Good morning readers! With just three weeks left to the Iowa Caucus, real decisions are getting made at candidate events, coffee shops and diners. The time to decide who to caucus for is here, and Starting Line has found a surprising amount of undecided voters out at both Democratic and Republican events lately. For all those of us who have been closely following every small development in the race since last January, there are actually quite a few Iowans who wait until the last month to tune in.
Starting Line had a busy weekend with a number of caucus events on Saturday, along with seeing my beloved Kansas City Chiefs get their first playoff win in 22 years. So here’s a slightly briefer Sunday Grab Bag (nevermind, just finished typing, it’s long as always):
Guns and Bernie
One of the few chinks in Bernie Sanders’ progressive armor this cycle has come from his past stances on gun control issues, something Hillary Clinton has been eager to exploit once again as Iowa nears. The big knock on Sanders is that he opposed the Brady Law and backed the gun manufacturers on the legal liability measure. The Sanders campaign argues there’s no difference between him and Obama on guns, and Sanders himself made sure to bring up in his speech in Des Moines last night of how he lost a race in Vermont because he opposed the NRA, and has a lifetime D- record from them (though after he lost that race, he voted against the Brady bill when he won the next time). He also says that he backs Obama’s new executive actions on guns.
But there’s a lot of people who simply don’t believe it. They question his commitment to the issue given his past support on very important bills for the gun industry, and his laser focus on his economic inequality message. And there were questionable moments from Sanders in the past, like when he defended gun manufacturers in an interview in the hours after the Newtown massacre.
What’s interesting is the intensity of this debate, given the leaders of the Democratic Party have only recently decided to push it back to the top of the party’s agenda (for obvious reasons, of course, with the rash of more gun violence). That’s caused some questionable moments of moral certitude among participants as of late.
Perhaps the most ridiculous part of this debate was President Obama’s op-ed in which he claimed he wouldn’t endorse or vote for any candidate who didn’t support gun reform. That’s pretty bold from a president under whom gun access has only been expanded during his presidency. Why on earth did it take him this long to decide to use executive orders for gun control? Everyone knew damn well Republicans in Congress weren’t ever going to pass legislation, not even after Newtown. He didn’t issue executive orders then, nor did he barnstorm the country, using the power of the bully pulpit in Congressional districts of wavering members. Obama made speeches and attended memorial services, but did little to actually change the dynamic of gun laws. But now that he’s decided he’s really going to engage on the issue, any other Democrat that hasn’t been 100% pure is unworthy to vote for? Even if it meant rejecting Sanders if he becomes the nominee, allowing a Republican to take over the White House? Give. Me. A. Break.
It’s an important debate, and thankfully a substantive one with real-world consequences, but how big of a deciding factor should it be in the Democratic primary? Has Sanders been as perfect on gun issues as most Democrats and progressives would like? No. His votes favorable to the gun industry should give some progressives pause. But how much progress is really going to be made on guns in the next administration anyway, so long as there’s a Republican Congress? They didn’t move after one of their own members was shot, nor did they after 20 schoolchildren were murdered in Newtown.
What would be so different about Clinton or Sanders that they would finally bring members of Congress to their senses? Clinton is happy to raise the issue to harm Sanders, but will it really come before her many other priorities, like paid family leave, equal pay and early childhood education? And would not Sanders’ many other priorities, like heavily investing in cities, healthcare reform and increasing the minimum wage also help address some of the systemic problems that cause gun violence?
All in all it’s an important issue that many Democrats feel passionately about. I will be surprised if it is the issue upon which the battle between Sanders and Clinton turns on.
John Kasich: Most Awkward Candidate Ever?
I do not understand John Kasich. I do not understand his campaign strategy of popping up in Iowa for one event at a time before flying out. I do not understand why he is running for the Republican nomination by constantly pushing issues that are nowhere near the top of conservatives’ priorities. And I really do not understand how he got elected as the Governor of Ohio with this sort of terrible campaigning style.
The Kasich event I attended this past Monday was probably the most awkward caucus event I’ve been to this cycle. His interaction with the audience was bizarre – Kasich spoke down to questioners, often pushed them on why they were asking the question and attempted several weird jokes that fell flat. He criticized the students in the room for not knowing about certain ISIS strategies (they did, they just thought he was asking rhetorical questions). In response to a question about the Renewable Fuel Standard, he replied he “already sold out on that one.”
He also seemed to keep mentioning things he knew in his head he shouldn’t. Often criticized for his meager Iowa schedule, at one point Kasich said he wished there was two of him so he could spend as much time in Iowa as he does New Hampshire. To close out the event he blurted out, “Where are we going next? Oh, New Hampshire!”
The back room of the coffee shop was packed with over 100 people to see Kasich on a Monday mid-morning, which might seem like a decent crowd at first glance. But over 20 of them were out-of-state college students studying the caucus and there were at least a dozen representatives from various issue groups. Few people there were actually interested in Kasich, likely a result of his small investment in the state – there’s simply no one really considering him.
I’d do a whole post on this, but fortunately Jennifer Jacobs wrote up what I was thinking after the event. Give it a read to see just how weird Kasich was.
Brian Moore To Retire, Dems Eye Key Pick-Up
Iowa Democrats got a nice surprise this week when Republican State Representative Brian Moore announced he wouldn’t run for reelection in 2016. That opens up a seat where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2,242, and which gave Obama 55.6% in 2012. Moore once ran as a Democrat in a 2010 state senate primary, then switched to a Republican candidate for the House, and has been difficult to knock off ever since.
Pete Hird is the Democratic candidate already announced in the race, and leaders in the party were already high on his chances. We profiled him last month. It’s possible another Democrat could jump in the race, but party donors will probably stick with Hird.
by Pat Rynard