An assortment of possible Republican presidential candidates were in Iowa Saturday, trying to appeal to conservative activists at a Des Moines forum sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve King.
Jan Mickelson, a conservative talk radio host, succintly summed up what was in store for several hundred conservative activists gathered Saturday for a forum that saw a baker's dozen of Republican presidential contenders line up to seek favor. "Let the pandering begin," Mickelson said.
Pander they did. Over nearly nine hours, high-profile Republicans that included Sen. Ted Cruz, governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of Texas and Rick Perry, and media-driven stars like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump took turns ridiculing President Obama, sounding alarms about the country's future and promising a sharply conservative change in direction.
The Iowa Freedom Summit served as unofficial kick-off to the year's worth of politicking that will lead up to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in January or early February of 2016. That contest has been both launching bad and burial ground for presidential contenders: in 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama pulled an upset win over Hillary Clinton and put himself on a trajectory to the White House.
"Do you believe the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you from this stage today?" asked U.S. Congressman Steve King, who co-sponsored the event. As the crowd applauded in agreement, King said, "As do I."
King, who represents northwestern Iowa including about half the counties along the Minnesota border, is a high-profile conservative with a penchant for generating controversy. His harsh critiques of illegal immigrants, in particular, have drawn derision from critics; the forum was interrupted several times by protests from supporters of the so-called DREAM Act, which grants citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants if they make certain educational achievements.
Walker, recently re-elected despite a tumultous first term where he survived a recall attempt, was something of a breakout star at the forum. He came onstage without a jacket, his sleeves rolled up, and delivered an energetic speech that leaned heavily on his successful effort to strip collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin public workers.
"We weren't afraid to go big and go bold," Walker said. "Maybe that's why I won the race for governor three times in four years, in a state that voted for Democrats for president every four years ever since I was in high school."
Cruz, who got a rock star-like welcome, delivering a rousing, deeply religious speech. Christie, seen as perhaps too moderate for Iowa's conservative Republican base, nonetheless seemed to win over many with a thoughtful speech and a touching story about his late mother.
But the event was nearly as notable for those Republican contenders who didn't show up, namely former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the party's nominee in 2012. For their absence and their perceived roles as establishment candidates, both men earned some scorn from the stage.
"We lose when we nominate RINOs," said New Hampshire state Rep. William O'Brien, another hero to conservatives (RINO is a conservative slur, directed at moderate Republicans, that stands for "Republicans In Name Only").
While the Republican field is wide and active, the Democratic contest is shaping up more slowly. Prominent Iowa Democrats said numerous potential candidates are in a holding pattern until Clinton decides whether to make another go of it, as most expect she will. Her decision is expected by April.
A poll of registered Iowa Republicans released Tuesday shows that Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential candidate now mulling another run in 2016, is currently leading a large field of prospective challengers. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came in third, behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The nation-leading Iowa caucus is still about a year off, but prospective candidates have already started to openly discuss the race. The Washington Post reported on Monday that Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is "almost certain" to run again, and has been discussing it with a number of close allies including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The poll by Gravis Marketing, a Florida-based pollster, found Romney leading a field of eight other potential candidates with the support of 21 percent of respondents. "Romney's name recognition and the loyalty Republicans have for their last nominee give him an opportunity that no one else has," said Doug Kaplan, the manager partner of Gravis Marketing.
Bush, the brother and son of the two former President Bushes, was next with 14 percent. Walker, recently re-elected to a second term as Wisconsin's governor despite a divisive first term that saw a failed recount attempt, was in third place with 10 percent. A number of additional potential candidates scored support below 10 percent. In order, they were: Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. Another 18 percent of poll respondents were undecided.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, said Monday he would not run in 2016. The poll of 404 registered Iowa Republicans was taken Jan. 5-7.
The Iowa caucuses are tentatively scheduled for Jan. 18, 2016, though that date is not final. In 2012, Romney finished a close second in Iowa to former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton is seen as the prohibitive frontrunner. She has not made her candidacy official but is widely expected to announce this spring that she's running.
