# Jim Webb

Is the Iowa Democratic Party still a big tent? Thoughts from a Webb Democrat

Tyler Mills is a writer in Lee County and a former member of the Lee County Democratic Central Committee.

Note: This post is not implying that former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Jim Webb is still aligned with the Democratic Party. I am simply questioning whether the party is really a big tent any longer, if an honorable individual like Jim Webb cannot gain traction.

Are Democrats who hold views similar to Jim Webb’s still welcome in the party? President Barack Obama missed many opportunities to unite the country during his eight years in office. However, in my opinion, he was still a far better leader than Presidents Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

I wrote this piece because I am worried about the lack of diversity of thought within the Iowa Democratic Party.

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Sounds like Jim Webb is leaning toward an independent presidential bid

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Ten days after ending his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb appears to be leaning toward an independent candidacy. His guest editorial in today’s Washington Post is titled, “America needs an independent presidential candidate.” Excerpt:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) notwithstanding, the Democratic Party has coalesced around a member of a powerful, moneyed dynasty whom at this point most Americans do not trust and half do not like. If successful, she would guarantee further gridlock; if unsuccessful, she could lead the Democratic Party to the same dismal results it experienced in the elections in 2010 and 2014.

Tectonic shifts occur slowly but eventually they produce earthquakes. It is becoming ever clearer that we are on the cusp of a new era in U.S. politics, driven by the reality that a large percentage of Americans really do dislike both political parties and their leaders. They want and deserve something different, and nowhere is that reality more clearly seen than in the presidential race, in which the extremes that have taken over the nominating process have become glaringly obvious.

There can be no better answer to these developments than electing as president a tested, common-sense independent who can bring to Washington a bipartisan administration to break the gridlock paralyzing our political debates and restore the faith of our people in their leaders.

I am in the process of deciding whether to mount such a campaign. Clearly, the need for another option grows stronger and more apparent by the day.

Disenchantment with the major political parties is nothing new. But if the much better-known independent candidate Ross Perot couldn’t win a single state after spending some $60 million on his 1992 presidential bid, how on earth does Webb think he could be elected next year? He’d need to raise an estimated $8 million just to get on the ballot in all 50 states. In his last fundraising quarter as a Democratic candidate, Webb raised less than $700,000.

For a fraction of the expense of running for president, Webb could become an influential nationwide advocate for criminal justice reform. I remain hopeful that after weighing the costs and benefits, Webb will reject a hopeless vanity bid in favor of an issue-based campaign to change this country for the better.

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Lincoln Chafee exits Democratic race

Former Governor and Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island ended his presidential campaign today, saying to a conference of the Women’s Leadership Forum that “the Republican agenda sets back women’s rights and I pledge all my energy towards a big 2016 victory for Democrats across the country.” Chafee was getting no traction in national or Iowa polls of Democrats, nor did he perform well in last week’s televised debate.

With Vice President Joe Biden ruling out a third presidential bid and Jim Webb ending his quest for the Democratic nomination this week, the primaries are shaping up to be a straightforward choice between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Martin O’Malley won’t have to fight with other second-tier candidates for attention anymore, but he has a lot of work to do to present himself as a viable alternative to the front-runners.

Chafee had been scheduled to speak last at tomorrow night’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Des Moines, and I was dreading the prospect of hundreds of people leaving the hall during his remarks. Way too many Iowa Democrats did that during Chafee’s speech to the “Wing Ding” in August and during Webb’s speech to the IDP’s Hall of Fame dinner in July. Such poor form not to hear out all the candidates, even marginal ones.

New Des Moines Register poll: Clinton 48, Sanders 41

Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders as the first choice of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers by 48 percent to 41 percent, with all other candidates far behind, according to a new poll by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics. Jennifer Jacobs reported the main findings in today’s Des Moines Register. Since the poll was in the field before Vice President Joe Biden ruled out running for president again, the Register reallocated Biden’s supporters to their named second-choice candidate. Selzer’s previous Iowa poll showed Clinton ahead of Sanders by 37 percent to 30 percent with Biden in the field and by 43 percent to 35 percent without Biden as an option.

After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from Jacobs’ report, focusing on weak points for Clinton and Sanders.

Just 2 percent of respondents named Martin O’Malley as their first choice in the Register’s latest poll, behind “not sure” at 4 percent and “uncommitted” at 3 percent. Bleeding Heartland has a post in progress with my hypothesis on why O’Malley is getting no traction in Iowa, despite doing all the right things in terms of organizing and retail politics. Every time I’ve seen the former Maryland governor campaign here this year, audiences have responded favorably to his stump speech. I usually hear good feedback from other Democrats who have attended his events too, but it’s not translating into enough people signing supporter cards. Unfortunately for O’Malley, both Clinton and Sanders performed very well in last week’s debate, which drew record viewership for a debate featuring Democratic presidential candidates.

Jim Webb made the right choice to drop out of the race; the Register’s new poll showed him tied with Lincoln Chafee at 1 percent. Yesterday, Webb tweeted that it’s time for this country to “fix” the criminal justice system. I hope he will become heavily engaged in criminal justice reform efforts at the federal and state levels, instead of pouring his energy into an independent presidential bid.

The most shocking finding in the the Register’s latest poll: Iowa Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is “good for Iowa.” Among likely Democratic caucus-goers, 39 percent said the TPP deal is good for Iowa, 27 percent said bad for Iowa, and 34 percent were unsure. Among likely Republican caucus-goers, just 27 percent said TPP was good for Iowa, 30 percent said bad for Iowa, and 42 percent were unsure. For decades, the Iowa business community and in particular representatives of Big Ag have spun “free trade” agreements as good for this state, so I would have expected much stronger support for TPP among Republicans.

UPDATE: Quinnipiac released a new Iowa poll on October 23 showing Clinton leading Sanders by 51 percent to 40 percent, with O’Malley at 4 percent. I enclosed below excerpts from the polling memo. Last month’s Quinnipiac poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers showed Sanders at 41 percent and Clinton at 40 percent.

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A better use of Jim Webb's time than running for president as an independent

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Former U.S. Senator Jim Webb ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination today. Warning that “The very nature of our democracy is under siege due to the power structure and the money that finances both political parties,” Webb said he will spend the next few weeks deciding whether to run for president as an independent. He still believes he “can provide the best leadership” to meet the country’s challenges and intends “to remain fully engaged in the debates that are facing us.”

