Presidential races

2016 Dem hopefuls storm Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Democrats are converging on Iowa as the 2016 field begins to take shape.

Though former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first return to the state that dealt her a stinging defeat in 2008 is taking center stage, she won’t be alone in making her White House interest known. 

Within a matter of days Clinton, Vice President Biden, and even longshot Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are taking trips to the critical caucus state — a reminder to the former first lady that she can’t take an Iowa win for granted again if she wants to be president. 

“There’s beginning to be a lot of interest in 2016. People are in Iowa for a reason,” said former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge (D). 

{mosads}Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton will spend Sunday at the final political steak fry hosted by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). 

While most of the public talk will be about the midterm election and the tight Iowa Senate race, the private chatter will be all about 2016.

Some other Democrats have paid brief visits to Iowa in the last 12 months—and GOP visits there from the Republicans’ unsettled potential field are frequent, but the arrival of Clinton and Biden show that heavyweights are beginning to give the launchpad state attention as well.

The influx of trips marks a new stage in early 2016 maneuvering among Democrats as potential candidates look to line up support support in the critical state, which is not only the first to officially pick a preferred party candidate, but also a key swing state. 

After all, it was President Obama’s surprising win in the caucus back in 2008 that catapulted him to the top of the primary heap.

While the candidates begin to pay attention to Iowa, the picture among Democrats there is fairly similar to the national scene: try to catch up with Clinton. A new poll out Friday from CNN/ORC found that 53 percent of registered Iowa Democrats say they would back Clinton in 2016, far beyond the 15 percent support pulled by Biden.

Judge, who backed Obama in 2008, heaped praise on Clinton Friday, calling her “incredibly competent and incredibly intelligent.” 

But the Democrat said the former secretary of state will have to work hard to win Iowa’s caucuses in spite of her big early lead in the polls, especially after she was seen as taking the state for granted six years ago. Clinton finished a disappointing third, behind Obama and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). 

“Iowa is retail politics and she’s going to have to do retail politics,” said Judge. “She’s got some work to do…she has to be presenting herself as the compassionate person we know she is.”

Clinton’s campaign-in-waiting has already been active in the state. The Ready for Hillary super-PAC has already visited all of Iowa’s 99 counties, and next week will visit six college campuses there on her behalf. 

Iowa Democrats say the steak fry is a great place for Clinton to make her reintroduction to the state — it gives her a chance to show her humble side and play second fiddle at the event, which marks the final time Harkin will host the event that has been an Iowa political mainstay for nearly four decades. 

While no candidate from either party has officially launched a bid, Clinton’s camp and Iowa operatives are well aware of the significance of her appearance in the politically rife state.

“I think there was a legitimate question six months ago about whether or not she was running,” said former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky. “Clearly, to me at least, this visit on Sunday puts that question to rest. It’s not an announcement but it’s a message, a signal, and everyone’s picked up on it.”

The vice president will head to Iowa just days after Clinton’s appearance, as the outspoken politician has not ruled out a 2016 run himself. Biden will be traveling to Iowa in an official capacity, but he also made a similar official trip to another key early state, New Hampshire, earlier this month.

Before this weekend’s trips, Democrats with a national presence have made just a handful of visits to the state. According to an NBC tally, Biden visited the state one year ago to headline the steak fry. 

Meanwhile, Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and is exploring a challenge to Clinton from the left, made the journey in May. This weekend he has a trio of stops planned, hoping to make inroads with a number of liberal and labor groups at several events.

Among other Democratic aspirants, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is leading the way in terms of Iowa visits, have logged three since the beginning of June.  

Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and former Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) have also all paid visits. And O’Malley has actually taken the step of placing staff within the state to assist with the governor’s race and the state party, potentially building influence and key friends within the state’s Democratic infrastructure even though he’s still seen as a longshot. 

That amount of time Democrats have spent in the state pales in comparison to the wide-open Republican field, where potential 2016-ers have been much more aggressive about spending time in Iowa.

The lack of a clear GOP frontrunner has enticed 11 different GOP candidates to spend over 50 days in the state by the beginning of August, according to the Des Moines Register.

Republicans were quick to highlight Friday that Clinton’s visit to Iowa marks her first since losing the caucus back in 2008, and argued the factors behind that loss remain in place today.

“She lost…because she’s one of the most out-of-touch politicians in America, and she had a very difficult time in connecting with people in the Hawkeye state,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. 

In addition to Clinton and Biden, Sanders will be making his return to Iowa this week as well. The self-identified socialist is examining a presidential run, ready to make a case centered around economic inequality, while touting his record against the Iraq War and Patriot Act – two laws Clinton backed as a New York senator.

“The American people, and the people of Iowa, deserve a debate on the major issues facing working families in this country,” he told The Hill Friday. “We don’t need the anointment of the candidate, what we need is a serious debate about serious issues,”

But there are early signs that Sanders could have his hands full. Friday’s CNN/ORC poll showed him pulling just five percent among Iowa Democrats. That places him behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the outspoken bank critic who has repeatedly said she is not running.

But Sanders, who also will appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this Sunday, says there’s plenty of opportunity to change that number.

“I doubt very much that I am a household name in Iowa, so I think the more people learn about what I stand for…I suspect that number will go up,” he said. “At this stage, not a bad number.”


Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Tom Harkin
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