Sunday Grab Bag: Boring Reporting, Bernie’s Super PAC, Chelgren Toast?

Good morning readers! Sorry about that Iowa game, but at least we got a hilariously incorrect Joni Ernst tweet out of it. It was a busy week on the Iowa Caucus trail, so let’s get right into it:

Reporting On The Boring

This weekend seven Republican candidates were in Iowa on the same day, leading to tough choices by caucus reporters on who to cover. I made the wrong choices, apparently. Rather than hit up the entertaining Trump events in Spencer and Davenport, or Carson’s veterans event in Waterloo (where he made a number of interesting comments on women in the military), I attended Rand Paul events in Cedar Falls and the excruciatingly boring and overly long Rising Tide Summit in Cedar Rapids.

However, many times the dullest events can tell you just as much about the state of the race as a crazy Trump rally can. How else can you understand why a candidate is failing if you don’t see them fail in person? Of course, no one’s going to click on a post entitled “Rand Paul Gives Boring Speech To Small Crowd,” so there’s not always as much to write about. It still helps better inform the larger state-of-the-race pieces in a way you simply couldn’t if you didn’t get out there.

Most importantly, it gives credibility to push back against incorrect national narratives. For example, some have pointed out that the candidates who have spent the most time in Iowa are doing very poorly, so perhaps retail politicking doesn’t work anymore. The bigger reason is that people like Rick Santorum are lousy candidates. Santorum spends considerable amounts of time talking about his campaign victories back in 1994 and before. It’s boring and doesn’t work with the crowds. You also can’t claim that Rand Paul’s struggles mean the Republican Party has rejected his NSA surveillance opposition or more cautious foreign policy approach. He’s running a crappy campaign, Paul often seems bored on the trail and he fails to update his talking points to address the news of the day. Paul is a bad messenger for his cause, so it’s dangerous to read too much into the broader implications.

Hillary’s Iowa Caucus Comments

Who would have thought the most damaging reveal for Hillary Clinton from the recent State Department email release would have involved the Iowa Caucus? In an email to Sidney Blumenthal in January of 2012, Clinton described caucuses as “creatures of the parties extremes,” raising some protests in Iowa. The O’Malley campaign slammed the phrase, claiming it showed she still holds disdain for Iowa and the nominating process.

However, O’Malley also appeared to not be a big fan of caucuses in 2008, as this CNN story points out. Lots of national politicians have questioned or criticized the caucus process or Iowa at some point.

Obviously, Clinton’s feelings toward the caucus is the bigger concern. Iowa (or, more accurately, Obama) upended her campaign in 2008, leading to some hard feelings in the Clinton camp for many years over Iowa’s role and how caucuses work. However, the campaign has gone all-in for Iowa this year, they’ve corrected many of the Iowa mistakes of 2008 and Clinton herself also seems to be having a lot of fun at Iowa events this year.

There’s also some very important context to consider for that email. It was sent on January 22nd, two days after Rick Santorum was finally declared the winner of the Republican Iowa Caucus. So she may have been commenting more on the fact that the more right-wing Republican had just won there instead of Romney.

If Clinton wins the Iowa Caucus, as she seems likely to do, that will hopefully put to rest in her mind any concerns and keep its status in place if she becomes the nominee and later president. Still, it would be really, really nice if she just completely put it to rest by stating in public that she supports Iowa’s role as the first caucus state.

Bernie’s Super PAC

“I am the only major candidate running for president that does not have a Super PAC.”

That’s a common refrain from Bernie Sanders out on the campaign trail. However, it’s not exactly an accurate one anymore. In recent weeks several news outlets have noted how he actually is receiving some Super PAC help, specifically from the National Nurses United union that has endorsed him. They’ve spent $610,000 on behalf of Sanders through their Super PAC. But the Sanders campaign has argued that group is OK since its contributions come from nurses’ union dues.

The more tricky situation for Sanders is that the Progressive Kick Super PAC now plans on spending money to help Sanders’ campaign. To that one, his campaign has specifically said they don’t want their help. Of course, you can’t force a Super PAC to do anything, so we’ll see how that works out.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal for Sanders. There’s not many people who are going to think Sanders isn’t sincere about his effort to get big money out of politics because one group wants to raise some money for him that he’d prefer they not. And it’s not like these are corporate-funded Super PACs who hope to get some sweet business deal or tax cut from the government in return. Still, he probably should drop that line in his speech, or at least amend it a bit.

Will Republicans Move Away From Chelgren?

Those who follow Iowa politics know well about Mark Chelgren, the oddball state senator from Ottumwa who first came to fame as the scantly-clad “Chickenman” on the RAGBRAI circuit. Many Democrats cheered when he entered the race for the 2nd District, but I’ve always felt like his out-sized personality could connect with voters in southeast Iowa. But there’s a limit to the appeal of quirkiness, and he certainly crossed that line in his suggestion of executing undocumented immigrant felons who illegally enter America a second time.

Those comments earned Chelgren an avalanche of press stories in local, national and international outlets. Most interestingly, it elicited a rare rebuke from the Republican Party of Iowa, which doesn’t criticize Steve King for his outlandish statements on immigrants.

Iowa Republicans may start to think long and hard about whether they want Chelgren representing them in a high-profile race. Defeating Dave Loebsack is already a difficult task, and while Chelgren’s immigrant comments won’t sink his chances alone, it highlights the danger of his candidacy for fellow Republicans. He’s simply too much of a live wire, that he could cause the party significant embarrassment at any moment, possibly damaging their candidates’ hopes in other races in the state.

The Week Ahead

After a whirlwind of candidate activity these past two days, things quiet down in the caucus state for a bit. O’Malley does an Eastern Iowa swing, Fiorina is in town and Bernie Sanders does a two-day, eight-stop trip this weekend out east. I’ll be out covering Sanders those two days.

There’s also the Bob Vander Plaats endorsement watch, which should come sometime in December. Everyone assumes he’s going to back Ted Cruz, furthering the conservative consolidation around the Texas Senator. Expect a new round of press cycles ready to declare Cruz the Iowa front-runner.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 12/6/15

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