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 2012, recently estimated that getting on the ballot in all 50 states would cost about $8 million and would require a lot of organizational work. Webb asserted today, “I have no doubt that if I ran as an independent we would have significant financial help.” But his presidential campaign raised less than $700,000 during the entire third quarter. Nor did Webb build much of an organization, even in the early-nominating states.

Webb could devote the next year to seeking ballot access and public attention, winning a few percent of the vote in the best-case scenario. Or, he could influence a salient public policy debate that is close to his heart with a much smaller investment of his time and other people’s money.

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First Democratic presidential debate discussion thread

In a few moments, five Democratic presidential candidates will take the stage in Las Vegas for their first televised debate. I wish the Democratic National Committee hadn’t stood in the way of scheduling more debates, starting this summer. Listening to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz try to defend her stance in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer today, all I could think was, thank heaven for the “Big Blue Wall.” We aren’t going to win elections on Wasserman-Schultz’s strategic skills, that’s for sure.

All of the candidates are under pressure tonight. Hillary Clinton wants to change the dominant media narrative, which has been relentlessly negative about her candidacy for months. Bernie Sanders has his first substantial block of tv time to talk about his policies. In recent months, network news coverage has devoted far more air time to Joe Biden’s possible presidential bid than to Sanders’ actual campaign, which is drawing record crowds.

As the loudest voice for more debates, who has received relatively little media attention so far, Martin O’Malley needs a strong showing tonight, especially since the other debates scheduled before the Iowa caucuses are all happening on weekends, when viewership will likely be low. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee will also want to break through to a national audience, but they are not building real campaign organizations the way O’Malley has done. Twitter user dcg1114, who posted this guest piece at Bleeding Heartland last month, noted today that the first debate of the 1984 election cycle gave Gary Hart his “first real sign of life.” In particular, that debate helped Hart improve his standing for the Iowa caucuses.

Incidentally, former Iowan and Democratic activist Tommi Makila wrote a blistering commentary contrasting O’Malley’s criticism of the DNC’s “rigged” process with the “rigged” Democratic primaries Makila has observed since moving to Maryland years ago.

Please share any relevant comments in this thread. I’ll update this post later with first thoughts on the debate. UPDATE: My impressions are below.

After the jump I’ve posted videos of the latest commercials Clinton has been running, as well as the debut tv ad the Generation Forward PAC put on the air in Iowa supporting O’Malley.  

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Iowa Democratic caucus links and latest polls

It’s been a while since Bleeding Heartland had a discussion thread about the Democratic caucus campaign. After the jump I’ve posted highlights from the latest opinion polls of Iowa Democrats and other links on campaign infrastructure and strategies. Whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is building a stronger Iowa organization so far is an open question.

Any comments about the caucuses are welcome in this thread.

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Quinnipiac is first pollster to show Sanders leading Clinton in Iowa

Quinnipiac is out with a new poll showing 41 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers favor Bernie Sanders, to 40 percent for Hillary Clinton, 12 percent for Joe Biden, 3 percent each for Martin O’Malley and undecided, 1 percent for Jim Webb, and less than 1 percent for Lincoln Chafee. Although several polling firms have shown Sanders ahead in New Hampshire, no previous survey has found him closer than 7 points behind Clinton in Iowa.

Quinnipiac’s poll surveyed 832 “likely Iowa Democratic Caucus participants” between August 27 and September 8, producing a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent. Other Iowa polls in the field either during that window or a few days before it found Clinton leads ranging from 7 points (Selzer & Co’s survey for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics) to 11 points (NBC/Marist) to 25 points (Loras College) to 28 points (a Gravis Marketing survey that inexplicably included Elizabeth Warren).

Click here for the Quinnipiac polling memo and full results with questionnaire. The survey found “a wide gender gap among Democrats today as Sanders leads Clinton 49 – 28 percent among men, with 16 percent for Biden, while Clinton leads Sanders 49 – 35 percent among women, with 9 percent for Biden.” Clinton’s favorability rating of 76 percent is comparable to Sanders’ 78 percent and Biden’s 79 percent, but her unfavorable rating of 20 percent is much higher than that of Sanders or Biden (6 percent and 9 percent, respectively). Respondents rated Clinton higher for leadership qualities and “the right kind of temperament and personality to handle an international crisis as president.”

The Quinnipiac Poll’s assistant director Peter A. Brown compared Sanders to 1968 anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy, because he is “the candidate of the Democratic left, against his own party’s bosses and their prized presidential candidate […] Sanders has seized the momentum by offering a message more in line with disproportionately liberal primary and caucus voters.”

DNC still can't justify its limits on presidential candidate debates (updated)

Four Iowa Democratic county chairs made cogent arguments today for expanding the number of presidential debates before caucuses and primaries begin. In an accompanying statement, 27 local Democratic leaders in Iowa joined the call for more debates, starting sooner this year.

As usual, the Democratic National Committee failed to offer a compelling defense for their unprecedented and ridiculous policy limiting candidates to six officially sanctioned debates, starting in mid-October.  

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Labor Day weekend open thread, with new Iowa caucus polls

Happy Labor Day weekend to the Bleeding Heartland community! This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Click here for a brief history of the holiday.

For those wanting to enjoy the outdoors during the unofficial last weekend of summer, you may find some inspiration in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ list of fourteen “incredible hikes in our state parks and forests,” here and here. I’m embarrassed by how few of those parks I have visited, but I can highly recommend the walking trails at the Ledges and Dolliver Memorial State Parks.

Three more polling firms have released new Iowa caucus surveys since last weekend’s Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg news. Highlights are after the jump. All recent polls put Donald Trump and Ben Carson well ahead of the rest of the Republican field in Iowa. Bernie Sanders has clearly gained some ground on Hillary Clinton, but other polls have found a larger lead for the Democratic front-runner here than Selzer did.

Eric Boehlert was quick to criticize the media for giving Selzer’s poll of Iowa Democrats such big play last weekend, even though it looks like an “outlier” in his view. I take his point, but the last time I said a Selzer poll appeared to be an outlier, I had to eat my words.

Before I get to the polls below, here’s one for the “campaigns don’t matter” crowd, who believe economic conditions largely decide presidential elections. The Moody’s Analytics model “now predicts a Democratic electoral landslide in the 2016 presidential vote,” with 326 electoral votes for the Democratic nominee and 212 to the Republican. Click through for more information on the Moody’s methodology.

