Iowa takes place of Congress for battle among '08 hopefuls

Eight senators traveled hundreds of miles out of their states this August in hopes of one day taking the trip of their dreams along the one-mile along stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House.

For the last several weeks the state of Iowa has supplanted the Senate as a battleground for those lawmakers who hope to one day be president. Six of the senate’s White House hopefuls journeyed to Iowa last month to campaign for local candidates and forge connections that could be valuable in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the first election of the 2008 presidential primaries.

Among Senate Democrats angling for the White House, Sens. Joe Biden (Del.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), and Russ Feingold (Wis.) spent part of August in Iowa. Among Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Sam Brownback (Kans.) toured the Hawkeye state.

“We’re exhausted,” said Rebekah Brandmeyer, executive director of the Polk County Republicans, describing what she called the “revolving door” of prominent GOP officials traveling to and from Iowa. 

Two important contenders, however, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who are facing reelection this year, only campaigned within their home states. 

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), another aspirant, skipped Iowa but traveled instead to two general election battlegrounds, Pennsylvania and Ohio, to stump for seven of congressional and statewide Democratic candidates. 

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has worked feverishly to maintain his national political standing since losing the 2004 presidential election, flew to Los Angeles. There he spoke at an Indian American leadership conference where he blasted Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), another presidential hopeful, over his controversial uttering of “macaca” on the campaign trail. 

Kerry slipped into Iowa ahead of his rivals by stopping there July 28 and 29 to campaign for Rich Olive and Pete McRoberts, who are running for the state senate and house. Kerry’s aides say that he has contributed or campaigned for 55 Democratic candidates or committees since June.

Sen. Joe Biden (Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, took a break from traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan and instead campaigned for Democratic candidates in Iowa on Aug. 12, 15, 22, 23, and 24. He then spent two days in South Carolina, another important primary state, where he attended events with the Democratic chairmen of Lexington and Charleston counties, and then returned to Iowa for three more days to campaign for Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and hold private meetings. 

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who is expected to compete with Biden and others 2008 to become the alternative to Clinton, the heavy favorite in the 2008 primary, took his fifth trip to Iowa where he stumped for 10 local Democratic candidates.

Jan Kvach, who’s running for state representative in Linn County, said that both Biden and Bayh have campaigned for her.

“They liked the talk that Biden gave more,” Kvach said of local supporters who met both senators. “But they didn’t make up their minds at all” about who to support in ’08, she added.

“He seems down to earth and like he’s going to do things for the common person,” Kvach said of Biden.
Star senators aren’t nearly as big fundraising draws in the hinterlands of Iowa as they are in Washington.

Kvach said a fundraiser headlined by Biden netted about $900 for her campaign, while a Bayh fundraiser collected about $600.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who has gained attention as a national leader among liberal Democrats, arrived in Iowa last week to campaign for House candidate Bruce Braley and state Sen. Herman Quirmbach. Last month Feingold also campaigned for several Democratic candidates in Wisconsin.
 
Like other presidential hopefuls, Feingold insists his work in key presidential primary states is about helping Democrats this November and not about preparing for 2008.

“This is about 2006,” said Trevor Miller, a spokesman for Feingold’s leadership PAC. “My boss bas traveled to 14 different states to help democratic candidates. Not all those states play in the primary for 2008.

“Sen. Feingold believes in a 50 state strategy,” he added, referring to Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s plan to build up the party in states that have not been considered political battlegrounds in recent years.

Last week Feingold’s PAC also announced that it had hired about 20 operatives who will travel to as many as a dozen states around the country to help Democratic candidates.

Bayh is pursuing the same strategy for building ties to local-level Democratic officials around the country who could be influential in the presidential primary. Bayh’s PAC has dispatched nearly fifty staff members to help candidates in Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina, said an aide.

Frist used his final August as majority leader to further bolster his expected presidential campaign. He traveled to 12 states last month, crisscrossing the country from Seattle to New Hampshire to Florida to South Carolina. He made two separate trips to Iowa, where he campaigned for House candidate Jeff Lamberti. Frist also campaigned with vulnerable Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana and Senate candidate Mark Kennedy in Minnesota.

McCain campaigned for four local candidates in Iowa, two candidates in South Carolina, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida, and attended a fundraiser for Allen in Virginia. He also spent two and a half days in Ohio, a state that played a pivotal role in the 2004 presidential election, where he stumped with embattled Sen. Mike DeWine (R).

In Iowa, at a fundraiser for State Rep. Bill Schickel, McCain was more candid about his presidential ambitions than he has been among reporters in the Capitol. McCain said if elected president he would work to improve relations with international allies, crack down on the torture of terrorism suspects, close down the Guantanamo Bay military prison, and communicate regularly with the American people.

Schickel said that tickets for the McCain fundraiser sold very quickly and that the Arizona lawmaker was well received despite challenging farm and ethanol subsidies.

Brownback also focused on Iowa. He campaigned for five state-level candidates there and also took time to get to know them before public appearances.

Brandmeyer, the Polk County GOP official, contrasted Frist’s and Brownback’s styles.  She said Brownback spent significant time campaigning with GOP challengers while Frist preferred to dole out money and make appearances with elected officials.

“Brownback is really out here helping with my local candidates and Senator Frist is out here representing his PAC; he’s not really campaigning along my local candidates,” she said, noting that Brownback has a much smaller leadership PAC.

Brownback is planning a trip to Ohio later this month.