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June 5th, 2013

Lackluster First Impressions of Whitaker and Young

When the Google Alert hit my inbox informing me about an article that I was quoted in from The Hill, I admit that I didn’t remember doing an interview with them.  I eventually realized that I had talked to the reporter late last week about the 2014 U.S. Senate race in Iowa.  The interest in Iowa’s soon-to-be open U.S. Senate seat has meant I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking to various reporters about that particular race.

I quickly scanned the article to see what I had to say.  It’s always good to make sure you were quoted accurately, but it’s always interesting, or frustrating, to see what quote they selected to use in the article from a conversation that lasted anywhere from five to fifteen minutes.

As I read the quote that was attributed to me, I got that sick feeling, a knot in the pit of my stomach.  Every once in a while, I tend to say something to a reporter that might be best left unspoken. This instance wasn’t as bad as the time last fall when I came up with the phrase, “the stench of Romney,” but once again, I might have been a little too honest with my answer about the current field of Republican Senate candidates.

“I have a hard time, with this current field, seeing any of them winning the general election,” I told The Hill reporter. “It’s going to be difficult.”  Ouch, what a way to formally welcome two candidates in to the race in Matt Whitaker and David Young.

For the record, I tell every reporter that I talk to that Congressman Bruce Braley is very beatable.  While it would be nice for Republicans to have an A-List candidate to run against Braley in the general election, it’s not necessary.  There are plenty of Iowa Republicans who match up well against Braley.   Yet, I allowed The Hill to quote me being very pessimistic about the Republican chances at winning the open Iowa U.S. Senate seat. Frankly, I was a little disappointed in myself.

While I wish I hadn’t been so pessimistic about the Republican chances of defeating Braley next fall, I’m not about to apologize for expecting more out of our candidates for the U.S. Senate.  Whitaker and Young are running for one of the highest, most prestigious elected positions in the state.  And to be rather frank, both have been underwhelming in the early stages of their candidacies.

Whitaker’s reversal on Obamacare has been documented here and in the Des Moines Register.  I don’t think fumbling the topic is going to be a deal breaker for him, but for the life of me I don’t know how a Republican can tell the world that he is running for the Senate but not know exactly where he stands on such an important and prominent issue.

Young had a similar situation on Simon Conway’s radio program on Monday evening.  Young was asked whether he would more resemble a Senator like John McCain or Ted Cruz if elected to the Senate.  Young said that he would be his own man, but Conway pressed him to choose between the two.  Young then said he would be like McCain when it came to foreign policy issues, and like Cruz when it came to spending and constitutional issues.  To this point all of Young’s answers are fine, but Conway continued to press.  He then asked Young if he would join McCain in arming the Syrian Rebels.  Young responded with an immediate and firm, “yes.”

I was impressed by Young’s quick answer, not because of the position he was taking, but because it seemed like he had a clear foreign policy position.  Conway then asked him to clarify his answer.  He did, and then said that he trusts McCain’s judgment on the matter.  Conway then questioned him further given that the Syrian Rebels have ties to Al-Qaeda. Young then paused and finally said, “You got me.”

You got me?

Young went on to say that foreign policy isn’t a focus of his.  There is nothing like taking a third of the issues in a campaign off of the table in the first 48 hours of his campaign.  What about the hearings on Benghazi?

I understand that they situation in Syria is developing and intelligible information is hard to come by, but if you don’t know something, the last thing you want to do is wing it.  Later on in the interview, Young was asked about the Fair Tax.  He was clueless, but said the more Conway explained it the more he liked it.

The Fair Tax is nothing new to Iowa activists.  Congressman Steve King champions it.  It’s been a part of the Republican Party of Iowa platform now for years, and with the IRS scandal, more people than ever before are ready to get rid of the IRS and replace it with a national sales tax.  The Fair Tax isn’t just some quirky Iowa issue, it’s a serious tax reform proposal that is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, and co-sponsored by eight other Republican Senators.

No offense to Mr. Conway, but I want my U.S. Senator to be smarter than a radio talk show host.  I don’t think Conway’s questions were all that difficult, but they become problematic when you don’t know how to apply your political ideology to the issues of the day.  The disappointing thing in Young’s case is that he’s the one candidate that shouldn’t be naive when it comes to the issues.

I have known Matt Whitaker since he ran for State Treasurer in 2002.  I have had a good working relationship with David Young as Grassley’s Chief of Staff.  I like both of these guys, but thus far I’m underwhelmed by their candidacies for the U.S. Senate.  I fear that they are trying to be something, instead of just being who they are.

There are always glitches that need to be worked out in the early goings of a campaign.  Hopefully that’s all this is.  For his part, Whitaker seemed much more confident and polished in answering the media’s questions after his formal announcement on Monday than he was on Conway’s radio show a month ago and in his interview with the Des Moines Register.

It’s imperative for Young and Whitaker to impress Republican primary voters early in the process if they hope to keep other potential candidates out of the race.  Thus far, both have faltered in the issue department.  Another big test looms for both candidates on June 30th when they will have to file their first campaign disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.

The Republican primary is still a year away, but Whitaker and Young both have made poor first impressions as official U.S. Senate candidates.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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