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DNC has no good answer to Martin O'Malley's case for more debates

Three days have passed since presidential candidate Martin O’Malley blasted the Democratic National Committee’s “cynical move to delay and limit our own Party debates” during a speech to members and leaders at the DNC’s summer meeting. I enclose below the full text of O’Malley’s remarks, as prepared. The first section presses his case against the “unprecedented,” “rigged process” for allowing only six presidential candidate debates. O’Malley noted that just four debates are scheduled before the early caucuses and primaries, and “the New Hampshire debate is cynically wedged into the high point of the holiday shopping season so as few people watch it as possible.” For those who haven’t had a chance to see O’Malley campaign yet, the other sections of his remarks are adapted from his standard stump speech.

I have yet to hear any good argument for limiting presidential debates. You won’t find any response to O’Malley on the DNC’s official website. While the governor’s comments about debates were the big news from the summer meeting, dominating most media coverage of the event, the DNC’s Twitter feed picked this bland quote to highlight: “‘Whether or not we make the American Dream true again for all American families is up to us.’ -@MartinOMalley #dems15”

At the Iowa State Fair, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz couldn’t be distracted from her laundry list of talking points to respond to hecklers demanding more debates. Nor could she be bothered to engage with O’Malley’s substantive case last Friday. CNN reported that Wasserman Schultz “spent most of the speech looking down at a table just feet from the governor,” rarely clapping. Asked about O’Malley’s claim that it might be illegal for the national party to prohibit candidates from debating in non-sanctioned forums, the DNC leader told CNN, “I am quite confident that the process we have established is directly compliant with our rules and completely legal, whatever that means.” But why is she so set on those rules?

Conventional wisdom says the DNC intervened in the process to put a thumb on the scale for Hillary Clinton. Although long-shot candidates arguably have more to gain from debates than the front-runner, I reject the premise that the DNC’s asinine policy helps Clinton. She and all Democrats would benefit from a large national audience watching five (or perhaps six) candidates intelligently discuss issues that matter to people’s lives. More important, Democratic voters should have more than a handful of chances to see our candidates side by side.

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Big gains for Bernie Sanders in new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll

Hillary Clinton has a real fight on her hands in Iowa, according to the latest poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News. Among 404 likely Democratic caucus-goers surveyed between August 23 and 26, Clinton is the first choice of 37 percent, followed by Bernie Sanders (30 percent), Joe Biden (14 percent), “not sure” (8 percent), “uncommitted” (6 percent), Martin O’Malley (3 percent), Jim Webb (2 percent), and Lincoln Chafee (1 percent. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

When respondents did not have the option of selecting Biden, Clinton was the first choice of 43 percent of respondents, while 35 percent picked Sanders.

The Selzer poll will worry the front-runner’s campaign, especially since two surveys of New Hampshire Democrats have now shown Sanders leading Clinton in the first primary state. Notably, Selzer found Sanders way ahead among caucus-goers under age 45 (50 percent to 27 percent), among first-time caucus-goers (43 percent to 31 percent), and among independents likely to participate in the Democratic caucuses (a 21-point lead, but I don’t see the numbers in the write-up by Jennifer Jacobs). Caucus-goers who are “feeling the Bern” are not driven by “anyone but Hillary” sentiment. Some 96 percent of respondents backing Sanders are doing so “mostly because [they] support him and his ideas”; just 2 percent said Sanders is their first choice mostly because they do not support Clinton.

The poll is horrendous news for O’Malley, who has worked his heart out campaigning in Iowa. Since 2013, he has visited the state fifteen times, spending all or part of 29 days here. Every time I’ve seen O’Malley in person, his stump speech has been well-received, but Sanders seized the progressive/liberal niche early. I don’t see a path for O’Malley to become viable in most of the state’s precincts. While he has been filling small and medium-sized venues, Sanders has been drawing ridiculously large crowds all over the state, most recently at the Des Moines Register’s Iowa State Fair soapbox. At events where there is no externally-imposed time limit, Sanders keeps the crowd’s attention for over an hour, not counting time he spends answering questions.

I will update this post as the Register publishes more data from the new survey. A separate post will cover the latest Selzer poll findings on Republican presidential candidates in Iowa.

Weekend open thread: Iowa State Fair heckling edition

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

Saturday was the final day for politicians to speak at the Des Moines Register’s Iowa State Fair “soapbox.” You can view all of this year’s videos here. Heckling was the running theme from yesterday’s appearances. O.Kay Henderson summarized the incidents at Radio Iowa.

I have zero sympathy for Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, whom protesters repeatedly interrupted to demand more Democratic presidential debates. Wasserman-Schultz had nothing new to say on the soapbox–certainly nothing as newsworthy as the DNC’s asinine policy limiting the presidential candidates to only six sanctioned debates, with the threat of exclusion if they participate in any unsanctioned ones. The DNC’s position serves no public interest whatsoever. It only creates the appearance of the party establishment putting a thumb on the scale for current front-runner Hillary Clinton. All Democrats, including Clinton, could benefit from starting the debates before October. In sharp contrast to the Donald Trump freak show dominating the other side’s discourse, Democrats have five (perhaps soon to be six) candidates who can talk intelligently about policy.

A group of protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals provided some drama by storming the soapbox while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was taking questions. Tactics like those make PETA one of the most ineffective advocacy organizations I’ve seen. Christie deserves criticism for vetoing a New Jersey ban on gestation crates for sows, which passed with massive bipartisan support. But PETA only managed to generate sympathy for the governor. He came up with a great line after law enforcement pulled the animal rights activists off-stage:

“I have to tell you the truth when something like that happens and I’m here in Iowa, man, I feel right at home. It feels like I’m back in Jersey for a couple of minutes, so thank you, Iowa, for doing that,” Christie said to cheers from the crowd.

On the other hand, a little heckling that doesn’t go over the top can throw a candidate off his or her game. The best example was the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member who got Mitt Romney to say, “Corporations are people, my friend,” at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. Democrats across the country eagerly made use of Romney’s gaffe. Within a matter of weeks, though, Iowa CCI members’ heckling of Senator Chuck Grassley at a town-hall in Carroll drew criticism from Iowa Democratic Party leaders for going too far.

Politically engaged people tend to have strong feelings about what kinds of protests are appropriate. Pat Rynard used unusually harsh language to condemn the activists who disrupted Wasserman-Schultz’s speech. John Deeth has long expressed contempt for Iowa CCI’s “counterproductive” tactics. Though I’ve never heckled a politician at a public event, my take on what I viewed as the Iowa Democratic Party’s “hippie-punching” of Iowa CCI generated one of the most heated comment threads in Bleeding Heartland’s eight-year history.

When, if ever, do you think heckling is a justified and/or effective political tactic?

