April 2, 2015

Graham: ‘I’m going to campaign the way I would govern’

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham poses for a photo.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham poses for a photo.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — a likely Republican presidential candidate — made a two-day swing through the state this weekend.

“Is every meeting like this, where you have like 400 cameras?” Graham joked to a crowd gathered Friday night in the banquet room of an Italian restaurant in Des Moines.

About 60 people were in the room, along with a small contingent of media. Graham spoke briefly of his own background before addressing looming issues, like the solvency of Social Security and Medicare. Graham didn’t back down when a woman in the room said cuts elsewhere in the federal budget were the answer.

“Please get this. All the checks you’re going to write in taxes by 2042 go to pay two things the federal government is in charge of — not the Department of Defense, not the EPA, not the Department of Education — to pay the Medicare and the Social Security bill. That is a fact. Please don’t be misled,” Graham said. “You’re a nice lady. I don’t want you to leave this room thinking there is a way to fix this without means testing benefits and adjusting the age of retirement.”

Graham said with his own congressional pension along with his military pension, “it’s not fair” to ask younger workers to pay more taxes to support all he’s been promised in future Social Security and Medicare benefits. Graham, who has been in the Air Force for 33 years, also argued for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Every time a girl goes to school, that’s like dropping a bomb on the Taliban, so here’s what I tell people in my party: Getting to the left of Barack Obama is not the answer to the world’s problems,” Graham said, getting head nods and audible “uh huhs” from the crowd. “Getting to the left of him in terms of leading from behind only creates more chaos.”

That was a direct shot at Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who will formally enter the presidential race April 7. Paul and Graham, along with the other likely candidates Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, had a battle in the senate late last week over defense spending. Paul criticized the other three for supporting what he called a “reckless” and “irresponsible” increase in defense spending without making corresponding budget cuts elsewhere. Graham laughed about the competition when a reporter in Iowa asked about it.

“Everybody is trying to outdo this and outdo that,” Graham said. “So, yeah, we’ll be using our day jobs to try position this and try to position that and I’m trying not to tell people in Iowa something I can’t do.”

During his remarks to the crowd, Graham warned he would seek to suspend U.S. support of the United Nations if the deal the Obama Administration is trying to negotiate with Iran goes to the U.N. rather than congress for a vote. Graham’s goal is to ensure “radical Islam” doesn’t get to “marry up” with nuclear capabilities.

“This decision about the Iranian nuclear program is going to be the most important decision in your lifetime and my legislation will require it to come to congress before he can lift congressional sanctions and we will look at that deal, we will debate that deal, we will vote on that deal and you will know what’s in that deal,” Graham said, to applause.

On Saturday, Graham held a town hall meeting in Coralville and attended a regional meeting of GOP activists in Fairfield, but Graham is making it clear Republicans must find a way to work with Democrats to resolve the country’s toughest problems.

“I’m going to campaign the way I would govern and I don’t see how you can solve America’s problems without some level of bipartisanship,” Graham said. “It’s o.k. to fight. I like a fight, but you know at the end of the day, all we do is fight. Somebody’s got to step up and solve a problem and I’m going to offer myself to be that somebody.”

Graham plans to make a formal announcement about his White House intentions in May.

Iowa’s two major parties collaborate to produce ‘timely, accurate’ Caucus results

Republican Party Chair, Jeff Kauffman and Democrat Party Chair Andy McGuire.

Republican Party Chair, Jeff Kauffman and Democrat Party Chair Andy McGuire.

The leaders of Iowa’s two major political parties will soon announce a plan for releasing timely, accurate electronic results of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.

The precinct caucuses are not elections, but are run by the two parties. The 2012 results from Iowa Republicans were jumbled. Mitt Romney was declared the winner on Caucus Night, by a margin of eight votes, then a few days later when official results were tallied, Rick Santorum was declared the victor by 34 votes.

Jeff Kaufmann was elected chairman of the Iowa GOP this past June and he’s in charge of organizing for the 2016 Caucuses.

“We’re going to learn from our mistakes,” Kaufmann said this morning.

Kaufmann said it’s “exciting news” about the envisioned electronic system for collecting and reporting Caucus results, but he’s not ready to reveal all the details yet.

“There are some other factors involved in that announcement and we have to wait for the timeliness of that,” Kaufmann said. “But we will make believers out of Iowa.”

Andy McGuire was elected chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party in January and she also describes the envisioned electronic reporting as “exciting.”

“It’s electronic and wonderful and I think you will really think it’s very accurate,” McGuire said. “It’s timely and certainly will be good for both parties.”

The Iowa Caucuses are scheduled for February 1, 2016 and the two parties will each hold neighborhood gatherings for each of Iowa’s 1684 precincts. While some precincts may consolidate meeting places, McGuire said there will still be hundreds of sites from which results must be collected.

