away from his populist base to a candidate who may not run.

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at Progress Iowa's event in December. Photo courtesy of Progress Iowa
Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at Progress Iowa’s event in December. Photo courtesy of Progress Iowa

Jim Webb

Days in Iowa: 3

Former Senator Jim Webb made a three-day swing to Iowa in August. He stumped for Jack Hatch, Dave Loebsack, and Bruce Braley. Webb is the only Democrat who has actually announced an exploratory committee, yet so far has received little buzz. For a candidate who hasn’t gotten a lot of press yet, he is fortunate to have an experienced Iowa operative in Jessica Vanden Berg to help him navigate the caucus state. When he does kick his campaign into high gear, his visits in 2014 will help him when recruiting early operatives and activists.

Jim Webb visited Cedar Rapids. Photo courtesy of Dale Todd.
Jim Webb spoke at a union hall in Cedar Rapids. Photo courtesy of Dale Todd.

Elizabeth Warren

Days in Iowa: 1

Senator Elizabeth Warren headlined two Braley events in Iowa City and Des Moines. She drew impressive crowds at both (including a mostly older audience at the University of Iowa), and delivered the populist kind of speech that a segment of the Democratic base is yearning for. She’s said she won’t run, but many Iowa Democrats will hold out as “undecided” until she finally puts the speculation to rest.

Senator Elizabeth Warren led a Braley rally in Des Moines. Photo courtesy of Zebulon Beilke-McCallum
Senator Elizabeth Warren led a Braley rally in Des Moines. Photo courtesy of Zebulon Beilke-McCallum

The Run Warren Run organization, run by MoveOn.org, aims to keep the fire warm for her in case she changes her mind. The group held a well-attended organizational meeting in Des Moines in December. They’ve recently opened a Des Moines office and hired Iowa staff.

Joe Biden

Days in Iowa: 3

Don’t let the Vice President’s poor showing in the Iowa Caucus last time fool you. He’s beloved by rank-and-file Democratic activists, and Iowa is rarely far from his mind. Aside from a couple of rallies for Braley, Biden’s schedule didn’t bring him out to the Hawkeye state very often. However, when on his own time back in D.C., Biden was constantly courting Iowans where he could. Short of hanging out at Reagan International every morning for the direct DSM-DCA flight, Biden found nearly every opportunity he could to meet visiting groups of Iowans at conventions and party events.

Vice President Joe Biden in Davenport. Photo courtesy of Mike Little
Vice President Joe Biden in Davenport. Photo courtesy of Mike Little

by Pat Rynard
Posted 1/20/2015

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