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Five shocking findings from Public Policy Polling's latest Iowa survey

Public Policy Polling released its latest Iowa caucus numbers yesterday. As other recent surveys of Iowa Democrats have shown, Hillary Clinton still leads by a considerable margin, but her lead has shrunk since the spring, as Iowans have learned more about other contenders. PPP now has Clinton at 52 percent support among “usual Democratic primary voters,” while Bernie Sanders has 25 percent, Martin O’Malley 7 percent, Jim Webb 3 percent, and Lincoln Chafee 1 percent.

On the GOP side, Donald Trump leads among “usual Republican primary voters” with 19 percent, followed by Ben Carson and Scott Walker (12 percent each), Jeb Bush (11 percent), Carly Fiorina (10 percent), Ted Cruz (9 percent), Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio (6 percent each), John Kasich and Rand Paul (3 percent each), Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum (2 percent each), Chris Christie (1 percent), and Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki (less than 1 percent).

Dropping to 3 percent earned Paul the “biggest loser” title from Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen and was the only topline result that shocked me. Things got way more interesting in the cross-tabs. I enclose below the five findings that struck me most.

As a bonus, I added at the end of this post completely unsurprising numbers from PPP’s survey of registered Iowa voters: Governor Terry Branstad is underwater with 42 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval. Last month’s high-profile line-item vetoes are even less popular.

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Why Jim Webb Deserves The Support of Democratic Voters

(Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest posts, including advocacy for candidates and first-person accounts of Iowa caucus campaign events. Paid staffers or consultants for candidates must disclose that fact if they write about the campaign they're promoting. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Jim Webb is focused on executive leadership and getting proven results. Candidates that simply use applause lines to get votes will not be able to get results when they find themselves in a jam with Congress. Webb deserves your consideration in the Democratic nominating process because he delivered on the Post 9-11 G.I. Bill, which was a piece of legislation that he wrote before he came to the U.S. Senate. The Post 9-11 G.I. Bill has allowed millions of veterans advance their education and reach their true occupational goals. Jim Webb got results as a pro-bono attorney advocating for veterans that needed to navigate the bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration.

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Weekend open thread: ADA anniversary and Iowa caucus polls edition

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

The Americans With Disabilities Act took effect 25 years ago this week. How many laws have changed the country for the better as much as Senator Tom Harkin’s greatest achievement? The ADA helped millions of people who might have been housebound–like my friend who was able to run errands or take her son to the park, even though she was confined to a wheelchair. Judy Schmidt, who chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Disability Caucus, shared how the ADA has affected her in a guest column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I’ve enclosed excerpts after the jump. Bleeding Heartland posted more background and links about the law to mark its 20th anniversary. For the record, Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley also voted for the final version of the ADA, as did most of his fellow Republicans. UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Harkin’s guest editorial in the Sunday Des Moines Register.

Donald Trump has led the last five national polls of Republican voters and is rising in stature in Iowa, if you believe the latest surveys of likely GOP caucus-goers. Follow me after the jump for details.

I brought my kids to Bernie Sanders’ town-hall in West Des Moines on Friday night. My reflections on that event are at the end of this post.

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New poll of Iowa Democrats testing messages about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

This evening I was a respondent for a lengthy poll testing messages about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I assume the Clinton campaign commissioned this survey. If not her campaign, then some allied group. Most of the questions seemed geared toward determining what is driving Iowa Democrats toward or away from the front-runner and the senator from Vermont, who has claimed the progressive alternative niche in the presidential race. Several of the questions drew from rhetoric Clinton uses in her stump speech.

The caller identified herself as representing “National Data Collection.” She was calling from 586-200-0157, the same number used for a different message-testing phone poll I received in early March.

I almost feel sorry for these pollsters having to repeat so many questions when they call my house. My notes are after the jump. I’ve been a respondent for many polls over the years, but this one included a device that was new to me.

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Weekend open thread: Hall of Fame and Family Leadership Summit edition

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

All five Democratic presidential candidates appeared at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids on Friday night. I’ve posted below my impressions from the speeches; you can watch the videos on C-SPAN. It’s a shame the venue couldn’t accommodate more people, because lots of interested Iowa Democrats were unable to get tickets for the event.

Before the Hall of Fame dinner, I spent some time with an old friend who’s a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. Huge, as in, she didn’t take down her Hillary yard sign until the grass was long enough to need mowing in the spring of 2008. She mentioned to me that she’s relieved to see Clinton working hard this year instead of “ignoring” Iowa like last time. When I told my friend that Hillary visited Iowa more than 30 times in 2007, spending all or part of 70 days in the state, she was surprised. I’m amazed by how many Iowans have bought into the media-constructed narrative that Clinton “bombed” in the caucuses because she took the state for granted.

Ten Republican presidential candidates came to Ames on Saturday for the Family Leadership Summit organized by Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization. C-SPAN posted all of those speeches here. As usual, Donald Trump sucked up most of the oxygen in the room by questioning whether Senator John McCain had been a hero during the Vietnam War. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio at Radio Iowa. Rival presidential candidates with the exception of Ted Cruz rushed to condemn Trump’s remarks. Some of the Family Leadership Summit attendees may have been more upset by Trump’s comments about his three marriages and his admission that when he’s done something wrong, “I don’t bring God into that picture.”

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Big gains for Bernie Sanders in latest Q-poll of Iowa Democrats

Quinnipiac’s latest survey of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers shows Senator Bernie Sanders cutting into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead. The front-runner is ahead by 52 percent to 33 percent, compared to 60 percent for Clinton and 15 percent for Sanders in the previous Iowa Q-poll, released in May. The memo, results, and questionnaire for the latest survey are here. Vice President Joe Biden, who is very unlikely to run for president again, placed third with 7 percent support. Rounding out the declared Democratic field, former Governor Martin O’Malley registered 3 percent, former Senator Jim Webb 1 percent, and former Senator Lincoln Chaffee did not even reach the 1 percent mark among Quinnipiac’s respondents. Click here for more details on the sample and methodology. Live interviewers polled 761 likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers between June 20 and 29, producing a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

The person who should be most worried about this poll is O’Malley. Sanders has firmly occupied the niche of progressive alternative to Clinton–not just in New Hampshire, where he is better-known as a neighboring state’s senator, but across the country. I’ve seen speculation that O’Malley could position himself as a more electable alternative to Clinton than Sanders. But any Democrat concerned primarily about electability will probably vote or caucus for Clinton. Quinnipiac’s Iowa Democratic respondents still view her positively: 85 percent favorable, 10 percent unfavorable. So Sanders isn’t riding an anti-Hillary wave; rather, he has stronger appeal among liberals.

