Every four years, the spotlight shines on Iowa as we head out to our local caucus locations to debate with our friends, family, and neighbors about who should lead this great country of ours. Sure, there are some people who think it’s a nuisance, but those people are small in number. Iowans get the privilege of having the first say in who should be the next President of the United States, and we take that responsibility seriously.
It is true that the presidential caucus campaigns begin earlier every cycle. In the last go around, George Pataki, Mitt Romney and John McCain all hired Iowa political staff in the summer of 2006. These early staffers work for these potential candidates’ leadership PACs, but we all know that the real purpose is for these staffers to starting building the foundation on which presidential campaigns will stand.
In the last presidential cycle, the most aggressive candidate was Mitt Romney. Romney’s Commonwealth PAC began contributing to Iowa legislative candidates in 2004. During the 2006 campaigns, Romney was showing up to headline fundraisers for people like State Senator Brad Zaun and then-gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle.
Now we stand at the dawn of a new presidential cycle. It is likely that in a year or so, potential candidates will be hiring initial Iowa staff to work for their PACs. This will give us a much clearer picture of who is serious about running. Yet, there is a big difference between this new presidential cycle in Iowa and the ones we have witnessed before: The American Future Fund.
The American Future Fund, which is based in Iowa, burst on to the national scene last cycle. The group spent $10 million in advocating for candidates who promote conservative, free market solutions. Last month, AFF held its inaugural Lecture Series event with former New York Governor George Pataki. While the lecture series allows this group to reach out and communicate with more Iowans by raising their profile, it is also providing a venue for people who might have aspirations to run for national office. This is a way for them to visit Iowa and dip their toes in the political waters without having staff on the ground.
AFF’s inaugural event made national news when Governor Pataki called on President Obama to fire Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Pataki received rave reviews from his speech at Drake University, but many Iowans had already seen Pataki in 2005 and 2006 when he was here testing the waters for a potential 2008 presidential run. And while one should never rule out a politician like Pataki, he is more likely to run for the United States Senate in New York than President of the United States.
On Monday, June 1st, AFF is holding second Lecture Series event in Sioux City and this time, the headliner is U.S. Senator John Ensign from Nevada. This will be Ensign’s first trip to Iowa, and he’s spending a full day in the northwest part of the state. This area is rich with conservative voters who will play a critical role in determining the winner of the Iowa Caucuses.
Many in the national media are busy watching every move that people like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Sarah Palin make, but it’s people like Ensign who have a greater probability of actually running for President.
While Ensign is unknown to most Iowans, after a closer look, you can see why some believe that he is a potential presidential candidate in 2012. Ensign, a veterinarian, was first elected to Congress in 1994 to represent Nevada’s 1st congressional district, which includes Las Vegas. In 1998, he ran for the United States Senate against Harry Reid and only lost by 401 votes. He ran again in 2000 and won that senate seat with 55% of the vote.
Ensign is a well-spoken, attractive, and affable. He is also a solid conservative. In February, the National Journal ranked Ensign as the most conservative member of the United States Senate. Based on its criteria, he tied with three others for that distinction. When asked if the Republican Party focuses too much on social issues in an interview last month, Ensign said, “This is a few people blowing it out of proportion and the media running with it.” That should be music to some conservative’s ears in Iowa since Iowa Republicans are struggling with the same issue on a local level.
Ensign also has been on a steady rise inside of the GOP. In this last cycle he headed up the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. While Republican’s lost seats in the Senate in 2008, that experience helped Ensign become a national figure and fundraiser. Ensign is now the chairman of the influential Republican Policy Committee.
Ensign’s first foray into Iowa will provide Iowans an early look at a potential 2012 presidential candidate. If you want to really get to know and understand a candidate, it’s best to kick the tires early and often before they hire scores of consultants and political advisors.
The American Future Fund is providing a great venue for potential presidential candidates and activists to introduce themselves to each other. The Iowa Republican will be there cover Ensign’s trip to Iowa and, more importantly, to gauge Iowans’ reactions to his visit.
blog comments powered by Disqus