Tea party supporter William Temple sits in the Des Moines Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Iowa.
Evan Vucci/AP

Never too soon: Tea party hopefuls hit Iowa

Updated

There are nearly 1,100 days until the next presidential election. But if you’re an Iowan watching a flock of Republicans descend on your state, you might be forgiven for thinking the contest is right around the corner.

In recent weeks, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and now Sarah Palin are tramping through the Hawkeye State to test the political waters, shore up support, raise money and raise their national profiles. Iowa traditionally kicks off the nomination process with its first-in-the-nation caucuses. The process is tremendously influential – not in delegates – but in boosting a front-runner ahead of key primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.  

With the GOP plagued by infighting over its future political direction, it is the Tea Partiers who are rushing to get in front of voters early.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry met with Iowa business leaders on Thursday and was the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner in Des Moines for Republicans in Polk County. It was his first time back in the state since his unsuccessful presidential bid last year  when he came in fifth in the Iowa caucuses. Perry has said he won’t run for another term as governor but hasn’t ruled out seeking the country’s highest office in 2016.

“Well certainly if I was making a plan for 2016, coming to Iowa early and often would be part of it. But…that is a bit pre-mature,” the Lone Star lawmaker said. 

Perry is hardly alone. Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 failed vice presidential nominee,  is slated to speak at the annual fundraiser for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition on Nov. 9. Also speaking at the event will be her fellow Tea Partier, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. Republican congressman and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is the featured guest at  Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s Birthday Bash fundraiser on Nov. 16. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee andformer Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown also have appearances scheduled.

And then there’s Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who might as well establish residency in Iowa. He was back in the state in late October– his third visit in less than three months.

Noticeably absent from the visitor’s list is newly releected New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – a favorite of moderate Republicans. The speculation that Christie may not focus his attention on the state, of course, has to do with Iowa’s large number of socially conservative evangelical voters – not exactly Christie’s target audience.

University of Iowa political science associate professor Timothy Hagle said Christie could be making a mistake, pointing to last year when far-right candidates divided the vote in the caucuses, allowing Mitt Romney (considered one of the more moderate candidates) to finish in a very, very close second to former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

“I’d say to Christie: Come to Iowa,” said Hagle. Just like Romney almost did, “It’s true Christie could win here.”

The uber-conservative candidates may be trying to stake out their territory in Iowa and differentiate themselves from Christie. Just two days after the Garden State lawmaker’s re-election, Cruz and GOP. Sen. Marco Rubio downplayed his victory.

Rubio told CNN, “I think we need to understand that some of these races don’t apply to future races. Every race is different –it has a different set of factors—but I congratulate [Christie] on his win…Gov. Christie has certainly shown he has a way of winning in New Jersey, in states like New Jersey.”

When Cruz was asked about Christie’s win by ABC News, he said, “I think it is terrific that he’s brash, that he is outspoken, and that he won his race. But I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle.” When asked if Christie was a true conservative, Cruz walked away. Aides later said he didn’t have time for any more questions.

Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics and international relations at Drake University in Des Moines, said that every year that goes by, potential candidates seem to be visiting earlier and earlier.  “Even if you don’t want to start so early, the concern is your rivals may start early and you don’t want them to get a leg up on you,” said Goldford.

Democrats are engaging in this strategy, too. Earlier this month at a dinner in Democratic Party dinner in Iowa, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer endorsed Hillary Clinton for president even though she hasn’t officially jumped in. “Run Hillary, run. If you run, you’ll win and we’ll all win,” Schumer said. According to the Des Moines Register, Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is in charge of a draft Hillary PAC, will come to the state on Nov. 16 for an event being put on by the Linn County Democratic Party. McCaskill was in Des Moines over the summer for an event by Emily’s List’s Madam President, an initiative to put the first woman in the White House.

Vice President Joe Biden, who may yet jump into the presidential race in 2016, called recently elected state Rep. Brian Meyer of Des Moines on election night to congratulate him.

 

Never too soon: Tea party hopefuls hit Iowa

Updated