“I don’t think people understand how small they can be and how large they can be and how differing they can be in parts of the state that are more electronic and less electronic,” McGuire said. “It is a large job and we take it very seriously and that’s what we work on it every day. We have a caucus director. That’s her job, every day, to make sure that we have all of those results and we can trust all of those results and we’ve always done well in previous years.”

Democrats engage in far more math on Caucus Night than do Republicans, who merely take a straw poll to measure support for the candidates. Democrats at each caucus site have a “viability test” that calculates which candidates have at least 15 percent support in the room. If a candidate is “non-viable” then his or her supporters must join another candidate’s group. The ultimate Caucus Night calculation determines how many delegates each candidate has secured from each precinct.

McGuire and Kaufmann made their remarks this morning during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.


O’Malley says it’s time to crack down on ‘Wall Street recklessness’

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, is calling for a little “trust busting” — to break up the country’s huge monopolies.

“I think we’ve never seen such a concentration of wealth and corporate power as we have now,” O’Malley told Radio Iowa this afternoon. “And we’re all paying for it, through declining wages in our country.”

O’Malley is making a trip to Iowa this weekend, another signal he may be a challenger to Hillary Clinton in Iowa. During a telephone interview with Radio Iowa, O’Malley declined to directly confront Clinton, but O’Malley suggests in an opinion piece published in The Des Moines Register that “too many Democrats have been complicit in the backslide toward less regulation” of Wall Street.

“I think as a party we’ve not always stood up for the sort of robust regulation of Wall Street recklessness that the public expected us to,” O’Malley told Radio Iowa.

Five banks control about half of the assets in the nation’s financial sector and O’Malley said it’s time to bust those banks up into “smaller, more manageable institutions.” He’s also is calling for a sort of three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy that would close any bank guilty of three violations of the law — and he would end the practice of allowing banks to take a tax credit for any penalties paid in a legal settlement. O’Malley said these and other changes would clean up the culture on Wall Street where wrong-doers go unpunished.

“Our economy is the product of the choices we make and, sadly, we’ve made choices to concentrate wealth,” O’Malley said. “…We need to return to our true selves and make our economy work again for all of us.”

O’Malley was a frequent visitor to Iowa in 2014 and his political action committee hired 14 people and dispatched them to work for Iowa Democrats. This weekend’s visit marks O’Malley’s first trip to the state this year. He will headlined a fundraiser in Davenport tonight for Scott County Democrats. On Saturday morning he’ll meet with Cedar County Democrats in Tipton and then on Saturday night he’ll be in Council Bluffs to speak at the Pottawattamie County Democrats annual fundraiser.

Iowa Democratic Party’s recovery linked to Clinton campaign apparatus

Key Iowa supporters of Hillary Clinton’s almost-certain 2016 presidential bid say the Clinton campaign will help rebuild the Iowa Democratic Party after its losses in 2014. Democrats lost the U.S. Senate race and all but one of the four congressional races in Iowa last year.

“We thought we had more voters identified and out to vote and we actually didn’t, so something went very wrong with our program,” said Bonnie Campbell, an advisor to Hillary Clinton who served as chair of the Iowa Democratic Party in 1988.

“In 1988 we identified and registered 100,000 new Democrats…and this state went for Michael Dukakis by 10 points — better than his own state, so it can be done, but it is going to require a massive effort on the part of the Clinton campaign if that’s how life shakes out.”

Jerry Crawford served as Bill Clinton’s state director for the 1992 and 1996 General Elections. He was Hillary Clinton’s Midwest co-chair in 2008 as well and Crawford said Clinton is assembling a campaign team that will do important groundwork in Iowa.

“The Iowa Democratic Party, our ticket in this state, desperately needs the General Election assets that Hillary Clinton will bring as our party’s standard-bearer,” Crawford said.”That’s the way we recover from what was a very, very tough 2014 election.”

Jessica Vanden Berg, the manager of Christie Vilsack’s 2010 congressional campaign, has not signed on with a 2016 presidential campaign, although she helped former Virginia Governor Jim Webb with event scheduling in Iowa this past summer. According to Vanden Berg, the sooner Clinton’s 2016 campaign here starts, the better.

“I think Obama found out in 2012 when there were two years of Republicans running against him that he actually had to run a real General Election campaign and spend some real resources here,” Vanden Berg said. “So that may be an issue as well for us if Hillary isn’t contested.”

Vanden Berg said rank-and-file Iowa Democrats are not only frustrated about the outcome of the 2014 elections here, but they’re frustrated to see a fully engaged presidential race on the Republican side with little activity on the Democratic side. Vanden Berg, Crawford and Campbell made their comments this morning during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight at 7:30 on the Iowa Public Television.

Perry touts his Texas record: ‘This isn’t theory…This is reality.’

Rick Perry

Rick Perry

The fifth place finisher in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses is back in Iowa — with some new staff, a healed back and an emphasis on the “reality” of his 14 years as chief executive of the nation’s second largest state.

Former Governor Rick Perry learned “good…frustrating and hard lessons” in that 2012 campaign.

