Trying to smoke Palin out?

At 11:05 p.m. last night, the Iowa Family Policy Center’s Bryan English emailed a news release, revealing the IFPC’s “ACTION” arm is trying to land former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a speaker for an event in four weeks.  (You can read the news release below.)  For those of you who don’t have your calendar/daily diary handy, November 21, 2009 — the date on which the IFPC ACTION folks would like to have Palin speak — is the same night that Vice President Joe Biden will be in Des Moines to speak at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.

It means Palin would be sharing the spotlight with Biden that night, as most stories would be written about what each had to say about the other — or that they failed to acknowledge in their speeches that the other “personage” was in the same area code.  It means reporters would compare the crowd for Palin and the crowd for Biden: Which one was bigger?  Which one was more enthusiastic?  Which one exhibited/highlighted greater schisms in their respective party? It means the “roll-out” of a new Democratic contestant for a possible race against Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley would be overshadowed.

But this preemptive news release also means the folks at IFPC ACTION are having as difficult a time in landing a Palin appearance as the folks at the Republican Party of Iowa did.  The RPI’s annual fall fundraiser is scheduled for November 7, 2009, and the “keynoter” for that event is Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.  I’m sure “T-Paw” is well aware that the RPI’s first choice was Palin, but she would not commit.

Palin, as you may know, will be selling a book in November and it’s anybody’s guess how a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, on November 21, would fit into the game-plan for selling that book.  Mikc Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, is selling a new book, too, in November. He plans to visit three Iowa bookstores on November 8, 2009.

On Saturday night in November of 2003, former Arkansas First Lady Hillary Clinton — New York’s junior senator at the time — came to Des Moines, Iowa, to serve as emcee for the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2003 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner which featured all the Democratic presidential candidates in that cycle.  The next day, which was Sunday, Clinton did an afternoon book-signing event at a West Des Moines bookstore.  People stood in line for hours to get her autograph.

So, perhaps the Palin folks are considering a Saturday night speech in Des Moines, followed by a Sunday after-church booksigning at a bookstore in the Des Moines metro.  They’d have to decide which church Palin would attend that morning.  Would the event be open to cameras?  Would Palin speak to the congregation? Would she sell and sign books at the church, too?

So many questions, unanswered today.  Read the IFPC ACTION news release below.

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Branstad hears “bigger calling”

paperweightI was going to “live blog” former Governor Terry Branstad’s news conference at Des Moines University earlier this afternoon, but my cell card wouldn’t work.  Instead, I’ll be posting my notes far below, but FIRST, here’s what happened right after someone said,”Last question,” reporters Dave Price of WHO-TV and Tom Beaumont of The Des Moines Register asked questions and Branstad thanked the assembled media folk for coming.

Branstad then walked over and asked if he could hold Bridget, his six-month-old grandchild.  Photos were taken.  Tape rolled.  Bridgett did not make a statement.

There was a rush to get microphones in front of Branstad’s wife, Chris.  I was late arriving after disconnecting from the sound system and unable to get anything usable, other than to notice her husband waded in to sort of deflect the questions and attention from his wife.

The media huddle nearly dispersed.  Branstad and a reporter were joking about one of Branstad’s old bromides:  the only poll that counts is the one they take on Election Day.

Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register opined: “This stuff comes back pretty naturally, doesn’t it?”

Branstad replied, at first, in the negative.  “No, I still have a lot to learn but that’s the great thing about life,” Branstad said.  “I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be in this position, but I look at it as, it’s an adventure, an opportunity and I love the state and I’m to go out, you know, and talk to a lot of Iowans and get their ideas.  I certainly have some thoughts of my own of where we can go.”

I asked Branstad if he had promised his wife that she would not have to move into Terrace Hill if he wins a fifth term so she could, instead, stay in what Branstad himself describes as a “beautiful log home” near Boone.  “That’s our retreat,” Branstad said, with a laugh.

“Like Camp David,” Obradovich said.

“Well, let me say this:  we have two grandchildren that live here in West Des Moines and that’s actually closer to Terrace Hill,” Branstad replied.

Emily Price of KCCI jumped in to ask Branstad about the nature of the discussions he’d had with his wife about running.

“Well, we’ve had several family discussions and, you know, we love each other.  We have been through a lot together and I’m very appreciative and understanding of my wife and she is even more understanding of me and so I feel that, yeah, there are some challenges ahead of us, but there’s, I also look at it as an exciting adventure and a new chapter of our life and we’ve been able to do some wonderful things together and I just know that this is something that we can do that responds to a concern and a need that a lot of Iowans see.”

Christine Paladino of WOI-TV asked: “Did you think about running for a few years or was this pretty recent?”

Branstad: “No, no.  This all happened in the last few months.” Branstad started to walk away from reporters, toward his wife who was holding baby Bridget/their grandchild.

“Are you going to nominate (Chris) for the Nobel Peace Prize?” I asked as Branstad walked away.

Branstad turned to face me (and the cameras) just as he reached his wife.  “I don’t know,” Branstad said, breaking into a huge smile. “They give those things out pretty easy.”  The Branstad family laughed together over that one.

If you want to listen to Branstad’s 22 minute long news conference, click here — that’s also the Radio Iowa story.  Below are my typewritten notes from the news conference.

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Christie Vilsack: “I’m well-qualified.”

UPDATE:  Here’s the Radio Iowa story.

Christie Vilsack, wife of former Governor Tom Vilsack, spoke with WHO-TV’s Dave Price earlier this afternoon.  Price asked if she was the “mystery candidate” who would emerge to seek the Democratic Party’s 2010 nomination for the U.S. Senate and the change to face-off against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) in November, 2010.

