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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IA-04: Nick Ryan looking for a Republican to run against Steve King

Representative Steve King is among the leading Iowa Republicans basking in reflected glory from Ted Cruz’s big win in the caucuses. His endorsement in mid-November was a catalyst for Cruz’s rise in the Iowa polls. He ran interference when Cruz came under attack for his stands on the ethanol mandate and an amendment to a 2013 immigration bill. In the final hour before the Iowa caucuses convened, King tweeted, "[Dr. Ben] Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope." (Today King expressed regret for "any miscommunications" but pointed to a CNN story asserting that Carson was planning "a break from campaigning.")

Cruz’s win after trailing in the last ten polls before the caucuses cements King’s status as a hero to many Iowa Republicans. By the same token, King has disappointed some conservatives who supported him in the past.

In particular, King’s efforts on behalf of Cruz made an enemy out of Nick Ryan, who has led various super-PACs and dark money groups. Ryan is looking for a credible candidate to challenge King in a GOP primary to represent Iowa’s fourth Congressional district.

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Iowa GOP caucus-goers deliver big hit to Terry Branstad's clout

Donald Trump was the obvious Republican loser last night. Despite leading in the last ten Iowa polls released before the caucuses, Trump finished more than 6,000 votes and three percentage points behind Ted Cruz, widely perceived before yesterday to have peaked too soon. Record-breaking turnout was supposed to be a winning scenario for Trump, yet a plurality of caucus-goers cast ballots for Cruz as attendance surpassed the previous high-water mark by more than 50 percent.

For Iowa politics watchers, another big takeaway jumped out from the caucus results: Governor Terry Branstad’s advice doesn’t carry much weight with rank and file Republicans.

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Iowa caucus results thread

I will update this post throughout the evening. As of 9 pm, 75 percent of Democratic precincts have reported, and Hillary Clinton narrowly leads Bernie Sanders by 50.4 percent to 48.9 percent of state delegate equivalents. Martin O’Malley won less than 1 percent of the state delegate equivalents and is reportedly dropping out of the race. UPDATE: with 81 percent of precincts reporting (but not including some Iowa City and Cedar Rapids precincts), Clinton is barely ahead by 50.2 percent to 49.1 percent. Turnout seems to be considerably higher than I expected, which explains how well Sanders is doing. He could pull ahead to Clinton if she doesn’t have good counties and precincts outstanding.

The Republican race is too close to call between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, with about 75 percent of the votes counted. Marco Rubio is in third place. I noticed that Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal predicted a Cruz win, as did I. On the Republican side, only Cruz was running a traditional ground game. Supposedly the Trump campaign hired out its phone banking, and I never heard much about door-knocking on his behalf.

What happened in your precinct? Share your stories in the comments. I’ve posted what happened in Windsor Heights 2 below.

9:30 UPDATE: Television networks are calling the GOP race for Cruz. Mike Huckabee is dropping out of the race; he outperformed his polling numbers but is still way behind the leaders at around 7 percent.

9:45 UPDATE: With 88 percent of Democratic precincts reporting, Clinton is ahead by only 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent. Sanders could pull ahead.

10:30 UPDATE: Clinton is speaking now, which surprises me, because she’s only ahead by 50.1 percent to 49.4 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting. For some reason, the Iowa Democratic Party’s website is showing my own precinct (Windsor Heights 2) as not yet reporting. We were done by around 8:30.

11:20 UPDATE: With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton’s lead is down to 49.8 percent to 49.6 percent. A bunch of Polk County precincts are still outstanding, including mine. At least six precincts around the state had one delegate awarded by a coin flip.

12:00 am UPDATE: Steve Kornacki and Rachel Maddow got the coin flip story badly wrong on MSNBC, claiming the coin flips (all won by Clinton in the various precincts) accounted for Clinton’s statewide lead over Sanders. No. The coin flips resolve who would get the last remaining county delegate from a precinct. Clinton is ahead by a handful of state delegate equivalents.

12:50 am UPDATE: With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton leads by 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent. Just twelve precincts have not reported.

