DES MOINES—Sam Clovis is not anyone’s idea of a typical politician. But in a field of candidates featuring a former Senate chief of staff, a U.S. attorney and a state senator, that may be his biggest strength.
The former conservative talk radio host brought his scrappy campaign for U.S. Senate to central Iowa Tuesday morning to speak to the Polk County GOP Conservative Breakfast Club. Clovis is a well-known opinion leader in conservative Western Iowa circles, but most of the Des Moines activists heard him speak for the first time.
Clovis, an economics professor from the Sioux City area, focused his stump speech on qualities that he says Republicans should seek in their next Senate candidate: leadership, stewardship and statesmanship.
“I’m stunned that whenever Bruce Braley votes for something, it costs Iowans money, and a bit of liberty,” he said, calling Braley a “secular, progressive liberal” to the left of Sen. Tom Harkin.
Clovis said that the “basketball team”-sized field of Senate candidates essentially shares the same conservative principles. What will separate the men (or woman) from they boys is the courage and leadership to stand up to special interests in Washington, he said. Clovis, calling himself a “seasoned citizen,” said that his life experience sets him apart from his opponents.
The jovial candidate, clad in an American flag tie and blue blazer, told about 40 Republican activists that Iowa needs a candidate that will fight for the national interest of balancing the budget instead of handing out favors to organized interests.
“How would you spend your mother’s money?” he said in a 10-minute speech followed by questions from the crowd. “You spend that money in a very judicious way… you have to balance your budget, and you have to do as a Senator what is best for the families of Iowa.”
Clovis, who drove to the event in a red H3 Hummer with a Steve King bumper sticker, didn’t shy away from social issues.
“I’m a pro-life guy. I’m a pro-traditional marriage guy,” he said. “I’m a Catholic… It’s like what Pope Francis said [when recently asked about those issues]. That’s a silly question. I’m a Catholic. I stand with Pope Francis.”
Clovis, a 25-year military veteran and a former fellow with the D.C.-based Homeland Security Institute, answered questions about Senate role models, America’s relationship with Israel and immigration. It’s a “ludicrous notion” to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, but the Senate’s immigration bill sends the wrong message, he said.
“I don’t believe that people should be rewarded for citizenship simply for breaking the law,” he said. “They can stay and work, they can do all of those things… but I don’t think they’re entitled to citizenship.”
“He’s impressive,” said Steve Roberts, a former RNC Committeeman, who asked Clovis the immigration question. “I didn’t think much of it when he started out. I thought he was just a conservative talk show host. But he’s smart, he’s thoughtful. He could be a factor.”
The Polk County GOP Conservative Breakfast Club has become a must for candidates seeking the U.S. Senate seat. Clovis followed former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker and former chief of staff to Sen. Chuck Grassley David Young. Businessman Mark Jacobs is scheduled to speak next month and state Sen. Joni Ernst has committed to attend in Sept.
“I was very impressed,” said Darrell Kearney, the fundraising director for the Polk County GOP, who is neutral in the race. “I knew Sam would be very well versed. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a former radio host can connect with people conversationally. If you put them all in the room, they’d all give the same answer to everything. Philosophically, they’re all conservatives. The question is who can deliver the message, who can fire up the base.”
Kearney, an experienced wrangler of GOP donors, said a credible candidate must raise a bare minimum of $100,000 to have a plausible shot in the June primary. With a large and largely unknown field of candidates, that’s a tall order. Clovis raised about $16,000 in less than a month of campaigning, but his campaign expects to turn in a respectable third quarter figure. No one expects Clovis to haul in PAC checks or dominate the fundraising race. But his campaign, helmed by the national campaign manager for Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, is gambling on galvanizing small donors and somehow catching fire on a shoestring budget.
The amount of money candidates can bring in during July, August and September will likely make or break them. Young brought in $150,000 last quarter while Whitaker pulled in about $110,000. Those numbers are not going to scare Braley and have Republican operatives quietly worrying that Jacobs, a potential self-funding candidate, might be the only candidate who can stack up to Braley’s trial lawyer-funded campaign chest.
Trackers for the Iowa Democratic Party and American Bridge, an independent political group that tracks GOP candidates, showed up to film Clovis, a sign that he’s being taken seriously by the left. Unfortunately for the American Bridge operative, he arrived an hour late and missed the show.
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