September 17, 2014

Hillary Clinton hints about ‘it’ a lot in speech at Harkin Steak Fry (AUDIO)

Hilliary and Bill Clinton at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry.

Hilliary and Bill Clinton at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given the broadest hint yet that she is a likely 2016 candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

“Hello Iowa,” Clinton said, before declaring: “I’m back.”

Clinton spoke this afternoon at Senator Tom Harkin’s 37th and final “Steak Fry” fundraiser. She hadn’t set foot in the state since the might in 2008 when finished third in Iowa’s Caucuses. News of her visit sparked a firestorm of speculation about her intentions for 2016, and Clinton sent them soaring soon after she started speaking this afternoon.

“It is true, I am thinking about it,” Clinton said, to cheers. “But for today, that is not why I’m here.”

Although she never defined what “it” meant, her comment was interpreted by the crowd as a declaration and they roared in response. Harkin, in his introduction of Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, reworked the “comeback kid” title Bill Clinton earned during his 1992 campaign, calling Bill AND Hillary the “comeback couple.”

“I’m here to tell you that there are many more chapters to be written in the amazing life of Hillary Clinton,” Harkin said, as the crowd cheered.

Clinton mentioned “that young senator from Illinois” who wound up beating her here in 2008.

Tom Harkin, Hilliary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Ruth Harkin (R-L) Photo by Debbie Noe.

Tom Harkin, Hilliary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Ruth Harkin (R-L) Photo by Debbie Noe.

“We went from rivals to partners to friends and sometimes we would even reminisce a little about old days and let me tell you: he sure loves Iowa,” Clinton said, and the crowd cheered. “Now when Tom Harkin called and asked me to come, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve got a few things on my mind these days.”

And, after talking about the anxiously-awaited arrival of her first grandchild, Clinton joked about all the attention her appearance at Harkin’s event had generated.

“You know, it does really feel just like yesterday when I was here at the Harkin Steak Fry, or as my husband likes to call it: ‘The Harkin Stir Fry,’” Clinton said, laughing along with the crowd.

AUDIO of Hillary Clinton’s speech, 23:00

Bill Clinton was the final speaker at the event, but he focused instead on the 2014 election and did not mention having his wife serve in the same office he held from January 20, 1993 ’til January 20, 1999. Both Clintons paid tribute to retiring Senator Harkin, praising his “progressive” voice and record over the past 40 years in congress.

Signs leading into final Harkin Steak Fry.

Signs leading into final Harkin Steak Fry.

Harkin delivered a speech that was a sort of retrospective of his political career, his voice sometimes cracking with emotion as he started with his first unsuccessful campaign for congress back in 1974 and his decision in 2013 not to seek reelection.

“You empowered me to make a difference and I can never properly thank you. I just want you to know how grateful I am,” Harkin said. “I have done my best to carry forward the populist-progressive banner of fighting for working people in this country and fighting for people who didn’t get a fair shake: the least, the lost and the left behind.”

But, Harkin — who is 74 years old — said there “comes a time to gracefully bow out” and let new leaders step forward and that’s why he decided not to seek reelection this year.

Final Harkin Steak Fry, with Bill and Hillary Clinton, to attract huge crowd

File photo from 2010 Steak Fry: Harkin, Obama advisors David Axelrod & David Plouffe flip steaks.

File photo from 2010 Steak Fry: Harkin, Obama advisors David Axelrod & David Plouffe flip steaks.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are scheduled to speak at Senator Tom Harkin’s “Steak Fry” this weekend, sending speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions soaring.

In June, the Iowa Democratic Party held a banquet to honor Harkin, who is retiring from the senate at the end of the year. Clinton sent a video for that event.

“Tom and Ruth have been wonderful friends of Bill’s and mine for years,” Clinton said.

The couples first met on the 1992 campaign trail, when both Bill Clinton and Tom Harkin were running for president. Harkin endorsed Clinton when he dropped out of the race. During her recorded speech back in June, the former first lady praised Harkin’s “Midwestern common sense” and his work on the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“Thanks for your leadership and for your friendship,” Clinton said to conclude the brief video.

