A race that ends where it began

Dan Guild: Donald Trump’s presidency is defined by the stability of its unpopularity, and elections with incumbents are defined by perceptions of their job approval. -promoted by Laura Belin

I wrote at Crystal Ball in April that elections with incumbents are defined by perceptions of their job approval. In a post for this site in July, I suggested that Trump’s approval, and the sense across the country that things were out of control, reminded me of the difficulties that Jimmy Carter faced in his re-election.

On the eve of the election I find myself thinking about the parallel to 1980 again.

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Joni Ernst learned the wrong lesson from Chuck Grassley

Senator Joni Ernst shouldn’t be in this position.

Given Iowans’ tendency to re-elect incumbents and the state’s rightward drift this past decade, she should be running ten points ahead.

Instead, Iowa’s Senate race is universally seen as a toss-up. Ernst has led in only two polls released since the June primary. Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield has led in fourteen polls during the same period.

Not all of Ernst’s political problems are her own creation. The COVID-19 pandemic and President Donald Trump’s disastrous leadership have put at risk several GOP-held seats that once seemed safe.

But Ernst could have set herself up better to survive a tough environment for her party. Her most important strategic error was not following the example Chuck Grassley set as a 40-something first-term senator.

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Hoover Library and Museum--Nothing to be depressed about

Herb Strentz reports on a recent visit to the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum and on the new challenges facing those who archive and exhibit presidential records. -promoted by Laura Belin

Herbert Hoover lived the American dream; Herbert Hoover endured the American nightmare.

That and more are documented in the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, an Iowa jewel and part of the Presidential Library system administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (covered in my last Bleeding Heartland article).

This post focuses on Hoover and West Branch as NARA goes digital to facilitate access to records. The shift likely marks the end of having any more presidential libraries like the one in Iowa, which has drawn some 4 million visitors since its dedication in 1962, and has offered special programs for some 555,000 people since 1997. Such programming continues in modest ways and will resume when COVID-19-related closures end.

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Presidential debates: Candidates in search of that magic moment

Dan Guild reviews presidential polling since 1976 to gauge the impact of televised debates. -promoted by Laura Belin

Since the advent of television, politics and indeed history have occasionally turned on a few moments. Seldom do they last longer than 60 seconds (like wit, television values brevity above all else).

Senator Joe McCarthy, and the moment he led, were stopped when he was asked, “Have you no decency, sir?” During the Watergate hearings, Howard Baker summed up the entire scandal when he asked, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

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There will be no presidential libraries for Obama, Trump

Herb Strentz examines the impact of digitization on institutions valued by historians and archivists. -promoted by Laura Belin

Whatever the outcome of our presidential election, there will not be a traditional Donald Trump Library to inspire jokes about his presidency or to morph millions of scattershot tweets into scholarly insights.

Nor, for that matter, will there be a Barack Obama Library, once lawsuits over a proposed Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park are settled. Scheduled for groundbreaking in 2018, the proposed $500 million community center is mired in litigation over its location and other issues.

Regardless, we likely have seen the last of public presidential libraries under the aegis of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as fixed places where citizens, visitors and scholars can read through millions of books and billions of pages to better understand the challenges and promises of democracy. That is what President Franklin D. Roosevelt dreamed when he set the library idea in motion in 1939.

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Iowa agriculture, climate change, and "SWAPA"

Paul W. Johnson is a preacher’s kid, former Iowa state legislator, former chief of the USDA Soil Conservation Service/Natural Resources Conservation Service, former director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and a retired farmer. -promoted by Laura Belin

In the early 1980s there was a serious farm crisis in Iowa. Land and commodity prices were falling, so banks were calling in farm loans and foreclosing on farmers who couldn’t pay up. Maurice Dingman was bishop of the Des Moines area during those years, and he was speaking up strongly for farmers who were suffering during this time. I was impressed by his defense of family farmers.

In 1987 David Osterberg and I were serving in the Iowa legislature–he representing Mount Vernon, I representing Decorah–and working on groundwater protection. Industrial agriculture sent their lobbyists to weaken our legislation, and newspapers were carrying stories about their fierce opposition to our work.

During this time, Bishop Dingman phoned us and suggested we have lunch together. 

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