Any comments about the Democratic presidential race are welcome in this thread. Last weekend, I saw a fun example of the Iowa caucus-goer mentality when a local acquaintance on vacation in New England posted to Facebook photos from a Sanders rally she attended in New Hampshire.

Democratic presidential candidates converging on Cedar Rapids, July 17

The Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Hall of Fame dinner will draw a larger-than-usual crowd this year, thanks to confirmed appearances by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, former Governor Martin O’Malley, and former Senator Jim Webb. (I assume former Senator Lincoln Chaffee, who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, will join the list of speakers as well.) Tickets for the event at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex on Friday, July 17 are available here.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the seven Iowa Democrats who will be honored at the Hall of Fame event. No one deserves the “outstanding elected official” award more than Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum. Following Iowa statehouse politics closely can be a discouraging pastime, especially this year, but the highest-ranking Democratic woman to serve in the Iowa Senate always makes progressives feel well-represented. I can’t think of a better candidate for governor in 2018.

Former State Representative and Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran will receive the Iowa Democratic Party’s “outstanding supporter” award. Outside her home town, she is best known for having served as mayor during the devastating 2008 floods.

The “outstanding activist” award is going to Tri-County Democrats chair Kurt Meyer. He was the runner-up candidate to lead the Iowa Democratic Party in January. As I wrote at that time, Meyer has done tremendous organizing work in northern Iowa. His efforts contributed to Mitchell County being the whitest county in the U.S. to vote for Barack Obama (and Howard County the fifth-whitest to favor Obama over Mitt Romney), as well as to State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm’s narrow victory over Republican Senator Merlin “Build my fence” Bartz in 2012. Without Wilhelm, there’s no Iowa Senate majority.  

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Weekend open thread: latest Des Moines Register Iowa caucus poll edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. After the jump I’ve enclosed highlights from Selzer & Co’s latest Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics. I had planned to focus on that poll last weekend, until I heard the devastating news about Beau Biden.

Speaking of the Selzer poll, I’m waiting for the self-styled “Dr. Politics” (Iowa State University professor Steffen Schmidt) to square his assertion that Iowa Democrats “truly hate [Hillary] Clinton’s ‘listening tour’ campaign” with Selzer’s findings that 86 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers view Clinton favorably, and 57 percent say she is their first choice for president. Yes, Bernie Sanders got great turnout for his Iowa events last weekend. But where is the evidence that Iowans “hate” the Clinton campaign?

The Des Moines Register ran lots of articles featuring poll results this past week. I got a kick out of the “Captain Obvious” headline for this piece: “Moderates, very conservative in GOP not always in sync.” You don’t say. I guess that’s why moderate and very conservative Republicans have gravitated toward different presidential candidates every four years for the last several decades.

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While Iowa GOP levels playing field for underdogs, DNC gives them extra burden

Democrats in Iowa and nationally have been worried all year that a more competitive GOP presidential campaign will boost Republican organizing and enthusiasm going into the 2016 general election.

Yet this week, while the Iowa GOP announced plans to help long-shot presidential candidates be heard on equal footing, the Democratic National Committee sharply limited opportunities for voters to compare the whole presidential field side by side.  

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Still not convinced Martin O'Malley is running for president

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has been laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign for quite a while. These past few days, he continued to walk and talk just like a presidential candidate would in Iowa. On Thursday, he spoke at Simpson College and headlined a fundraiser for State Representative Scott Ourth before speaking to a good crowd in a heavily Democratic Des Moines neighborhood. The next day, he taped an episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa Public Television (video and full transcript here; excerpts after the jump). O’Malley wrapped up Friday with a well-received speech at the Polk County Democrats’ spring event (click through for video or audio). The stump speech blended a summary of his accomplishments as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor with a vision for the future. For laughs and applause, he threw in some good jabs at tea party Republicans. Before and after the speech, O’Malley worked the room of activists. His staff had put down placemats and postcards for people to take home.

Yet I still can’t shake the feeling that O’Malley will not follow through with running for president.  

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Weekend open thread: Neal Smith memories edition

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

The Polk County Democrats’ spring awards dinner on Friday night exceeded all expectations. Hordes of journalists showed up to cover speeches by former U.S. Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. I enjoyed both speeches and have posts in progress on their messages. C-SPAN put up video of both speeches here.

You had to be there to experience the evening’s other high points. Beautiful videos honored the memories of veterans who died overseas and three legendary local Democratic supporters who passed away during the past year (including Paulee Lipsman). Tireless Urbandale volunteer and letter-to-the-editor writer Rick Smith was recognized for his activism. Before Webb and O’Malley spoke, Iowa Democrats honored Representative Neal Smith, who represented Polk County in Congress from 1959 to 1985. Unfortunately, Smith couldn’t be present, having suffered a minor injury last week. He sent a letter to be read on his behalf, while former Senator Tom Harkin shared memories by videotape and Representative Leonard Boswell told the crowd a few of his favorite stories about Smith. After the jump I’ve listed six new things I learned on Friday about the longest-serving member of the U.S. House in Iowa history.

In 2012, Smith sat down with Polk County Democratic Party Chair Tom Henderson to reflect on his life and long political career. Those videos are well worth your time: part 1 and part 2.  

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New Iowa poll testing negative messages about Hillary Clinton (updated)

Someone is paying to test a series of negative messages about Hillary Clinton among Iowa Democrats. Our household received a call from a Michigan-based polling firm last night. The interviewer asked for my husband by name, indicating that the pollster was working from a list of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers or reliable voters. After typical likely voter screening questions, a ballot test among Democratic candidates, and a few statements about President Barack Obama, most of the the poll focused on unflattering messages about Hillary Clinton. My notes are after the jump. Some messages appear multiple times, because there was quite a bit of repetition in the survey.

I haven’t been able to identify who paid for this poll, but I’m confident it didn’t come from Clinton’s inner circle or any group supporting her presidential ambitions. Unlike two other recent polls of Iowa Democrats, which Bleeding Heartland covered here and Iowa Starting Line covered here, this survey tested almost no positive statements about Clinton or her record. Then again, Pat Rynard suspects the Clinton campaign did commission this poll, citing similarities to the call he received last month.

