In Iowa, it seems like there is a marquee presidential event every month. This month, it was the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Annual Spring Kickoff, in March, it was the Iowa Ag Summit, and before that, Congressman Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit. All of these events share one thing in common – they are all multi-candidate events that draw national attention and scads of media coverage.
Last Friday, there was another marquee event, but this one was unique. Instead of being held in the Des Moines metro, it was held in Sheldon, a town of 5,100 people in northwest Iowa. The event was a joint fundraiser for six northwestern Iowa county GOP central committees. More that 400 people turned out to see the lone keynote speaker of the evening, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
It is well documented, that the counties in far northwest Iowa are predominantly Republican. Sixty-nine percent of registered voters in Sioux County are Republicans. O’Brien, Osceola, and Lyon counties all have Republican voter registration that easily surpasses fifty percent. Republicans make up 44 percent of registered voters in Plymouth County, but only 17 percent of the county is Democrat. Cherokee county has the lowest percentage of registered Republicans with 36 percent, but that’s still 15 percent higher than the Democrats.
These six counties are also consistent performers on caucus night. In 2008, Mike Huckabee carried five of the six counties. The only one he lost was Plymouth, which went for Romney. Four years later Rick Santorum carried five of the six counties, and once again, Romney won Plymouth County. It’s not that winning five of the six counties is going to make you a lock to win statewide, but if you are a conservative candidate like Huckabee and Santorum, you have to carry northwest Iowa if you want to win the state.
The opportunity to keynote an event like this gives Walker the opportunity to make a good first impression on all the key activists in these six counties. Walker is already viewed as the Iowa frontrunner, but the opportunity for his campaign to plant a flag in northwest Iowa would only make him more formidable. The question is, did Walker do enough to peel support from guys like Huckabee and Santorum.
Walker, dressed in his campaign uniform of a blue dress shirt and red tie with the sleeves rolled up, stuck to a script that was similar to the one he used at Congressman Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit in January. There was plenty of talk about the 2012 recall election, but he wisely used it to communicate that he is better for having gone through that experience. For example, Walker told the audience that, over the past four years, he has amassed a nationwide donor file of 300,000 donors and raised $80 million over the span of the last three years.
When in Iowa, Walker also likes to remind people that he lived in Plainfield, a town of 430 people in Bremer County, from the time he was two and half until age ten. Walker shared a story about how his father, who was a preacher in the town, had asked the local state representative if he would speak at a gathering on the 4th of July. The state representative he was talking about went by the name of Chuck Grassley. To this day, when Walker’s father sees Grassley on the TV, he says, “Now there is an honest man,” and it all stems backs to Grassley keeping his word about attending that 4th of July event.
Walker didn’t mention the Wisconsin-based Kohl’s department store while campaigning in central Iowa on Saturday, but the anecdote did make its way into his speech on Friday night. Once again, Walker told the story about how he uses the stores coupons and Kohl’s cash and then jokingly concludes that they end up paying him to take the shirt. This time however, Walker used a Kohls analogy to tout his view on taxes. Walker noted that Kohl’s is able to be profitable on volume. Walker suggested that the same could be done on taxes if we lower the rates, which would broaden the tax base and thus help the economy grow.
Walker scores points when he is able to talk about his humble roots. In addition to talking about Kohl’s and growing up in Iowa, there was also a reference to washing dishes at a restaurant and flipping burgers at McDonalds. It all makes Walker very relatable and approachable. That, combined with his record as governor which includes conservative accomplishments like defunding Planned Parenthood, making Wisconsin a “Right to Work” state, and passing concealed carry and castle doctrine laws, makes him an appealing candidate.
Walker’s remarks to the conservative were based on growth and safety. “Safety is something you feel,” Walker said. “When I see a Jordanian pilot burned alive, I feel it in my heart. It’s not something you talk about; it is something you feel.” Walker closed his remarks by making the case that America needs to take the lead in the world again. “We need to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us,” Walker stated. “It’s not a question of if we will be attached again, it’s when.”
He closed by telling the story about visiting Liberty Hall in Philadelphia. He shared how he always looked at the founders of America as super heroes because they were bigger than life. Yet, it was at Liberty Hall where he noticed the desks and chairs we of normal size, that he realized the founders were just ordinary people who did extraordinary things. He closed by saying that 2016 is one of those important times in America where ordinary people must once again rise up and take back control of their country.
Walker did a good job of checking all the boxes with his speech, but I’m not sure that he did enough to be the conservative champion many of these people have voted for in the past two election cycles. Walker does have one significant advantage over guys like Huckabee and Santorum. The Iowans I have talked too have seem eager to support Walker, where the past two caucus winners had to do their fair share of convincing voters that they were worthy of their vote.
As things currently stand, Iowa seems like it’s Governor Walker’s for the taking.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com