Live Blog: Iowa Ag Summit

By Pat Rynard

March 7, 2015

Starting Line will be live-blogging Bruce Rastetter’s Iowa Ag Summit happening today at the Iowa Fair Grounds. A long list of potential Republican presidential candidates, along with many Iowa leaders, are slated to speak to the crowd. About 200 national and Iowa press are here. I’ll update this with the most-recent speakers at the top:

Scott Walker

  • Says he’s for the RFS, would phase out wind energy tax credits over a number of years.
  • Comes out strongly for TPP, says federal government should work more on trade in coordination with the states.
  • We’re not making it harder to get assistance, we’re making it easier to find a job, Walker says of cutting social programs.
  • Overall: Walker puts in another solid Iowa performance, seemed well at ease with answering every question. Gave a very Midwestern-type discussion, looked authentic to this crowd.

Rick Santorum

  • Overall: He won last time, but Santorum is going to get trounced by Huckabee if he doesn’t put up better efforts at these big joint events. He’s too much of a policy wonk. That’s can be good for the smaller events around the state, but doesn’t help you with the national press at these ones.

David Young

  • The crowd starts applauding at Young’s entrance, he says “no, no, sit down.” Young will not have your enthusiasm.
  • There was literally nothing of note to write about Young’s speech.

George Pataki

  • Pataki leads off with explaining how he grew up on a family farm.
  • Details how New York tried to overcome the oil companies blocking alternative fuels access at gas stations. Passed and signed a bill to void those kind of contracts. However, he does oppose the RFS.
  • We’re getting to the point in this summit that I’m getting pretty tired of the exact same questions for each candidate (many of which are of course getting very similar answers).
  • Pataki is very heavy on specific policies, both ones he pursued in New York and future nationwide ones. Well-versed on all of these topics, he might actually do well with caucus-goers wanting a candidate of substance.
  • Overall: Pataki, like Graham, is another candidate who I don’t see with an obvious base of support or niche in a Republican primary. Still, he did well with policy issues and spoke at length about his farm in New York and knowledge of rural issues. So who knows, maybe we can muddle the GOP field some more.

Lindsey Graham

  • “All of the above” generic response from Graham on wind energy tax credits.
  • Not really lighting the crowd on fire here with a toned-down discussion.
  • Graham talks a lot about Chinese communists, both in trade with TPP, but also about them being all over Africa, buying up industries.
  • He keeps asking people if they’ve been to Africa, Europe, China. Maybe he’s trying to get travel tips from Iowa world-travelers.
  • “Well, if I were king…” started one response. Add that to best quotes of the weekend.
  • If you allow us (GOP) to control House, Senate and White House, we’ll give you a simpler tax code, Graham promises.
  • “For rural Americans to survive, you need to be rewarded when you take a risk, not punished”
  • Graham only one to say he’d work with Democrats to get immigration reform passed, acknowledged that Republicans wouldn’t get everything they want. Surprising to have such a well-reasoned approach on the topic.
  • Overall: Actually, Graham did really well in his speech. I’m still not sure what the rationale for his candidacy is, but he performed well with many great laugh lines and asked the audience questions to keep them involved.

Ted Cruz

  • “He’s done.” That’s what a GOP activist I was standing next to said as soon as Cruz made clear he’s still opposed to the RFS. Cruz noted “that would be the easy thing to do,” but reiterated his criticism of the program as government picking winners and losers.
  • Overall: Cruz got some decent applause here and there, but this just isn’t his crowd, especially with his views on ethanol and wind. Still, you have to give him credit for being so up front about his position on the issue.

Joni Ernst

  • Ernst is clearly a crowd favorite, but it’s a tired crowd right now.
  • Ernst continually gets better at her speeches. This one is very focused, well laid-out, varying tones of speech.
  • She began with a southwest Iowa story of a farmer who was injured before the harvest, and the entire community pitched in to help him. It’s a perfect story for this crowd, but I would really like to hear Ernst relate tales from other parts of the state than just her hometown. I think that’s her biggest flaw as a Senator, she simply doesn’t talk a lot about other areas of the state as much as she could.

Rick Perry

  • (The internet has been spotty at times, but I should be back on schedule now)
  • Perry’s been addressing the crowd a lot, as opposed to just Rastetter. It’s a much better approach obviously. Perhaps the other candidates are just too used to one-on-one conversations with mega-donors.