In theory, a group favoring a different Democratic candidate for president would want to test lines of attack against Hillary. But to my ear, this poll sounded like the work of a Republican or conservative advocacy group. The questionnaire didn’t include any positive messages about any other potential Democratic candidates. Near the beginning of the survey, my husband was asked about his first and second choice if the Iowa caucuses were held today. But after the laundry list of negative statements about Clinton, the poll didn’t repeat the ballot test to see whether respondents now would be inclined to caucus for Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or Martin O’Malley over Clinton. (I don’t think Jim Webb was included.)

I don’t know how long this poll has been in the field, but the questionnaire must have been finalized before this week, because there were no questions about Clinton using her personal e-mail account for work during her tenure as secretary of state.

UPDATE: Maybe this poll originated within the Clinton circle after all. Patrick Ruffini pointed out that the call my household received came from the same phone number as polling calls backing the Democratic candidate in a New York Congressional race last year. If the survey firm mainly works for Democrats, then Clinton’s team or a group supporting her aspirations must be behind the poll. No rival Democratic candidate would have paid for a lengthy questionnaire including zero positive messages about alternatives to Clinton.

MARCH 10 UPDATE: According to the latest edition of HuffPollster, “many reports of calls from 586-200-0157 from recipients nationwide who were told they had been called by Mountain West Research, a call center used as subcontractor by campaign pollsters.” Several past Democratic candidates have used the firm.

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Democrats should skip Bruce Rastetter's Iowa Agriculture Forum

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.  

Is the latest Hillary Clinton message-testing poll for men only? (updated)

A new poll is in the field testing messages about Hillary Clinton with Iowa Democrats. The live-interviewer survey is coming from a Michigan-based phone number (586-200-0081). The caller will not say who paid for the survey, only that he or she represents “the National Data Collection Firm.” The caller asks respondents for their views on several prospective Democratic presidential candidates and various public-policy issues, then tests the respondent’s agreement with numerous statements about Clinton’s record and asks whether certain statements would make you more or less likely to vote for Clinton.

John Deeth took the call and posted his account here. My notes on the same survey are after the jump. Some New Hampshire residents are getting similar calls, but from a different phone number.

Although I don’t know who paid for this survey, the questionnaire suggests to me that it came from a group supporting Clinton’s presidential aspirations, not from a rival Democratic camp. There appears to be a special interest in gauging support for Senator Elizabeth Warren and her views on the system being rigged in favor of big banks and wealthy interests.

I also have a hunch, as yet unconfirmed, that the contact universe for this survey may consist only of men who are registered Democrats and have participated in past Iowa Democratic caucuses. I have not yet been able to find a woman who received the call, despite asking quite a few likely suspects (including some who took part in the previous message-testing poll about Clinton in Iowa). The caller asks for a specific voter by name, and so far I have only heard of men being targeted. When I picked up our landline, the caller asked to speak to Mr. desmoinesdem about “important issues in Iowa.” I said he was not available but that I would be happy to answer the questions. The caller insisted that they are supposed to talk with certain people and again asked for my husband. I said, “Are you sure I’m not on your list too?” and gave my name–I’ll bet that’s a new one for that poll-taker! He politely said he would call later for Mr. desmoinesdem. True to his word, he called back in a few hours, and my husband put the phone on speaker so I could take notes. The survey takes about 15-20 minutes.

UPDATE: Thanks to crowd-sourcing, I can confirm that women as well as men are in the respondent pool for this survey.

Toward the end of the survey, the caller asks whether the respondent supported John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama in the 2008 caucuses (no other options given). This question was not preceded by any question about whether the individual caucused that year, suggesting to me that the pollster drew up the sample from a list of Iowa Democrats who did caucus in 2008.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I would particularly like to hear from Bleeding Heartland readers (male or female) who received the same call.

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user DCCyclone notes in the comments, “It’s definitely a high-priced survey for a campaign, party, or superpac or similarly campaign-focused interest group.  That the caller asked for a voter by name proves that, because only high-priced internal surveys sample that way.” I tend to agree that Ready for Hillary is the most likely suspect.

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Weekend open thread: Des Moines Register Iowa caucus poll edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Bonus points if someone can suggest a good reason for Senator Joni Ernst voting against renewable energy tax credits this week. Her staff should have informed her that those tax credits are important for Iowa’s wind turbine manufacturers. Then she could have followed Senator Chuck Grassley’s lead. Or maybe that information wouldn’t have mattered, since Ernst owes a lot to the Koch brothers, who strongly oppose federal incentives for renewable energy.

The Des Moines Register just published the latest Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa poll, which was in the field a few days after Representative Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit generated substantial political news coverage. Selzer & Co. surveyed 402 “likely Republican caucus-goers” between January 26 and 29, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. No candidate has a statistically significant lead; the “top tier” are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney (who hadn’t announced yet that he wasn’t running), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (who won the 2008 Iowa GOP caucuses), Dr. Ben Carson, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. You can read the highlights on the Register’s website; after the jump I’ve embedded the polling memo. For my money, this is the most interesting part of Jennifer Jacobs’ story:

Sixty percent say it’s more important to vote for the person who aligns with their values, even if that candidate isn’t electable, compared with 36 percent who say winning the White House for Republicans is more important.

A majority – 51 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers – would prefer an anti-establishment candidate without a lot of ties to Washington or Wall Street who would change the way things are done and challenge conventional thinking. That compares to 43 percent who think the better leader would be a mainstream establishment candidate with executive experience who understands business and how to execute ideas, the new poll shows.

For respondents who say they want an establishment candidate, Romney is their first choice. With Romney out of the picture, Walker leads. Huckabee is next, then Bush.

Among those who want an anti-establishment candidate, Paul is the favorite, followed by Walker and Carson.

The 401 “Democratic likely caucus-goers” surveyed by Selzer & Co. overwhelmingly lean toward former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s the first choice of 56 percent and the second choice of 15 percent of respondents. Senator Elizabeth Warren polled 16 percent as a first choice and 23 percent as a second choice. Vice President Joe Biden polled 9 percent as a first choice and 26 percent as a second choice. All other potential candidates were in single digits.

FEBRUARY 1 UPDATE: Ben Schreckinger is out with a Politico story headlined, “Iowa Dems high and dry as Hillary decides.” I’ve added excerpts after the jump. The story is full of angtsy quotes about how there’s not as much activity on the Democratic side as there was before the 2004 and 2008 caucuses, and how Republicans will benefit from more organizing by presidential hopefuls. It’s true, Iowa Republicans have had way more candidate visits, including events to raise money for county parties or down-ballot candidates. Guess what? It’s going to stay that way for all of 2015. Our party has a prohibitive front-runner, and she is well-liked by the vast majority of likely Democratic caucus-goers. We’re not going to have multiple presidential candidates spending millions of dollars on dozens of field offices around the state. So stop whining about it to national reporters and start figuring out how to build a grassroots network without an Iowa caucus as competitive as 2004 or 2008.

