Don't let anyone tell you the 2016 presidential campaign has yet to begin. Seven likely Republican candidates have visited Iowa in the last 11 days. "Part of my role as the state party chair is to make sure that there is a welcome mat out there for every single person that wants to come into this state," said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufman Sunday, as he introduced Perry at a fundraiser for a state senate candidate in Grand Mound.
The welcome mat already is in danger of getting worn down.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appeared at influential GOP donor Bruce Rastetter's annual party in rural Iowa, with Rubio, the only speaker, wowing the audience, according to attendees. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul then arrived, embarking on a 3-day, 724-mile tour across the state to stump for candidates like Iowa Rep. Steve King. And Saturday, Cruz returned, joining four more would-be candidates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Perry, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, at the Iowa Family Leader Summit, an annual cattle-call for the state's social conservative grassroots. Perry used the event to embark on a 500-mile, four day tour on behalf of local candidates, meeting with influential state politicos.
On stage, in fundraisers and at the state fair, the candidates are road-testing their messages, "I wondered long and hard which is it, is this the most ideologically extreme or the most incompetent [administration]," Jindal said Saturday, mixing jokes with a speech heavy on his efforts to bring about education reform in his state. "The best answer I could come up with was Secretary Clinton's statement, 'What difference does it make?'"
Cruz spoke at the Des Moines Register soapbox at the state fair Saturday, and blasted Obama's economic record. "We are trapped in the great stagnation," he said, comparing Obama to former President Jimmy Carter. At the Family Leader summit, he listed off conservative victories since he took office, including efforts to block gun control. Santorum, meanwhile, repeated his call for the GOP to focus less on business owners and more on the workers they employ. Perry is due to face the notoriously heckle-prone audience on Tuesday.
Politicos in the state say Paul, Perry, Jindal, Santorum, and New Jersey Gov. Christie, who was in Iowa boosting Gov. Terry Branstad's re-election just last month, have done the most to assist local politicians this fall—a key way to build support for the caucuses.
With the likely candidacy of Hillary Clinton, Democratic contenders have had much lower visibility, attending the occasional fundraiser for a candidate or the state party, but eschewing outright campaigning. Yet rumors abound that Clinton or her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will attend retiring-Sen. Tom Harkin's final annual steak fry before his retirement next year. Their attendance at the Sept. 14 event, which was Obama's first Iowa event in 2006, may be disrupted by the upcoming arrival of the Clinton's first grandchild.
Cruz is already scheduled to be back in Iowa next month for the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's annual fall conference, while Perry, Christie, and Jindal all plan to be back in the state before the midterm election.
But that doesn't mean they're the biggest celebrities in town. A write-up of Rubio's appearance at the Rastetter event in the Des Moines Register also noted the attendance of Chris Soules, the Iowa farmer who appeared on the latest season of ABC's Bachelorette. The headline: "Rubio gains notice, but 'Bachelorette' hunk steals show."