Standing Up to the Corn God

Aside from the Debenedetti piece I railed at in my last post, Politico‘s “Democrats in Panic” morning offensive also included a report from “the POLITICO Caucus”–the site’s insider focus group of movers and shakers from the early nominating contest states–that concluded, surprise, surprise:

Forty percent of Democratic insiders in Iowa and New Hampshire said the recent disclosures about her secret email accounts, combined with stories of foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, are breaking through beyond the Beltway bubble.

Yeah, it’s “breaking through” to the self-same “Democratic insiders in Iowa and New Hampshire” who want to see other candidates coming to their states to spend money and pander to them. But enough on that: I’m glad I read the piece because it contained one impression from Iowa “insiders” that you might want to take into account as sort of a counter-balance to the Julie Bykowicz/Alan Bjerga piece at Bloomberg Politics on the greater meaning of this weekend’s Iowa Ag Summit that I wrote about yesterday:

An outspoken supporter of the Renewable Fuel Standard, Bruce Rastetter, is hosting an Agricultural Summit Saturday that will draw almost all of the big-name Republican candidates. He will press each on whether they support a federal mandate that refiners mix a certain amount of ethanol into their gasoline.

Supporting ethanol subsidies was historically a litmus test in this state known for corn production, but today about two-thirds of Iowa insiders think a presidential candidate could win the caucuses while opposing the RFS.

Most Democrats and Republicans said it is an “important” issue, but they noted that the state GOP has become more conservative while the state has become less agrarian and the economics surrounding biofuels have shifted.

“Remember, we don’t all live on farms in Iowa,” said a Republican.

“The issue just doesn’t pack the political punch in Iowa (especially with Republicans) that it did a decade or so ago,” said another.

Then you have a contrary view:

The affected industry plans to spend seven figures on a campaign, America’s Renewable Future, to highlight the significance of the federal mandate, built around the argument that over 70,000 people are employed in the ethanol industry with a $5 billion annual impact on the state’s economy. The popular Republican governor’s son, Eric, is leading the effort.

“It will matter more than ever before just because the industry will have a larger presence,” said one Republican.

So take your pick of “insider” assessments. I would observe that the “rural areas” everybody considers the most concerned with ethanol includes western Iowa, the most Republican part of the state.

But this is interesting, and might well provide a template for the presidential candidates:

Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst successfully threaded the needle during her 2014 GOP primary. She pronounced herself philosophically opposed to the Renewable Fuel Standard, but she said that it should stay in place as long as other industries got special breaks. Democratic ads highlighting a spokeswoman’s comment that Ernst would eliminate the RFS “in a perfect world” never seemed to get traction.

Ah, yes, it’s the old St. Augustine gambit: “Lord, make me chaste–but not yet.”

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.