Fifty years ago in August, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what has become perhaps the most famous speech in American history. While King’s, “I have a Dream” speech was about ending racism in America, his eloquent words are still alive today because at its core, King’s speech also serves as a modern America creed.
King lived in a world where he dreamt that his children would live in a nation where they would be judged by the content of the character instead the color of their skin. While our society often tells us that one’s outward appearance is still the most important trait or quality, deep down we all long to be judged by the content of our character and our accomplishments. Our skin color, gender, physical appearance, disability, or current social status should have no bearing on our ability to pursue our dreams.
The latest entrant into the Republican race for the U.S. Senate has exposed that some Iowa Republicans seem to care more about how a candidate looks than what he or she believes in or stands for. Sam Clovis will be the first to admit that he’s not your prototypical U.S. Senate candidate, but he believes he offers voters something different, something that is lacking in politics today.
In a conversation before his announcement on Monday night in Sioux City, Clovis acknowledged that he’s not one of the GOP’s rock stars or even opening acts. The nearly 200 people that squeezed into a conference room at the downtown Holiday Inn would probably disagree, but Clovis doesn’t need anonymous commentors on this website or people on Facebook to tell him what his weaknesses as a candidate are. He not only knows them, he was willing to discuss them.
Dismissing a candidate for office based on his appearance is a mistake, but especially before they are given an opportunity to make their case.
Voters in New Jersey voters showed that they were able to look beyond Chris Christie’s appearance when they elected him governor in 2009. In Texas, Attorney General Greg Abbott is positioning himself to run for governor in 2014. Abbott doesn’t look like your typical politician either. He’s a paraplegic. That doesn’t seem to bother Texas conservatives. Abbott is already plotting a 2014 run for governor even though Rick Perry hasn’t said he’s hanging it up yet. If there is a Texas primary, Abbott will be considered a legitimate candidate despite his disability. If Perry opts not to run for another term, Mr. Abbott will likely be called Abbott.
Iowans also have a history of electing candidates that don’t look like they came from central casting. Chet Culver, Leonard Boswell, and Bill Northey have all been able to find success in Iowa politics despite carrying a little extra weight. So the notion that Clovis’ campaign is over before it begins simply because of his appearance is absurd.
Clovis is a lot more than just a radio talk show host and political activist from northwest Iowa. He’s is currently an economics professor at Morningside College. He’s a graduate of the US Air Force Academy. He has an MBA in management and a doctorate in public administration. His military service spanned 25 years. Sam commanded the 70th Fighter Squadron and retired as the Inspector General of the United States Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. When he retired from the Air Force, he had the rank of a full colonel.
In addition to his Sioux City radio show, Clovis has conducted 24 regional civics lectures in northwest Iowa since 2010. The lectures covered a variety of topics that include the Constitution, education reform, national security, energy policy, immigration, and healthcare reform. He may not be known across the state, but his base of support is much larger than that of the candidates who are already in the race or those who are likely to join the race, except for Bob Vander Plaats.
While many don’t seem to think that Clovis is a legitimate candidate, he has just as good of a shot to win the Republican primary as his likely opponents. Every candidate in the race will likely struggle to raise a substantial amount of money in the primary, not just Clovis. One area where Clovis will not struggle is on stump. The next six months of the campaign will focus on meeting GOP activists and gaining their support. Simply put, Clovis speaks their language, and they are not really going to care what he looks like.
For Clovis to be rendered an inconsequential candidate, one of the other candidates is going to have to be able to take the primary to a completely different level. Nobody else will be able to do that on the issues alone, which means unless a candidate is able to raise and spend a lot of money on TV and radio, Clovis isn’t going away anytime soon. Even still, his ability to relate and engage GOP activists on a myriad of issues will give even a well financed candidate fits.
Many Iowa Republicans seem to want to apply the same metric to gauge potential candidates as the news when broke that Sen. Tom Harkin would not run for re-election. That’s also mistake. Tom Latham, Steve King, Kim Reynolds, and other big name Republicans have taken a pass on running for the U.S. Senate. Clovis, or any other candidate for that matter, doesn’t need to beat Tom Latham in a primary. He has to beat Matt Whitaker, David Young, and anyone else who gets in the race.
As we have seen in the recent radio and newspaper interviews of the other announced candidates, the bar is currently not set that high. And if you listened to Simon Conway’s interview with Clovis on the radio Tuesday night, he did far better than Whitaker and Young. We are beyond the point of comparing candidates against the ideal candidate. The ideal candidate isn’t running. Thus we can only compare Clovis and the others who get into the race against the current competition.
This race is wide open, and it is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. As such, a long shot candidate like Clovis has a chance at winning the Republican primary. Laugh all you want, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a long shot candidate who the media seemed to write off went on to win a primary.
If you want to pick a U.S. Senate candidate based solely on how they fill out their suit or whether they wear a skirt, that’s your progrative. For me, I choose to settle on a candidate based upon on his or her intellectual attributes, base of knowledge, and life experiences. I’m not saying that Sam Clovis is the guy, but he does have a lot to offer if you are willing to listen.
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