While Senator Harkin did not endorse a candidate running in Iowa’s 2008 Caucuses, Ruth Harkin did publicly back Hillary Clinton and, just over a year ago, Ruth Harkin said Iowa’s 2016 Caucuses would be “the launch pad” for the White House.

“Some might say we are awfully ambitious in our aim to elect a woman to the White House in 2016,” Ruth Harkin said in August of 2013. “Let’s be clear: this is just the beginning of our ambition.”

Harkin was speaking at an event in Des Moines that was organized by Emily’s List, a group that supports Democratic women running for office.

“We want our daughters to aspire not be the first woman president, but to be the fifth or the tenth woman president,” Ruth Harkin said, to applause from the mostly female crowd.

This past January a group calling itself “Ready for Hillary” held an event in Iowa. Obama supporters from 2008 as well as Clinton backers were there. Jerry Crawford, the co-chair of Clinton’s 2008 Iowa campaign, was asked what “pitfalls” Clinton should avoid if she runs again.

“I don’t really look at it that way. Hillary Clinton got more votes than any prior candidate for president in the history of the Iowa Caucuses,” Crawford said. “It’s just that Obama got more.”

Clinton’s last appearance in Iowa was on Caucus Night, January 3, 2008, when she finished in third place, with 29 percent of the vote, behind Obama and John Edwards.

“This is a great night for Democrats. We have seen an unprecedented turnout here in Iowa and that is good news because today we’re sending a clear message that we are going to have change,” Clinton said. “And that change will be a Democratic president in the White House in 2009.”

Clinton thanked her 2008 Iowa supporters for their “best efforts” on her behalf.

“I am as ready as I can be after having had this incredible experience here in Iowa, starting out a long time ago,” Clinton said, drawing laughter from the crowd, “and making this journey with so many people who have become my friends and who I am so grateful for their hard work and support.”

One of those Iowa supporters was Debbie Noe of West Des Moines, who was a precinct captain for Clinton.

“People are going to be excited to see her again,” Noe says.

Noe, her husband and their 10-year-old son plan to attend Sunday’s Steak Fry, but Noe is by no means ready to start pounding the pavement for a 2016 presidential candidate.

“I think people are just tired right now and waiting to see what happens with the state campaigns and this next election (in 2014),” Noe says.

Danny Homan of Sioux City first met the Clintons in late 1991 when he drove the couple through an Iowa blizzard.

“I have a fondness for President Clintona and First Lady Clinton and I grew to respect her even more when she was running for president seven years ago,” Homan says.

Homan, who is president of AFSCME Council 61 — the union that represents the largest share of employees in state government, says he hopes Sunday’s Steak Fry is more about the host than the high-profile guests, however.

“I’m going more for Senator Harkin,” Homan says. “It’s just a bonus that the president and first lady will be there also.”

Nancy Bobo says it will be a “big deal” to see the Clintons, but as someone with a hearing problem, she’s going to the Steak Fry to show her “reverence” for Harkin’s work on the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act.

“So I hope that, as much as anything, it’s a fine tribute to Tom Harkin and all he’s done for us because he’s done a tremendous amount of work for Iowans,” Bobo says, “and our lives have changed because of it.”

Bobo, who started working for the Obama campaign in early 2007, suggests the decision for Democrats in 2016 may boil down to a choice between Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who has become a favorite of the party’s progressive wing.

“I think we have two very capable candidates and two very different candidates in these women,” Bobo says. “…The next six months are going to tell us a lot.”

There’s a lot of activity for the next couple of days as the event’s organizers prepare for a crowd of thousands on Sunday. That’s a far cry from the first Steak Fry in 1972 when Joan Kiernan hosted 53 people at her family’s farm in Madison County. Tickets that year were $2.

“It was something very special and it started there on our farm,” Kiernan says. “It’s different now. It’s so large.”