Jeb Bush

  • Relates his past experiences in Iowa (a long time ago) when working for his father’s campaign. “I ate really well.” Sounds accurate.
  • Everyone’s getting the Cuba trade question. And everyone’s giving the same answer – no, they need to change their political structure and freedoms first.
  • Bush gave weak answers on both RFS and wind. On RFS he said the market will determine its future success. On wind, he suggested phasing out the tax credit over the next several years. Neither will sit well with Iowans who really care about it. An odd outing for Bush.
  • The only real applause lines Bush got was for generic criticisms of Obama.
  • I’m not so sure if Bush helped himself here at the Ag Summit. He doesn’t appear to be willing to budge on the main sticking points that Iowans support. Nor did he really play to the crowd much.

Rod Blum

  • Started with a story about Steve King. Not really helping himself for re-election in the Dem-leaning 1st District by keep linking himself to King.

Chuck Grassley

  • Nothing too notable here. Says there’s nothing negative about ethanol, it’s only positive. “It’s good, good, good.”
  • Hm, I’m starting to get the sense these Republicans don’t particularly care for the EPA.

Mike Huckabee

  • Starts out with education policy, especially higher education focus, to better the economy. Relates efforts go better health care access in rural communities.
  • Finally gets some big applause when he hits Obamacare.
  • America needs to fuel itself, feed itself and fight for itself. Says that’s why we need RFS. One of the better lines I’ve heard on support for the ethanol mandate. Huckabee’s long been a proponent for it.
  • One of Huckabee’s weaker moments was when he’s asked about extending the wind energy tax credit. He says he’s not sure, should be debated, then quickly veered away from the topic with some jokes. That usually gives you a pretty good idea of where he’ll actually come down on it.
  • Rastetter pressed Huckabee on immigrant families of those here legally, but Huckabee mostly pivoted to generics about leadership and electing the right people, instead of much policy talk.
  • Lots of good one-liners from Huckabee gets crowd applause. Easily relates to this audience.
  • “They kick their people in the groin” on how Cuba treats their people. One of the more interesting lines.
  • Overall: Huckabee is a natural at events like these, especially in a sit-down Q&A setting. He very deftly gets away from questions he doesn’t want to answer. But he also had well thought-out themes and answers. He should be a tough candidate to beat in Iowa once again.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds

  • Reynolds will be running for governor in 2018, so I’m looking at this speech in those terms. It’s mostly policy-heavy, official-speak though. We’ll see how it compares to Northey. If she wants to position herself better for 2018, she may want to consider throwing in a few more applause lines at events like this.

Chris Christie

  • “I’m for trade promotion authority.” But he’s not willing to trade with Cuba, and goes into a long story about a fugitive that killed a cop in New Jersey who he says is getting sanctuary in Cuba. Pretty sure we trade with a lot of bad people.
  • “That’s what the law requires” on his support of RFS… a response which could be stronger.
  • Explains how New Jersey pulled out of a regional cap-and-trade in northeast states. Also notes that New Jersey is the 2nd-biggest solar producer in the country.
  • “Farmers want to protect the environment, it’s in their interest.”
  • Christie gets his own hecklers over EPA comments, handles it well. Jokes that his fans from New Jersey are following him. Crowd laughs.
  • Doesn’t go too in-depth on immigration policy. Says “having someone in government who’s actually run something before” is important to it.
  • One-word answer to if GMO foods should be labeled: “No.”
  • Overall: Christie gave many punchy, concise answers to Rastetter’s questions. He didn’t get too deep into many of the issues, but showed off his leadership approach to the crowd. I think he came off well to the Republican crowd, even if he didn’t get too many big applause lines (which is a bit hard when you’re just doing Q&A).

Terry Branstad

  • The Governor doesn’t even get past the first line of his speech before a protester stands up and starts heckling.
  • 25% of our energy now, soon to be 50% is wind energy Branstad notes, saying it’s another source of income for farmers.
  • Criticizes President Obama, says he tries to “gut” the Renewable Fuel Standard. Hits him on continuing to delay decision on RFS.
  • “Agriculture is not a partisan issue,” Branstad says, after ripping into Obama multiple times.
  • “Don’t mess with the RFS!”
  • “What ethanol needs is fair access to the market, which big oil wants to prevent.”
  • Overall, Branstad’s speech is a little stilted,  through strongly-delivered, and his head is often down reading directly off of his notes. But it’s Branstad, so whatever.




  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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