Clinton lost the 2008 Iowa caucus to then-Sen. Barack Obama, delivering an ultimately fatal blow to her candidacy.
WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar will chair the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach committee -- a role that gives her additional power in dealmaking with Republicans and special interests on Capitol Hill next year.
The steering commitee's primary purpose is outreach to special interest and outside groups when hammering together compromises.
"This is something I've been doing for years and I think it's a very necessary role right now," she said to a group of reporters at the Capitol Thursday following the announcement. "I take the Republicans at their word. They say they want to move on things."
Though Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken will be in the minority party starting in January, Klobuchar's appointment Thursday by Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid means she will still be in the mix trying to strike bargains with Republicans, she said.
Among problems she hopes to tackle in the next year: tax reform, immigration reform and negotiating a federal standard minimum wage.
"I think there is some opportunity here," she said. "We will know within probably three months if it's real, but I think there is some opportunity now."
Klobuchar is serving her second term and isn't up for re-election until 2018.
Candidates for governor, Senate and Congress have spent millions to get dozens of messages on television.
But, with Election Day nearly here, these are the words they really want you to remember.
Here are their final, closing argument television ads.
Republican Jeff Johnson
Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner raised in Detroit Lakes, tailored his final ads to three different parts of the state. In all three ads, Johnson is standing in a sun-dappled, tree stand.
"He's just not up to the job any more," Johnson says of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. "It's time for new leadership in Minnesota."
In two other ads, he claims that he, unlike Dayton, will focus on Greater Minnesota.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton
Dayton's final ad is called "Rising" and highlights the way his campaign believes the state is better since Dayton took office and will be even better if he wins again.
"Mark Dayton knows we have much more to do, to help struggling families, make college more affordable, and help small businesses grow," the narrator says. "Moving forward together."
Republican Mike McFadden
McFadden's final ad shows a contrast -- the country as it is, with the country as it could be.
"Everything is at stake," a narrator reads, as various scenes of Minnesota life flit by. "Our hopes, our dreams, our future....We can make America great again."
Democratic U.S. Al Franken
Franken's final ad, called "Delivered," uses quotations from newspaper editorial endorsements to promote the candidate.
"Newspapers across Minnesota back Al Franken," the ad's narrator says. Video of Franken meeting with various people shows as different voices read selections from the pro-Franken endorsements.
Eighth Congressional District
Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan
Nolan, fighting to keep his northern Minnesota district, closed his campaign with an ad that shows him speaking to a crowd and going hunting. Against that backdrop, Nolan gives his enthusiastic stump speech.
"It's time to do what's right for the middle class," Nolan says in the ad.
Republican Stewart Mills
In Mills final ad, he speaks directly to the camera and makes the ask for viewers' votes.
"Minnesota is my home," he says in the ad, which includes childhood photos of Mills. "I'm Stewart Mills. I approved this message and I'd appreciate your vote."
GOP Senate challenger Mike McFadden's campaign said Sunday they were planning to file a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission Monday alleging Democratic Sen. Al Franken's campaign is illegally coordinating with a Super PAC.
At issue are two ads released roughly the same time that are similar in composition and message. One was launched and paid for by Franken's campaign, the other launched and paid for by Independence USA PAC, an outside group bankrolled by former New York City Mayor and billlionaire Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg, according to FEC reports, has invested $500,000 in television ads to support Franken.
It is against federal law for campaigns to coordinate with outside political groups.
"The similarities in these two ads go beyond coincidence," said McFadden's spokesman Tom Erickson. "On Monday we’ll be filing a complaint with FEC alleging coordination between the Franken campaign and this super PAC."
Franken's campaign called the alleged complaint "desperate."
"This is a silly complaint by a desperate campaign trying to change the dynamic of a race," said Marc Elias, the campaign's lawyer.
McFadden's campaign is among two dozen campaigns already being investigated for illegal coordination after a complaint was filed in October by the American Democracy Legal Fund. The complaint alleges McFadden's camp, along with dozens of others, were illegally working with Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Crossroads GPS and a number of other Republican outside groups.
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