Over 10,000 people were at the 2003 Steak Fry when Bill Clinton served as the closer after that slate of Democratic presidential candidates spoke. In 2007, 12,000 people trekked to the Indianola Balloon Fields to hear from and cheer for that season’s Democratic presidential contenders.

“One would never imagine that it was going to get that big,” Kiernan says, with a laugh.

In addition to the thousands who will pay $30 for a ticket to the 37th and final Harkin Steak Fry on Sunday afternoon, this has become a reunion weekend for people who’ve worked for Harkin in his congressional offices or on his campaigns.  By this morning, nearly 250 people had paid $45 for a ticket to the Harkin Staff Reunion, including a man who worked on Harkin’s first, unsuccessful campaign for congress in 1972. Harkin was elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and he won his seat in the Senate in 1984.

Some of Harkin’s staff of the past worked on Tom Vilsack’s short-lived 2008 presidential campaign as well. Tom and Christie Vilsack plan to attend the reunion organized for that group this weekend. Tom and Ruth Harkin will attend the Harkin Staff Reunion on Saturday.

Governor Pence uses Iowa speech to discuss his foreign policy vision (AUDIO)

Two potential 2016 presidential candidates shared a stage in Des Moines today, with Indiana Governor Mike Pence using the occasion to speak about foreign policy.

“As President Reagan proved, peace comes through strength and, conversely, weakness arouses evil,” Pence said.

Pence was among six governors who spoke at the Midwest U.S. – Japan Association annual meeting, being held this year in Iowa. The meeting’s focus is on cementing trade ties and educational exchanges between Midwest states and Japan, but Pence took time to talk about the military alliance between the U.S. and Japan.

“Japan is, without a doubt, America’s most important ally in the Pacific,” Pence said. “And so we must acknowledge that a stronger military in Japan with broader capabilities, a stronger military in America will mean a stronger and safer free world.”

AUDIO of Pence’s speech

Pence made visits to Iowa in 2009 and 2010, but he ultimately decided to leave congress and run for governor of Indiana rather than run for president in 2012. Pence had served in congress for 12 years and was one of the top Republican leaders in the U.S. House when he left to become the chief executive of the State of Indiana. He had been a member of House Foreign Affairs Committee, focusing on issues in the Middle East and South Asia.

“In these anxious times of rising aggression from the plains of northern Iraq and Ukraine to the shores of the Pacific, I would submit to you that building a robust and sustainable future will require more than simply maintaining the status quo of our relationships,” Pence said. “I think now is the time to strengthen our economic and strategic ties between Japan and America and all free nations.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, another potential presidential candidate in 2016, also spoke to the more than 350 people gathered for the Midwest U.S. – Japan Association meeting. Walker touted the economic records of Republican governors like himself.

“Much of the comeback in America is being led by governors right on this stage and others like us across the Midwest,” Walker said.

AUDIO of Walker’s speech

The Republican governors of Nebraska and Michigan addressed the group, as did Iowa’s Terry Branstad. The lone Democratic governor to speak was Missouri’s Jay Nixon. Missouri will host the Midwest U.S. – Japan Association annual meeting in 2016.

Pence, who did not speak to reporters gathered for today’s event, is hosting a private fundraiser for Branstad over the noon hour in downtown Des Moines.

Iowa GOP to hold ‘party event in summer of 2015′, might not be Straw Poll

The future of the Iowa Republican Party’s “straw poll” will likely be decided late this year according to the party’s new leader.

Since 1979, the GOP has held a “straw poll” in Ames on a Saturday in August to test support for the party’s presidential candidates, a few months before the Iowa Caucuses kick off the presidential nominating season. Jeff Kaufmann was elected chairman of the Iowa GOP on June 28.

“There is going to be a party event in the summer of 2015,” Kaufmann says. “I don’t know what that event will look like.”

Kaufmann hints the decision will be made soon after the November 4 Election, though.

“Right now the 2014 election is absolutely consuming my life. My wife will attest to that,” Kaufmann says. “…November 5th we’ve got two things right there on my plate and one of them is the Straw Poll and questions about that.”

