Weekend open thread: Iowa Ag Summit anniversary edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

A year ago this weekend, nine presidential candidates, both of Iowa’s U.S. senators, three of our U.S. House representatives, Governor Terry Branstad, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds were among the speakers at Bruce Rastetter’s inaugural Iowa Ag Summit. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the early front-runner in the presidential field and had just rolled out his first big batch of endorsements here. Although Donald Trump had recently hired heavyweight conservative organizer Chuck Laudner, few people expected him to be a strong contender for the Iowa caucuses. The billionaire didn’t make it to Rastetter’s event; like Marco Rubio, he initially accepted the Ag Summit invitation but developed schedule conflicts later.

Jeb Bush looked like a strong presidential contender in March 2015. He was raising money like no one else in the GOP field and had hired veteran Iowa political operative David Kochel earlier in the year. The day before the Ag Summit, the Des Moines Register ran a front-page feature on Bush that was so flattering to the former Florida governor, I felt compelled to write this post and begin work on a lengthier critique of the Register’s political coverage, which took nearly two months to complete.

Chris Christie was among the Ag Summit speakers. More than six months later, he picked up endorsements from Rastetter and several other prominent Iowa business Republicans. Christie’s poor performance on caucus night showed the limits of the would-be kingmaker’s influence, and that of others in Branstad’s orbit who had actively supported Christie’s presidential campaign.

Rastetter invited more than a half-dozen prominent Democrats to his Ag Summit. Wisely, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and all of the potential presidential candidates blew off the event. Only one Democrat spoke to the gathering: former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, in her capacity as co-chair of America’s Renewable Future. That group was formed and funded by biofuels companies and related interest groups to advocate for the Renewable Fuel Standard. (Later in 2015, America’s Renewable Future spent more than $100,000 on radio ads and direct mail attacking Ted Cruz over his stand on the ethanol mandate.)

I enclose below a video of Judge’s remarks a year ago this weekend. Near the beginning of her speech, she commented, "Let me say from the outset, I truly believe that I disagree with just almost everyone that you will see on this stage today, on almost every issue. However, I certainly hope that we do agree on the importance of maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard and keeping Iowa leading our nation forward in the development of renewable fuel."

I doubt anyone would have predicted a year ago that Walker wouldn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses, that Trump and Cruz would be leading in the GOP delegate count, or that Judge would enter the race against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

P.S.- The Greeley (Colorado) Tribune published a good backgrounder on where all the remaining presidential candidates stand on agricultural issues.

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Memo to journalists: Craig Robinson's firm makes money off the Iowa caucus campaign

Craig Robinson is among the go-to Republicans for national press covering the Iowa caucuses. His insights are partly informed by a wealth of experience: as a staffer on Steve Forbes’ presidential campaign before the 2000 caucuses, as political director of the state GOP during the year before the 2008 caucuses, and as publisher of The Iowa Republican blog since 2009.

One salient fact rarely, if ever, makes it into the news stories quoting Robinson about prospects for Republican contenders in Iowa: his company Global Intermediate has been paid to do direct mail for or against certain candidates in the field.

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A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll to give the GOP establishment nightmares

Selzer & Co’s new survey of Iowa Republicans for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News gives GOP strategists plenty to worry about.

The top three “outsider” candidates (Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz) are the first choice for 49 percent of respondents. The top three “establishment” candidates (Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio) are the first choice for only 20 percent.

The survey also indicates that several candidates considered heavyweight contenders are yesterday’s news for likely GOP caucus-goers. The 2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee is sitting at 4 percent, tied with Rand Paul, who had been expected to inherit much of his father’s support from the last election campaign. The 2012 winner Rick Santorum is at 1 percent.

The Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs wrote up the key findings here, with input from Jason Noble. My first thoughts about the numbers are after the jump.

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One reader's feedback for new Des Moines Register publisher David Chivers

David Chivers started work yesterday as the Des Moines Register’s president and publisher. The Des Moines native comes from a strong background in digital marketing. Speaking to Register employees on the day Gannett announced his hiring, Chivers acknowledged he has a lot to learn about the newspaper and said he welcomed "candid discussions" on how to "push the brand and the business forward."

In that spirit, I offer my thoughts on ways the Register could better serve readers who rely on the paper for political news. Balanced, fact-based reporting is central to the Register’s brand as “the newspaper Iowa depends upon.” Unfortunately, last year’s election coverage hurt the Register’s reputation among many politically-engaged Iowans. Acknowledging the problem is essential to avoid compounding the damage during the upcoming Iowa caucus campaign.

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Des Moines Register spins for Jeb Bush ahead of Iowa Ag Summit (updated)

Ten potential Republican presidential candidates will speak at Bruce Rastetter’s Iowa Agriculture Summit today, and a few more may send videotaped remarks. But only one GOP contender was the focus of a long and flattering feature by the Des Moines Register’s chief political correspondent the day before the event.

When Jeb Bush hired longtime Iowa GOP consultant David Kochel, I figured friendly coverage in the Register would be coming to the former Florida governor. During last year’s U.S. Senate campaign, just about every line Joni Ernst’s backers wanted out there ended up in some Des Moines Register piece by Jennifer Jacobs. Still, Jacobs’ spread on Bush in Friday’s Des Moines Register shocked me. The message could hardly have been more perfectly tailored for Iowa Republicans if Bush’s spin doctors had written it themselves.

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Five takeaways from Jeb Bush's first money drop on Iowa Republicans

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made a strong statement on Friday when his political action committee announced $122,800 in donations to Republican parties and candidates in early presidential nominating states. The Right to Rise PAC gave $10,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa and $5,200 each to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative David Young (IA-03).

The money Bush gave (and didn’t give) in Iowa speaks volumes.

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