Republican presidential hopefuls flood Iowa, but Democrats are scarce

Chris Moody
Yahoo! News

DES MOINES, Iowa – The next presidential election is more than 1,200 days away, but Iowa, the state that traditionally hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus, is already a hive of activity for politicians who are considering making a run for the White House.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul and former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum have made frequent trips to the state in the past few months. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz paid his first visit to Des Moines last week and plans to return for a forum in Ames in August. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker spoke to the Iowa Republican Party in West Des Moines in May, and former Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has accepted an invitation to Altoona in November to toast Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad on his birthday.

That’s a lot of Republicans! But hold on, where are all the Democrats?

Not in the Hawkeye State, that’s for sure.

“It is unbelievably quiet here,” Scott Brennan, the interim chairman of Democratic Party of Iowa told Yahoo News. “There’s nothing. It’s just deadly still.”

While Republican presidential hopefuls already have begun their long march through Iowa’s 99 counties, most high-profile Democrats are laying low. There are several reasons for this, but a shortage of ambitious Democrats is not one of them. To this point, no Democrat worth a headline has crossed the Iowa state line in 2013, although Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a state that borders Iowa to the north, is planning to speak at a fundraiser for North Iowa Democrats in Clear Lake next month.

For starters, President Barack Obama was inaugurated to his second term only seven months ago. As the leader of the Democratic Party with three years of governing ahead of him, it would be uncouth for a parade of his fellow party members to launch very public campaigns to take his job this early. Many potential Democratic candidates are steering clear of Iowa because they know that if they so much as sneeze toward Sioux City, members of the media will be ready with their “2016!” trumpets ablazing. (For proof, see our recent breathless coverage of Republican visits to Iowa.)

“We’re focused on governing right now, and I think that’s where Democrats are coming from,” Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price told Yahoo News. “I think the party that’s out of power is much more excited to find their candidate for president than the party that’s in power.”

Democrats also are waiting to hear from two of their most high-profile leaders, Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.

Clinton, who has served as a United States senator, a presidential candidate and as secretary of state since she moved out of the White House in 2000, appears to be quietly preparing for another run for the nation’s highest office. Recent polling would suggest that the Democratic presidential nomination could easily be hers to lose if she wants it. As the second-highest ranking Democrat in the nation, Biden, who has not ruled out another presidential run, is in a similar position.

“I think people are just waiting to see what those two are planning,” Brennan told Yahoo News. “I don’t think anyone feels like they are getting behind.”

Unlike the Republican Party, which has a wide bench of candidates but no clear leader, Democrats have two sluggers in Clinton and Biden who could edge out others who are thinking of running. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, could make their decision about whether to run based on Clinton and Biden’s future plans.

Having already participated in the Iowa caucus in 2008, Clinton and Biden would enjoy the distinct advantage of having high name ID in the state if they choose to run again, a head start that candidates new to the national stage like Republicans Paul, Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would have to work hard to grow over time. It could explain why so many Republicans are stopping by this early. Wooing Iowans, as history suggests, takes time, and Republicans in the state say they welcome the flood of newsmakers to the state.

“There’s a lot of momentum that has to be built in Iowa to be successful here,” Iowa Republican Party Co-Chairman David Fischer told Yahoo News. “So you have to jump in and start building that name recognition if you don’t have it on the national stage already, meet with people and get them on board before they’re committed to somebody else.”