Clinton wrestles with a stubborn swing state – Politico
DES MOINES — It’s the state that derailed her 2008 campaign, and nearly did it again in the February caucuses. Now, even as Hillary Clinton grows her lead across the swing state map, Iowa continues to bedevil her, remaining well within Donald Trump’s reach.
Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal/NBC poll put her four points ahead of her rival — her biggest lead there since June. And that’s despite a concerted effort here since the first day of her candidacy back in April 2015 — a sharp contrast with the less regimented Trump effort.
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While the state’s six electoral votes aren’t essential to Clinton’s path to 270, it’s a place that Obama won comfortably twice and Democrats are loathe to lose, especially with a competitive Senate race on the ballot.
“I was frankly surprised at polling pre-convention that had Iowa closer than a lot of these other battleground states,” said veteran Iowa Democratic strategist Jeff Link, who has worked for Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Tom Harkin. “But [Trump] did well here in the caucuses, and his populist appeal certainly is Harkin-style populism turned on its head.”
Part of Clinton’s problem is the state’s demographics. In no battleground state is she more dependent on less-educated white voters — Trump’s wheelhouse — than in Iowa. And Trump’s relationship with the local GOP infrastructure is in far better shape than in other swing states.
“The industrial eastern part of the state has gone for Democrats in the national level, but I have done very well there and Donald Trump has already been to the Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids,” explained Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who advises Trump on energy and agricultural policy — and whose son Eric is Trump’s state director. “He got huge crowds in both of those places. I want him to come back to Dubuque and Waterloo. I think in those industrial parts of the state he can do better than Republicans in other elections there.”
Branstad, the longest-serving governor in American history, believes the presence of Indiana’s conservative governor Mike Pence on Trump’s ticket could be enough to assuage GOP doubts about Trump in a state where the real estate mogul lost to Ted Cruz in the caucuses.
“I think Pence helps him with some of the Steve Kings of the world who had some reservations about Trump,” said the governor, referring to the state’s conservative lightning rod congressman.
Anyway, Branstad added, Iowa farmers’ specific economic concerns about one notoriously sticky subject could cause Clinton problems.
“Hillary Clinton is particularly untrustworthy particularly on the things Iowa cares about. She’s flipped on trade, but even worse for us is the renewable fuel standard. We were double-crossed on the renewable fuel standard by President Obama [and] Hillary Clinton is being supported by these California environmental extremists who hate corn-based Ethanol. [So] she’s vulnerable here, and people don’t trust her. She says she’s all for it, but Obama said the same thing, then cut the legs out from it. [Meanwhile, Trump] asked really good questions, and he has endorsed and supported the Renewable Fuel Standard,” he said. “We feel confident that Donald Trump will support this issue that is critically important to the economic well-being of our state.”
The Clinton operation, however, can lean heavily on its built-in organizing advantage to jump ahead during the early voting period that starts in September, according to people familiar with the plan.
And there are other reasons for Democratic optimism: The large college-age and highly-educated populations in the cities play to Clinton’s uncommon strength among educated whites, compared to other Democrats.
While Trump has expressed an interest in breaking into working-class communities in the eastern part of the state — a Democratic-friendly region — Clinton is looking to respond by expanding her party’s footprint among older white women in the Trump-skeptical suburbs. That effort will likely rely heavily on driving up turnout in the populous areas that Marco Rubio won in the Republican caucuses — places like Davenport’s Scott County and Des Moines’ Polk County, where she is heavily favored.
Clinton-aligned Democrats also see ample room to grow in the conservative western half of the state. That area — such as the congressional district represented by King — was friendly to Cruz in the primary. Iowa Democrats anticipate low enthusiasm for Trump there, providing Clinton with a chance to at least tamp down the traditional GOP margins — especially given that her campaign has a presence right across the border as it battles for eastern Nebraska’s single electoral vote.
“She has commercials up in Omaha, which is not typical,” explained Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire of the media market that bleeds into western Iowa, echoing an optimism voiced by Link — who is working on Patty Judge’s campaign against Sen. Chuck Grassley — about the potential for a low turnout among Republicans who won’t be driven to the polls with particular fervor in November now that King’s seat appears to be safe.
But as Clinton spends the post-convention weeks working to peel away disaffected GOP voters — recently, she’s emphasized the national security angle through the roll out of a string of Republican foreign policy endorsers — her campaign here is still expected to zero in on the high-propensity voters in and around the metro areas, rather than fighting on the margins in traditionally Republican areas.
“Think of it geographically instead of demographically. She’s going to do fine in the cities, but she’s going to do great in the suburban areas around Des Moines, around Cedar Rapids, around Davenport — those places that usually vote Republican,” explained Link, predicting significant Republican appeal for Clinton. “Those are the places that are turning against him. Dallas County was perfect for [Mitt] Romney but will likely go against Trump. Ankeny was great for Romney, but they’d have to hold their nose for him.”
“When you think about 2012, I can see some Romney voters in the suburbs going for Hillary,” he added. “I can’t see any Obama voters going for Trump. I think it’s a one-way street.”