Thoughts on Gary Johnson's Des Moines rally and Iowa prospects

Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson made his first Iowa campaign stop this year over the holiday weekend. His September 3 rally in Des Moines attracted hundreds of people, making it possibly the largest Libertarian event in Iowa history. You can watch his full speech at C-SPAN or Caffeinated Thoughts.

Johnson will qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and is consistently polling far better than the Green Party’s Jill Stein, the only other minor-party candidate routinely included in public opinion surveys. I continue to hear the Libertarian’s radio ads on various Des Moines-based stations and have seen pro-Johnson television commercials by the Purple PAC on some cable networks.

The four most recent Iowa polls measured Johnson’s support at 8 percent (Emerson College), 12 percent (Quinnipiac), 6 percent (Suffolk), and 12 percent (Marist). Polls have historically overstated support for third-party candidates. Nevertheless, if the competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump remains very close here, even a 2-3 percent showing for Johnson could determine who wins Iowa’s six electoral votes.

Though I wasn’t able to attend Saturday’s rally, listening to Johnson’s stump speech reinforced my view that he is on track to outperform all previous Libertarian presidential candidates in Iowa by a considerable margin.

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IA-04: Joni Ernst is all in for Steve King

Today U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became the third Iowa Republican heavyweight to endorse Representative Steve King, who faces a primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ernst didn’t just allow King’s campaign to announce her support in a statement, she also filmed a short video which I’ve enclosed below, along with a transcript.

Birds can be heard singing in the background as Ernst praises King for supporting life, liberty, the military, four-laning U.S. Highway 20, and the fuel blender tax credit. The sound you can’t hear is the door slamming on Bertrand’s already slim chance to win this primary.

Ernst served with Bertrand in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from 2011 through 2014, so has observed his political work more closely than most Republicans. She could have stayed neutral, though seven-term incumbent King was heavily favored to win the IA-04 primary even before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley publicly backed him.

As with Grassley’s endorsement, I wonder whether Ernst wanted to dish out some payback to Nick Ryan, the dark money operative who was recruiting a primary challenger in IA-04 and endorsed Bertrand immediately after the state senator made his campaign official.

Ryan worked for Mark Jacobs during his race against Ernst and others in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. (Bruce Rastetter, a frequent ally of Ryan and major ethanol industry figure who is also supporting Bertrand against King, backed Ernst early in that race.)

Bertrand has been promoting himself as someone who will deliver for IA-04 in Congress, rather than trying to be a "national figure." Last week, he asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski that there is widespread "discontentment" with King, who "has gone Washington." Echoing that talking point, Ryan told Petroski, "I believe we can do better. I want a conservative congressman that cares more about getting things done for his district than booking an appearance on Fox or MSNBC."

Ryan can raise a lot of money to spend on campaigns, but his track record in Iowa GOP contests is mixed. Unsuccessful candidates who benefited from spending controlled by Ryan include: Jim Gibbons in the 2010 primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district, Annette Sweeney in the 2012 primary for Iowa House district 50, Jacobs in the 2014 Senate primary, Matt Schultz in the 2014 primary for IA-03, and Mike Huckabee before the latest Iowa caucuses.

P.S.-Asked this morning whether he wants "to see King defeated" in June, Governor Terry Branstad replied, "It’s up to the voters to decide in each of these instances and I’ve always had confidence in the voters of Iowa to make a good decision and I will obviously support the Republican nominees," O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa. Branstad made headlines by calling for Ted Cruz’s defeat less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. King was Cruz’s leading surrogate in Iowa after endorsing the Texas senator for president in November.

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How Iowa law enforcement agencies justified armored vehicle requests

Marking the one-year anniversary of the militarized police crackdown on protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, Molly Redden wrote a fascinating piece for Mother Jones on how local law enforcement agencies have justified their requests for "combat style weapons, trucks, and armor." Redden noted that in public, representatives of police organizations have cited "hostage situations, rescue missions, and heavy-duty shootouts" to justify the need for military equipment. But when requesting mine resistant ambush protected vehicles through official channels, "very few sheriffs and police chiefs cite active shooters, hostage situations, or terrorism […]." More often, they indicated plans to use the equipment for SWAT raids, drug enforcement, or serving warrants.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Redden obtained more than 450 local requests for armored vehicles submitted during the past two years. She uploaded the documents here. Ten requests came from Iowa law enforcement agencies (the Iowa State Patrol, five county sheriff’s offices, and four city police departments). Those may not represent all the Iowa requests for armored vehicles; Redden told me she requested only applications with something written in the “special considerations” section of the form. However, I would assume that most police forces seeking to obtain heavy equipment from the military would explain why they need the armored vehicle and/or how they plan to use it.

After the jump I’ve enclosed links to the Iowa documents obtained by Redden and quoted each police or sheriff’s department explanation for requesting an armored vehicle.

President Barack Obama implemented new federal rules in May to prohibit transfers of certain military equipment to local police: namely, “tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and large-caliber weapons and ammunition.” All of the Iowa documents Redden obtained requested armored vehicles on wheels (though the Scott County Sheriff’s Office indicated it would also accept tracked vehicles).

On a related note, in June the U.S. House rejected amendments to next year’s military budget that would have “prohibited funds from being used for the Pentagon to transfer flash-bang grenades and armored vehicles to local police departments.” Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) voted for the unsuccessful attempt to stop transfers of armored vehicles to police departments. Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republican Steve King (IA-04) voted against that amendment.

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Iowa Congressional voting catch-up thread: Defense, trade, Medicare, chemicals, and power plants

While Congress is on recess until after July 4, it’s time to catch up on an unusually busy few weeks in June for U.S. House members. Bleeding Heartland previously covered how Iowa’s representatives voted on the failed and successful attempts to pass trade promotion authority, repeal of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat, a bill to eliminate a tax on medical devices, and the Intelligence Authorization Act.

Follow me after the jump to find out how Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted on the latest defense budget bill, more trade-related policies, and legislation dealing with chemical safety, Medicare cost controls, and regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Iowa’s representatives also voted last week on a matter relating to the growing national controversy over Confederate symbols.

Something you don’t see often when looking through Congressional roll calls: three of Iowa’s four House members crossed party lines more than once during the floor debate on the defense budget.

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Joni Ernst breaks a promise to military victims of sexual assault

"Alarming rates" of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military, most of which go unpunished, are an ongoing scandal. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has been the leading voice in the Senate for reforms to address the "vastly underreported" problem. Last year, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin both supported a bill Gillibrand introduced, which would have taken sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command.

While former Representative Bruce Braley served in the U.S. House, he repeatedly introduced legislation aimed at reducing rates of sexual assault in the military and removing “decisions over investigating and prosecuting sexual assault allegations […] from the normal chain of command.” Braley’s guest at the 2014 State of the Union address was Service Women’s Action Network executive director Anu Bhagwati, whose group “has been at the center of the national effort to reform the military’s handling of military sexual assault.”

As the Republican nominee facing Braley in last year’s U.S. Senate campaign, Joni Ernst talked a good game on this issue. After disclosing that she had faced sexual harassment while serving in the Iowa National Guard, Ernst promised to support reforms that would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, even if she got “push-back” from Pentagon leaders or GOP Senate colleagues. She also said ensuring “sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted […] should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now.”

Last week, Ernst had a chance to walk the walk. Instead, she helped kill Gillibrand’s amendment to the 2016 defense authorization bill, going back on her campaign pledge and casting a rare vote in opposition to her fellow Iowa Republican Grassley.

Follow me after the jump for more background and details on Ernst’s broken promise.

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