Romancing Iowa

A lot of the 2016 talk at both National Conventions has been silly, space-filling fluff based in part on perpetual media interest in finding conflict in even the most unity-oriented partisan events.

But CNN’s Peter Hamby wrote about one forward-looking ritual for potential future presidential candidates that’s very real: sucking up to the Iowa Delegation.

I mean, really, if you occasionally view the Next President of the United States in the bathroom mirror, how many opportunities are you going to have to pay respects to the First-in-the-Nation-Caucus state and its famously self-conscious activists without actually traveling there? Not very many. And so, as Hamby reports, meetings of the Iowa Delegation tend to draw a lot of big-name outside talent:

Three Democrats who may or may not be thinking about possibly making a decision about seeking the presidency in 2016 – Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley – visited a breakfast meeting here hosted by Iowa’s convention delegation.

The television cameras in attendance signaled, however, that this wasn’t just breakfast.

Nope. It was something of an audition of possible candidates by Iowans who will at some point in the next two-to-three years sign on with somebody’s presidential campaign, quite possibly in a leadership role. And the pols didn’t miss a beat:

While they demurred about their own ambitions, their speeches to the delegation were peppered with shameless nods to Iowa – the livestock, the quirky landmarks, and, of course, the cherished tradition of the caucuses.

“I can see Iowa from my porch!” Klobuchar, the Minnesotan, exclaimed in her speech (a speech, it should be noted, that brought more than a few audience-members to their feet in applause).

Each of the Democrats lingered with reporters before heading back into uptown Charlotte, happy to indulge in the obvious line of questioning.

Their aides, normally type-A political staffers conditioned to hustle their bosses away from the media, nonchalantly looked on as reporters asked them question after question about Iowa.

O’Malley fondly remembered his younger days working as a volunteer on the campaigns of Gary Hart and visiting places like “Keokuk and Muscatine and Davenport.”

Tomorrow morning Kirsten Gillibrand and Brian Schweitzer will breakfast with the Iowans, who have a charmingly midwestern sense of entitlement about this sort of treatment.

This year, of course, Iowa is not only the cauldron where future presidential ambitions will be tested in the Caucuses, but it’s a red-hot battleground state as well (as it was in 2000 and 2008, before lurching heavily into Obama’s column in 2008). So even more respect must be paid, to Iowans watching at home as well as those in the hall.

There’s an extra reason, after all, for the late announcement that Olympic gymnastics champ Gabby Douglas will be leading the Pledge of Allegiance in Charlotte tonight. Yes, she’s a big national celebrity. But she also lives in West Des Moines. And the Iowa Delegation–which as always is seated near the stage–will give her a big welcome.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.