His other priority will be ensuring the party has the aparatus in place to conduct the precinct Caucuses in early 2016.

Iowa Democrats hold a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner before the Caucuses, in November, to showcases the party’s presidential candidates, but the party’s bylaws prohibit a straw poll at the event. While the Iowa Republican Party’s chairman isn’t commenting on the future of the Straw Poll, he is predicting some sort of gathering will be held where all the GOP’s candidates can speak.

“I cannot see a summer of 2015 without an event that highlights our diverse issues and our diverse candidates,” Kaufmann says.

Kaufmann made his comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa Public Television.

Critics of the Iowa GOP’s Straw Poll say it allows Iowa Republicans to hold the first two contests which winnow the field of presidential candidates. Others complain there’s a “pay to play” angle as campaigns buy tickets to distribute to potential straw poll voters and the party auctions off tent space for candidate receptions. Supporters say the party has benefited from the money raised at the Ames Straw Poll.

The Family Leader, a Christian conservative group, appears poised to hold its own straw poll if the Iowa GOP does not. The group has held a Family Leadership Summit in Ames, in August, for the past three years and has reserved space to do so again on August 15th, 2015.

Perry says he’s fighting felony charges on behalf of future governors

Republican congressional candidate Rod Blum got campaign help Tuesday from Texas Governor Rick Perry as the two made stops in Hiawatha and Dubuque. It marks Perry’s first trip to Iowa since felony charges were filed in Texas, accusing Perry of abusing his power as governor — charges Perry is fighting.

“This is standing up for the next govenror of Texas, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican and protecting their right to veto,” Perry said in Hiawatha.

The grand jury indictment Perry is fighting accuses Perry of vetoing the money for investigations of government corruption after the lead prosecutor was arrested for drunken driving, but refused to resign. Blum said he and his staff “hardly discussed” Perry’s legal fight prior to Perry’s visit on Tuesday.

“What little I’ve read about it, you know I think it’s rallied Republicans to the governor’s side,” Blum said.

In mid-August, Republican Governor Terry Branstad told reporters he thought Perry’s legal predicament probably wouldn’t hurt his chances in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses should Perry decide to run again for president.

“It could well help him that you have this kind of, you know, an attack being leveled against him,” Branstad said. “It is an attack and it also is coming out of a particular county where you wouldn’t exactly expect even-handedness.”

Members of the grand jury who handed down the indictment against their Republican governor live in the Austin, Texas area where President Obama won 60 percent of the vote in 2012 compared to Mitt Romney’s 36 percent. However, Republicans are so dominant in Texas that a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race there since 1996.

Branstad says 2012 Iowa Caucus bribery scandal shouldn’t taint future caucuses

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says Iowa’s Caucuses shouldn’t be tainted by a bribery scandal involving the former state senator who now admits he was paid $73,000 to switch his support from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul in the closing days of the 2012 Caucus campaign.

“When we find wrong-doing, we investigate it and we take action to make sure that justice is done,” Branstad said.

Kent Sorenson of Milo resigned from the senate nearly a year ago after an investigation launched by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee concluded it was “manifestly clear” Sorenson had been paid to work for Bachmann. Last week the U.S. Justice Department announced Sorenson had pleaded guilty to taking money from Ron Paul’s campaign. Branstad notes the state investigation came first.

“I think it’s a tribute to the political system of our state and to the senate itself — both the ethics committee and minority leader Bill Dix — that they took the action that they did,” Branstad said this morning.

Sorenson signed on as Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman in early 2011. Sorenson has now admitted in his guilty plea that he began negotiating with the Paul campaign in the fall of that year to make the switch to Paul’s camp and get paid. In the spring of 2012 three Democrats and one Republican on the state Senate Ethics Committee voted to launch an investigation of Sorenson’s activities.

“The fact that Iowa has taken appropriate action to protect the integrity of our caucuses and to keep out inappriate actions speaks out strongly that we do things differently here,” Branstad said.