I also added below a statement from the Iowa GOP, contrasting the “vibrant” and “diverse” Republican presidential field with the Democratic landscape ahead of the 2016 caucuses.

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Iowa caucus discussion thread: Romney reality check edition

Speaking in “his best precinct, the top-level donor conference call,” Mitt Romney announced this morning that he will not run for president a third time. Though the odds against a successful bid for the presidency would seem obvious to any casual politics watcher, Romney appears to have genuinely believed that he could win in 2016 with a sharper message. But many of his top donors, bundlers, and early-state volunteers were reluctant to board the Romney train one more time. In what may have been the last straw, yesterday news broke that David Kochel will soon move to Miami to work as “senior strategist” for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s new political action committee. Kochel was Romney’s top Iowa consultant during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles but is expected to become Bush’s national campaign manager once Jeb makes his presidential race official.

Kochel told Jonathan Martin of the New York Times that a lot of Iowans “will be interested in signing up” with Jeb Bush, adding that “You compete everywhere because that’s how you win delegates.” Some people had speculated that Bush might bypass the Iowa caucuses, seen to favor socially conservative candidates. He skipped Representative Steve King’s cattle call “Iowa Freedom Summit” last weekend in Des Moines, where several of the speakers took shots at him.

In general, Bush has spent the last month on major donor contacts and strategizing rather than public appearances. Bank on him to raise far more money than anyone else in the large presidential field during the first half of this year. He could raise as much as the rest of the field combined.

With Romney out, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looks like the only person who can compete with Jeb for the “establishment Republican” niche. He reminded the audience at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he’s visited this state eleven times since 2010. You can listen to that speech at Radio Iowa.

Iowa Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter spearheaded a “draft Christie” before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. So far this cycle, he is staking out a more neutral position. Last week Rastetter’s public relations team announced plans to hold an Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines on March 7. About two dozen possible presidential candidates from both parties have been invited to participate; the full list is in a press release I’ve enclosed after the jump. Governor Terry Branstad told Radio Iowa this week that Jeb Bush is “very interested” in attending the forum.  

While most of the speakers at King’s overly long Freedom Summit came to town solely for that occasion, 2012 Iowa caucuses winner Rick Santorum toured the state for several days afterward. He is still pushing a message I think Republicans should hear about how the GOP could better connect with working-class Americans. Radio Iowa posted the full audio here. According to Iowa Starting Line, Santorum didn’t draw a lot of applause at the Freedom Summit but was well-received at his small events this past week. Nevertheless, I expect most of his 2012 supporters to flow to other candidates this year, especially Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz.

I still like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s chances to win the Iowa caucuses. By all accounts he made a good impression on the Freedom Summit crowd. So did Ben Carson, but I don’t see Carson putting together a professional campaign operation. Radio Iowa posted the full audio and highlights from the Walker speech here. Click here to listen to Ted Cruz, another crowd favorite.

In contrast, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin bombed at the Freedom Summit, done in by a malfunctioning teleprompter. With her public speaking experience, she should have been able to wing it. I had to laugh when I saw Sam Clovis bash her to the Sioux City Journal’s reading audience. He’s probably still bitter that Palin endorsed Joni Ernst for Senate last spring when Clovis was campaigning as the true conservative in the GOP field.

The Republican Party of Iowa is accepting straw poll venue bids until Thursday, February 12. A recent press release said “Venue proposals should be able to accommodate large crowds and have ample parking.” The major fundraiser coming this August has traditionally been held in Ames, but I’m hearing there will be a strong push for Farm Progress Show in Boone. The State Fairgrounds in Des Moines are another leading contender for the event.

In news from the Democratic side, Mike Allen reported for Politico that former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July.” A lot of Iowa Democrats are upset that Clinton has in effect frozen the field of play. They won’t be happy if she leaves everyone hanging until mid-summer. By this point in 2007, several Democratic presidential candidates already were opening field offices in key Iowa cities.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made his first Iowa hire recently. Jake Oeth, who served as political director for Bruce Braley’s U.S. Senate campaign, is now doing outreach for O’Malley as a consultant to the O’Say Can You See PAC. According to Pat Rynard at Iowa Starting Line, O’Malley had been recruiting Oeth for some time. The former Maryland governor has Iowa connections going all the way back to Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign and paid his dues last year with several Iowa visits, including the keynote speech for the state Democratic Party convention and fundraisers for Democratic candidates. Although some consider the former Maryland governor a possible rival to Clinton, I see him more as a back-up candidate if some unexpected development prevents Clinton from running.

MoveOn.org Political Action opened a Des Moines office for the Run Warren Run effort two weeks ago. I’ve posted the announcement after the jump; it mentions the first Iowa staff hires. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, I think the “draft Warren” effort is mostly a waste of progressive energy and resources. Not that I’m against house parties for liberals, but they could be organizing around a more practical political cause. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit Warren won’t change the fact that she is not running for president. Pat Rynard attended the Run Warren Run office kickoff party on January 29 and posted his thoughts on the campaign’s “murky mission.”

I haven’t heard much lately about U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who formed an exploratory committee late last year to consider a presidential bid. I never bought into him as a serious rival to Clinton, and he didn’t respond adeptly to the first real scrutiny of his PAC’s activities. I’m keeping an open mind about the Democratic race until the field is set, but if Webb turns out to be the only alternative candidate, I will be caucusing for Hillary.

Any comments about the Iowa caucuses are welcome in this thread.

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Someone is message-testing for Hillary Clinton in Iowa

I haven’t received the call myself, but multiple acquaintances who are registered Iowa Democrats have been respondents for a lengthy message-testing poll about Hillary Clinton in recent days. The survey takes approximately 30 minutes and includes lots of questions about whether X, Y, or Z would be a reason you would or would not support Hillary Clinton in the next Iowa caucuses.

The survey also asks Iowans about several other possible Democratic candidates, including Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, and former U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who recently formed an exploratory committee for a presidential bid. UPDATE: Other Iowa Democrats confirm the call asked about Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as well.

From what I’ve heard, this poll did not ask about Republican presidential candidates, with one exception: a question about whether a Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush match up of American political dynasties would be a good or bad thing.