2 am: Make that ten precincts outstanding. I want to hear from Democrats who caucused in Des Moines precinct 43 at Roosevelt High School. There seems to have been some confusion about the count, and Sanders supporters online are accusing the precinct chair and the Clinton precinct captain of "fraud," based on this video. It’s not unusual for there to be some confusion or people missed during the count. We had to count our Clinton group twice last night.

2:30 am: The Iowa Democratic Party released a statement a few minutes ago, which I’ve enclosed below. According to the party, statewide turnout was 171,109, much higher than I expected but nearly 70,000 below the record turnout of 2008. The party says "Clinton has been awarded 699.57 state delegate equivalents, Bernie Sanders has been awarded 695.49 state delegate equivalents, Martin O’Malley has been awarded 7.68 state delegate equivalents and uncommitted has been awarded .46 state delegate equivalents. We still have outstanding results in one precinct (Des Moines—42), which is worth 2.28 state delegate equivalents."

The outstanding precinct (Des Moines 42) is on the west side, bordering Windsor Heights. There is no clear trend in the six neighboring precincts, with Sanders and Clinton winning two each and the other two ending in a delegate tie.

With all the excitement on the Democratic side, I forgot to update the Republican results. They are after the jump. The GOP turnout of more than 180,000 was about 50 percent higher than their previous record turnout in 2012.

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Weekend open thread: Last Des Moines Register caucus poll and a shady Ted Cruz mailer

Photo of a Ted Cruz supporter’s car spotted in Davenport on January 30; shared with the photographer’s permission.

The final Iowa caucus poll by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics shows a tight race on the Democratic side and Donald Trump retaking the lead from Ted Cruz among likely Republican caucus-goers. Key findings and excerpts from the Register’s write-ups on the poll are after the jump.

Ann Selzer is "the best pollster in politics," Clare Malone wrote in a must-read profile for FiveThirtyEight.com this week, which explained Selzer’s methods and "old-school rigor." One key part of her "A+" methodology is starting from a list of registered voters, rather than using random digit dialing to reach Iowans by phone. Nate Cohn pointed out that Iowa polls drawing respondents from a registered voter list have tended to produce better results for Hillary Clinton, while surveys using random digit dialing have produced the best numbers for Bernie Sanders. Selzer also uses a simpler likely voter/likely caucus-goer screen than many other pollsters.

Bleeding Heartland guest author fladem showed yesterday that the Iowa caucus results have sometimes been noticeably different from the last polls released. Front-runners have often seen their lead shrink, while fast-rising contenders have "come from nowhere." I am standing by my prediction that the structure of the Iowa Democratic caucuses, where only delegate counts matter, favors Hillary Clinton and will allow her to outperform her poll numbers on Monday night. Speaking of which, there’s still time to enter Bleeding Heartland’s Iowa caucus prediction contest; post a comment with your guesses before 6 pm central time on February 1.

Last spring I was sure Cruz would peak in Iowa too soon and crash before the caucuses. Campaign news from October through December convinced me that I was wrong, and I still believe more in Cruz’s ground game than in Trump’s. However, the Cruz campaign is starting to look desperate, shifting its advertising to attack Marco Rubio instead of Trump, and sending out a deceptive mailer, which implied that Republicans guilty of a "voting violation" could improve their "score" by showing up at the caucuses. I enclose below several links on the controversy and a statement from Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate denouncing the mail piece, which "misrepresents the role of my office, and worse, misrepresents Iowa election law."

Pate’s predecessor, Matt Schultz, is chairing Cruz’s Iowa campaign and defended the mailing as "common practice to increase voter turnout." As Gavin Aronsen discussed at the new website Iowa Informer, it’s rich for onetime "voter fraud" crusader Schultz to be "actively defending a purposefully misleading mailer." The hypocrisy confirms my view that Schultz and Cruz are a political match made in heaven.

Governor Terry Branstad will introduce Chris Christie at a campaign stop today but won’t officially endorse the New Jersey governor. Several people with close ties to Branstad are active supporters of Christie, who has been stuck at 3 percent in the Register’s polling for months.

Final note: I’m so happy for all the volunteers who are able to knock doors in near-perfect (for January) weather during these last few days of the campaign. Weather conditions leading up to the 2008 caucuses were terrible.

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