In 2008, Sorenson was elected to one term in the Iowa House, then he won a seat in the Iowa Senate in 2010. Sorenson’s case has had ripple effects in Kentucky, where the political director for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign had been running on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection effort. Jesse Benton, who is also married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, resigned last week from the McConnell campaign. Benton said any suggestion that he was involved in Sorenson’s bribery scandal was “untrue,” but he resigned to ensure McConnell’s campaign wasn’t damaged by “rumors” about the case.


Ex-State Senator admits he took $73,000 ‘under the table’ to work on 2012 presidential campaign

Kent Sorenson (file photo)

Kent Sorenson (file photo)

A state senator who resigned after being accused of taking payments to work on a 2012 presidential campaign has pleaded guilty to taking $73,000 worth of what prosecutors call “under-the-table” money.

The U.S. Department of Justice today announced 42-year-old Kent Sorenson of Milo has pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and one count of causing a presidential campaign to falsely report its expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.

Sorenson had been the chairman of Michele Bachmann’s campaign for the Iowa Caucuses, but Sorenson now admits he started secret negotiations in the fall of 2011 to switch to the Ron Paul camp, in exchange for money. Prosecutors say some of the $73,000 paid to Sorenson was concealed by transferring the money to a film production company and then to a second company before it got to Sorenson.

In his plea agreement, Sorenson admits he lied to a lawyer hired by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations that Sorenson was paid to work on a presidential campaign, which is a violation of senate rules. Sorenson will be sentenced later.

Michele Bachman at a 2011 news conference.

Michele Bachman at a 2011 news conference.

Sorenson resigned from the state senate in October soon after the independent counsel hired by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee released a report concluding it was “manifestly clear” that Sorenson was paid to work on Bachmann’s presidential campaign. Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids leads the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Iowa is squeaky clean, even though once in a while we have a problem,” Horn told Radio Iowa an hour after Sorenson resigned.

Sorenson sent an email to supporters last October saying he “did not do anything illegal” or “immoral.” Sorenson accused his attackers of a “witch hunt” and he argued the investigation had been “rigged” against him because of his public opposition to the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. The first person to publicly accuse Sorenson of taking money to jump ship and join the Ron Paul campaign was Michele Bachmann.

“I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson and…he told me he that was offered money,” Bachmann said. “He was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign to go associate with the Ron Paul campaign.”

Bachmann made those comments during a news conference on December 29, 2011 — the day after Sorenson attended a Ron Paul rally to announce he was jumping from Bachmann to Paul’s camp.

F. Montgomery Brown, Sorenson’s attorney, released a written statement today, asking for privacy for Sorenson and his family.

“Mr. Sorenson’s pleas are part of the process of taking complete responsibility for the series of compounding errors and omissions he engaged in, aided and abetted, and participated in with others,” Brown wrote. “…This is a very sad day for Mr. Sorenson, his family, and his friends, many of whom were in attendance in court. To the extent others may take glee with his predicament, there is nothing that can be done.”

Sorenson owned and operated a cleaning business in Indianola before his election to the Iowa House in 2008, then he won a seat in the Iowa Senate in 2010. In a September 19, 2013 deposition that was part of the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee’s investigation of the allegations against Sorenson, he was quizzed about why he was being paid by the Ron Paul campaign.

“What was the consulting work that you were doing?” asked Mark Weinhart, the independent counsel investigating the case for the ethics committee.

Sorenson replied: “I don’t think that’s relevant to the investigation…I’m not going to answer the question.”

Weinhart also asked: “What was it that made you so valuable that they would pay, I think, well over $60,000 during the course of 2012?”

Sorenson, in his answer, suggested his value was as a future candidate for federal office.

“I don’t know if you understand how this works, but he had an interest in me possibly running for the U.S. Senate in this election cycle,” Sorenson said in the deposition. “…I would probably be one of the front-runners right now (if not for the ethics investigation). A lot of people believe that.”

(This post was updated at 3:27 p.m. with additional information.)