I hope other Bleeding Heartland readers can provide more details about this poll, including not only questions asked but also what research firm is being used (which should be mentioned at the end of the call). My acquaintances do not recall hearing any organization’s name mentioned, such as the Ready for Hillary super PAC.  Feel free to post comments in this thread or send a confidential e-mail message.

Speaking of Clinton’s presidential prospects, Amie Parnes reported for The Hill this week that only four Republicans worry “Clinton World”: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. (Parnes didn’t name all of the Clinton associates she interviewed for the story.) Of those four candidates, Walker strikes me as best-positioned to make it through the GOP primaries, if he can raise enough money for a credible campaign. Christie and Bush will be competing for the same donors and the same niche in the various primaries. I think both have taken too many positions that will be deal-breakers for the right wing.

UPDATE: In retrospect, I should not have said in the headline that someone is message-testing “for” Hillary Clinton, because a poll like this could just have easily been commissioned by a group looking for the best arguments to use against Clinton with the Iowa Democrats.

Iowa Prison Population Drops

DMR reported yesterday that the number of inmates in Iowa prisons is dropping. At the end of June there were 8,455 inmates, down from 8,740 last year and 8,840 in 2007. The state's top prison official tells us why:

Corrections Director John Baldwin said drug courts, substance abuse treatment and other programs are helping reduce the number of offenders returning to prison. There also was a drop in new commitments, due in part to a decline in drug convictions.

Shocking though it may seem, the rehabilitation efforts to move inmates back into the world as productive members of society are working. Reform of the nation's prison system in favor of smarter, more progressive policies such as these has become increasingly more difficult since the 1970s, when the mantra of “tough on crime” swept the nation. Since then, stricter sentencing laws coupled with the ruthless portrayal of any other viewpoint as “soft on crime” (see Bush v. Dukakis, 1988) has stifled debate.

So, after three decades of this, 1 in 100 American adults are in prison. 1 in 9 black men and 1 in 36 Latino men from the ages of 20 to 34 are behind bars. These policies, championed by fiscal conservatives, costs state governments nearly $50 billion each year, and the federal government $5 billion. One of the most vocal proponents of reform on the national level is Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) has been courageous enough to elevate smart reform of prison and crime policies to a higher profile. More on this in a post from Salon's Glen Greenwald earlier this year.

In Iowa, Iowa Public Television said just last year that the prison population was projected to rise from 8,800 to 9,700 by 2017. But, yesterday's news shows that the trend, which admittedly could just be temporary, appears to be reversing itself thanks to programs that are “tough on the causes of crime”, to borrow a phrase from Tony Blair. The IPTV piece also mentions Gov. Culver and the Legislature's efforts to reduce recidivism through community-based corrections facilities, which are cheaper and more effective than sending more people to prison.

New VP speculation open thread

Virginia Senator Jim Webb withdrew his name from consideration as a vice-presidential candidate. That’s a relief from my perspective.

According to Marc Ambinder,

A Democrat close to Webb confirms that a request for documents preceded his declaration to the Obama campaign. The Democrat said that Webb did not want to relive the vigors of a campaign so soon after his election to the Senate.

Like I’ve been saying, Webb does not like campaigning enough to be a good running mate.

Meanwhile, John Edwards will debate “Bush’s brain” Karl Rove on September 26. Some people have interpreted the scheduling of that event as a sign Edwards knows he will not be Obama’s running mate.

I still think Wes Clark would be an excellent choice for Obama, despite the recent dustup over comments he made about John McCain.

Some smart people think he will pick Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, but I still think that it would be a mistake for Obama to choose a woman other than Hillary Clinton.

VP search teams for Obama and McCain have both begun vetting candidates. McCain is said to be considering Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

I tend to agree with Douglas Burns, who wrote that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would be a good running mate for McCain.

If McCain is feeling pressure in Florida (a state he must win in order to get 270 electoral votes), he might consider selecting Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Rumors that Crist is gay could be a problem with that scenario. Crist was married to a woman in his early 20s and just got engaged to his current girlfriend.

Put your predictions or opinions about either candidate’s VP choice in the comment section.

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Obama VP speculation open thread

Paul Rosenberg still wants John Edwards on the ticket, citing new opinion polls that show he helps Barack Obama more than many other possible running-mates.

Virginia Senator Jim Webb seems to have taken himself out of the running by co-sponsoring a bill to allow offshore oil drilling in Virginia.

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold seems to have taken himself out of the running by criticizing Obama for opting out of public financing for his general-election campaign.

General James Jones has to be off the list after he accompanied John McCain to a campaign event in Missouri.

As I’ve written before, Obama must above all do no harm with his VP choice. That means he can’t choose anyone who would alienate the Democratic constituencies that favored Hillary Clinton in the primaries. If I were in his position, I would probably choose someone close to the Clintons, like Wes Clark.

However, if Obama doesn’t want to tap someone from the Clinton circle, a number of other choices, including Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and John Edwards, would be ok by me.

If he wants an “old wise man,” I much prefer former Florida Senator Bob Graham to someone like former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn.

I am absolutely, implacably opposed to putting any Republican (such as Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel) on the Democratic ticket. The next president is going to appoint several Supreme Court judges, and I don’t want any conservative to have any chance of becoming president.

Make the case for the running mate of your choice in the comments.

UPDATE: Good discussion about the pros and cons of Biden on the ticket in the comment thread under this diary: Biden Drank Graham’s Milkshake: Veep Audition?

Obama should choose a VP who will unite the party

If I were Barack Obama, I don’t know whom I would choose for a running mate.

In a typical year, it would be enough to select a VP candidate who balances the ticket, or helps deliver a key state.

This year, with Obama just barely winning the most hard-fought nominating contest in living memory, it is vital for him to choose someone who can unite the party.

Some Clinton supporters think the only way for him to do that is to “throw the Hillary haters under the bus and ask Hillary to be his running mate.”

I am not convinced that Hillary is the best choice for Obama, but she’s far from the worst choice.

It would be much worse for Obama to choose someone who would particularly alienate the very voting blocs that favored Hillary in the primaries.

Two great posts by Natasha Chart make this point better than I can:

Veepness stakes: Please no Webb, DINOs

Veepness stakes: Securing the Clinton bloc

Do click over. These are worth your time.

UPDATE: Longtime Edwards supporter Neil Sinhababu gives you “Ten Good Reasons for an Obama/Edwards ticket.” I’m not sure that would be Obama’s best move, but he could do a lot worse. Edwards has said publicly he’s not interested in running for VP again, though.

SECOND UPDATE: David Yepsen looks at the pros and cons of having Hillary on the ticket and concludes, “Don’t Go There, Obama.”

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