Politics

Iowa ‘firing up’ for flood of presidential hopefuls

FILE: July 27, 2012: Sarah Palin speaks at a campaign rally for a Senate race in Texas.

FILE: July 27, 2012: Sarah Palin speaks at a campaign rally for a Senate race in Texas.  (AP)

The dust has barely settled from the long and nasty midterm election, but Iowa has only a moment to catch its breath before the 2016 presidential race consumes the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

Though no major candidate has formally announced a presidential bid, many potential contenders are testing the waters. And that begins in Iowa.

The Hawkeye State already is lining up visits from a long list of potential candidates looking to woo voters over the next year. Many Republicans on that roster plan to descend on Des Moines on Jan. 24 for a “Freedom Summit” hosted by Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King and Citizens United. Names like Donald Trump, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are just some of the speakers expected at the event. 

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, was just in the state on Tuesday to speak to a liberal group, the same night Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was speaking to the Polk County Republicans. Both have said they are considering a run, but have not decided.

The state parties themselves are preparing for a busy season as well, looking to shore up their own political infrastructure to welcome contenders and ultimately boost whoever wins their respective nominations.

“We are ramping up very early, we feel like we’re ahead of the game,” said Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa.

He said the state party is “very healthy” financially and set a one-million dollar fundraising goal for next year. They are hiring new staff members and opening satellite offices across the state. The GOP state party plans to have at least one staff member in every congressional district, if not more.

“I hope it will look and sound like a campaign season,” Kaufmann said. “We’re firing up in 2015, and we hope to keep those fires burning.”

In the last two presidential general elections, Iowa has gone for the Democratic candidate, President Obama – a reversal from 2004, when it went Republican.  Kaufmann, looking to change that, said they are launching outreach programs to bring the party message to groups often overlooked by Republicans. “We will leave no stone unturned,” said, adding the Iowa GOP will reach out to Latino and black voters, as well as union members.  

Kaufmann says he believes the state will see a pretty regular stream of 2016 hopefuls. “We are rolling out the welcome mat. I plan to meet every single one of them personally,” he said.

The Republican Party of Iowa board recently signed a pledge of neutrality in order to avoid any favoritism of 2016 candidates. Kaufmann said he hopes this will encourage all candidates to come to Iowa.

He acknowledges some voters might be feeling some candidate fatigue after the midterms. “To be quite honest, our independents and ‘soft’ Republicans probably need a break, but our activists are ready,” said Kaufmann. “I think our energy helps to maintain their energy.”

Due to their travel schedule, the Iowa Democratic Party could not be reached for an interview by Fox News.

But the chairman of the Polk County Democrats, Tom Henderson, said they plan on using the energy of an open presidency to their advantage. Polk County is the most populated county in Iowa and home to state capital Des Moines.

“The excitement just generates itself. We’ll have candidates from both parties to campaign here in Iowa and there’s a lot of voter interest in meeting these folks,” Henderson said. “We’re really excited about getting the process started.”

For the Polk County Democrats, Henderson said, the next year will move quickly. They are planning to use the time to evaluate what went right and wrong during midterm elections -- Republican Joni Ernst won the marquee Senate race -- and figure out how to make their strategies more effective.

“It wasn’t a lack of effort that dictated the results of last campaign. It may have been the type of effort. We’ll refocus our efforts in a different direction next time to see if that’s a more successful strategy,” Henderson said.

He said the Polk County Democrats welcome 2016 possible presidential names to the state whenever the candidates are ready. He said he hopes anyone who wants to run for president will show up very early in 2015 – January and February -- and get the ball rolling.

While Henderson and the Polk County Democrats are waiting for potential candidates to make their way, other movements like Ready for Hillary and MoveOn.org’s “Run Warren Run” campaign are gearing up as well.

On Wednesday, MoveOn.org held a kickoff rally in Des Moines to encourage Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for office. The “Run Warren Run” campaign will hold events all over the country to build a base of supporters should Warren decide to toss her hat in the ring. Iowa was chosen as the location for the kick-off rally because of the role the state plays, said Nick Berning, communications director for MoveOn.

According to Berning, the MoveOn campaign has been hiring staff and opening offices around Iowa. On the same day as the rally, they ran a full-page ad in the Des Moines Register with names of Iowa supporters who stand behind Warren and have circulated a petition asking her to run.

“We want to build an operation that she could tap into if she wants to run,” Berning said.

Warren said in a recent NPR interview she is not running for president, though did not rule it out in the future.