Seven potential Republican presidential candidates have accepted Bruce Rastetter’s invitation to attend an “Iowa Agricultural Forum” in Des Moines next month, Erin Murphy reported yesterday. The seven are Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and
national laughingstock sorry, entrepreneur Donald Trump. No doubt more Republicans will show up to be heard as well.
Rastetter also invited U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as well as a half-dozen Democrats who may run for president this cycle or in the future: Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former U.S. Senator Jim Webb. So far no Democrats have accepted the invitation.
I hope they all steer clear of this event.
It’s a bit late for Rastetter to reinvent himself as some kind of non-partisan elder statesman. He provided the seed money for the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, which quickly grew into one of the biggest-spending and most deceptive dark money groups on the right. After leading an effort to bring Terry Branstad out of political retirement, Rastetter became the top individual donor to Branstad’s 2010 campaign, landing a prestigious appointment to the influential Board of Regents. As a Regent, he has thrown his weight around more than most of his predecessors. In what many viewed as a conflict of interest, Rastetter continued to pursue a business project involving his biofuels company and Iowa State University in an extensive land acquisition in Tanzania. Later, he tried to get the University of Iowa’s president to arrange a meeting where biofuels industry representatives could educate a prominent professor whom Rastetter considered “uninformed” about ethanol. Rastetter was also involved in the fiasco that eventually led to Senator Tom Harkin pulling his papers from Iowa State University.
Early in the 2012 election cycle, Rastetter led a group of Iowa businessmen who tried to recruit New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Although he is now cultivating an image as a corporate leader who is above the political fray, he will always be seen as a Republican power-broker in Iowa. I don’t see much upside to any Democrat showing up to kiss Rastetter’s ring. At best, the national and local reporters covering the Agriculture Forum will write about the “frosty reception” Democratic speakers got from a conservative audience. Or more likely, disruption by hecklers will overshadow any Democratic message on agricultural policy.
Democrats who may run for president will have lots of opportunities this year to address Iowans who might actually listen to them.