“I know before you can win the gold medal, you’ve got to be prepared and that’s what this is all about,” Perry told reporters earlier this evening.

Perry is now engaged in what he calls “preparatory work.” That means, he said, frequent stops in Iowa, like his speech tonight to a crowd of Republicans in a West Des Moines hotel. As soon as he shook hands with the man who introduced him, Perry exclaimed:  “I may just jump off of this noisy platform.”

Perry, who underwent back surgery just before entering the 2008 race, quickly stepped down off the stage and strolled from side to side at the front of the room, stopping his speech periodically to recognize key people in the room who had supported his last campaign for the White House.

“Senator, congratulations on getting the session over with,” Perry said, aiming at State Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan, who yelled back that the Iowa legislature had ended for the week, not the year.

“In Texas, our legislature only meets for 140 days every other year,” Perry said, as some people in the crowd yelled: “Amen!” and others applauded.

Perry continued: “Somebody said, ‘Man, would that be awesome if Washington not only do that.'”

After another quick burst of applause died down, Perry added: “We’d just like for them to meet and get something done.”

Perry talked about some of the things he got done as Texas governor, like enacting tort reform and holding public schools “accountable” by testing students. He also touted his job creation record.

“This isn’t theory,” Perry said, his voice rising to punctuate his point. “There’s data to back this up. This is reality.”

Perry also criticized President Obama’s foreign policy and suggested frayed relationships with key U.S. allies like Israel could be easily be repaired.

“We’re just a few good decisions and a change in leadership in Washington, D.C. from that happening,” Perry said in hushed tones.

A few minutes later, as Perry spoke with a group of reporters, Perry brushed off a question asking whether he agreed with something a newly hired staff member wrote in an email four years ago.

“I’m the candidate and my views are the ones that matter,” Perry said.

And Perry made it clear Iowans will hear a lot about Perry’s views, from Perry himself.

“We’ll continue that very steady diet of coming to Iowa,” Perry said.

Huckabee dives back into Pizza Ranch circuit

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has returned to a franchise that became a staple of his successful 2008 Iowa Caucus campaign.

Huckabee met with about 60 Iowans at a Pizza Ranch in Sioux City on Wednesday. It’s the second time this month he’s held an event at one of the restaurants in the Iowa-based chain, but Huckabee isn’t ready to say he’s officially a presidential candidate for 2016.

“It’s a good question and a fair one and it’s one that I’m definitely considering and contemplating, but we’ll make a decision over the next few weeks,” Huckabee said. “And I promise people in Iowa will definitely know it if I do.”

Huckabee ended his syndicated radio show more than a year ago and his Saturday evening TV show on the FOX News Channel ended in early January. More recently Huckabee has ended his celebrity endorsement of a controversial product he touted as a way to reverse diabetes. Huckabee told reporters in Sioux City last night that Iowans making a voting decision will focus on his political record rather than what he’s done since leaving office.

“People are going to judge me based on my record as governor for 10 and a half years and that’s a good record: cutting taxes, building roads, improving schools,” Huckabee said. “That’s what people are interested in in this next president and I’m very comfortable, if they look at that record, they are going to say: ‘This guy can lead.'”

Huckabee stopped at a Pizza Ranch in Council Bluffs, too, on Wednesday afternoon. He’s making stops in Le Mars and Orange City this morning.

(Reporting and photo by Mark Hahn, KSCJ, Sioux City)

Time off for 2016 Iowa Caucuses? Senate Democrats say yes

Bob Dvorsky

Bob Dvorsky

Democrats in the Iowa Senate have passed a bill that would force Iowa businesses to give employees up to four hours of unpaid time off to attend the Iowa Caucuses.

Every Republican in the Senate voted against the bill. Senator Dave Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, said legislators should not be promoting a “political party event.”

“What do they do at political party events? We’ve all been to ‘em,” Johnson said. “You pass the hat. Sometimes they pass the bushel basket. OK, these are fundraisers as well. Do you really think that’s appropriate?”

Critics of Iowa’s lead-off event in the presidential nominating season say low wage employees and shift workers are not represented at the Caucuses because they cannot easily get time off to participate. That’s one reason Hillary Clinton’s backers have cited as a chief complaint about the Caucuses and Senator Bob Dvorsky, a Democrat from Coralville, urged his senate colleagues to back the bill.

“I mean, we’re the first in the nation! Don’t we understand that?” said Dvorsky, whose wife, Sue Dvorsky, is a former Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman. “…I think it’s a small price to pay to keep us first in the nation to pass this bill.”

Democrats have been talking about other steps to increase Caucus participation, like offering babysitting service and allowing members of the military on active duty to participate from a distance, but Iowa Republicans have not been embracing those moves. Iowa’s Caucuses are party-run events and the two parties have different rules for determining winners. Iowa Democrats base their declared winner on a delegate count, while Iowa Republicans conduct a statewide straw poll to determine their winner.