Christie Vilsack told Price she was “honored” to have people talking with her about running.  “I’m well-qualified to serve, so time will tell, Christie Vilsack said. 

WHO-TV will post the raw audio of the interview later this evening. Earlier today, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack declined to answer when asked about a “Christie Vilsack 2010” candidacy.

Having covered two Vilsack campaigns for governor and a  (brief)Vilsack for president campaign (as well as watching both Vilsacks campaign for pal Hillary Clinton once Tom Vilsack dropped out of the race), I can tell you that the Vilsacks are well-matched.  Tom Vilsack, as he once told me, loves to govern.  Christie Vilsack, as I’ve observed, loves to campaign.  She likes the process.  She likes meeting people.

Her husband once credited her with being the only person on the 1998 Vilsack for Governor campaign who had the, um,chutzpah to campaign in the home territory of Republican opponent Jim Lightfoot.  She went to Shenandoah, Lightfoot’s hometown, and campaigned elsewhere in Page County.  As I recall Tom Vilsack’s version of this story, he ended up winning Page County.

Vilsack stumping for Obama on health care

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who briefly ran for president before endorsing Hillary Clinton (in March of 2007), then Barack Obama (in June of 2008), is in Nashville this morning, hosting a health care forum. The event is being held in a hospital and Nashville's mayor, a Democrat, is participating.  The governor of Tennessee is a Democrat, too, but he's not participating; he's sent his Health Commissioner to the forum.

The USDA release about the event is below.

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A race in southeast Iowa

Last Friday, just a few minutes after Representative John Whitaker (D-Hillsboro) emailed a news release saying he was resigning, Democrat Curt Hanson of Fairfield emailed a news release saying he would run for Whitaker's seat.  Republicans — borrowing Hillary Clinton's now infamous "in it to win it" phrase — issued a news release last night to announce their nominee in the district.

Stephen Burgmeier receives Republican nomination in Special Election
Iowa GOP’s Strawn:  “We are in it to win it”

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The Conundrum

A combination of complicated election laws and less-than-firm resolve conspire to make it difficult to say, for sure, how many Republicans are officially running for governor as of 1:30 p.m. on July 21, 2009.

One could argue there are two who are "in it to win it" like Hillary Clinton was back in January of 2007.  Both Christian Fong of Cedar Rapids and Rod Roberts of Carroll say they are for sure, yes indeed, bona fide candidates.  No turning back, they say.  The campaign is on! "I want to serve the people of Iowa as their next governor," Roberts told about 150 of his friends and supporters late this morning.

There are a couple of others who are in that category, too, although they have yet to "officially declare" they are running for governor. If you're keeping a score card at home, write down the names of Christopher Rants and Bob Vander Plaats. If you're talking about this with a friend or family member, Vander Plaats pronounces the last half of his last name PLAHTZ – like cemetery plots he told me back in 2001.  Both men have filed the paperwork with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, creating "exploratory committees" which allow them to legally raise money for a race.  There are sure to be a couple of official "announcements" soon, though, so both of these men will be saying something akin to "I am in it to win it" in the next few months. 

So, if you're using one of your hands and counting, there are now four Republican candidates with exploratory committees, since Fong and Roberts have done that paperwork filing thing, too, and have exploratory committees up and running. (Fong's campaign sent out an email today saying he'd raised $100,000 so far.)

There are two other Iowa Republicans out there who are considering a run for governor and have been appearing as potential candidates.  Both are state senators. They are Jerry Behn of Boone and Paul McKinley of Chariton.  McKinley is the Senate Minority Leader. That means the 18 Republicans who serve in the state senate elected him as their floor leader.  He is not just considering a run, McKinley is "aggressively exploring" a run for governor.  He just hasn't pulled the trigger to make it quasi-official yet.  UPDATE: McKinley did file papers to form an exploratory committee on July 7, but one of his senate staff members this week cautioned that McKinley was not ready yet to declare himself a candidate for governor and, therefore, not ready to relinquish his leadership position:

Sen. McKinley has been clear that if he actually does to decide to run for governor (right now he is aggressively exploring), he will step aside. He is continuing to raise money and recruit candidates with the goal of greatly expanding on our ranks in the Senate.

McKinley's also a no show at tomorrow's forum featuring five Republican men who are considering a run for governor (alphabetically the roster is Behn, Fong, Rants, Roberts & Vander Plaats).

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan is keeping his own tally.  Kiernan counts six potential, likely, probable GOP candidates out there.  Kiernan, representing the "Big Lug"* in a conference call with Iowa reporters, today was a tad bit dismissive of the GOP field.  "We're one short of the seven dwarts," Kiernan said. 

*"Big Lug" is the nickname Mari Culver, the wife of Iowa Governor Chet Culver, used to describe Culver in a 2006 campaign commercial.  Culver intends to run for reelection in 2010.

Email potpourri, from butter to Twitter

I was out of the office late last week, attending a family wedding, and my email "inbox" was loaded this morning.  PETA doesn't like the idea of Michael Jackson in butter.  Republicans are still mad about a tax issue.  Chuck Grassley is still on Twitter. The governor is gearing up for reelection and he won't face Bill Northey.  In no particular order, I shall share the news tidbits from those email messages below.

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As expected, lots of Obama folks in Vilsack’s USDA

Former Mt. Pleasant, Iowa Mayor/former State Senator/former Iowa Governor/2008 Democratic presidential candidate/Hillary Clinton endorser/current USDA secretary Tom Vilsack announced his "top staff" today.  As you may know, John Norris is working as Vilsack's chief of staff.  Jackie Norris, his wife, is Michelle Obama's chief of staff. (John and Jackie Norris showed up one morning at the breakfast for Iowans attending the Democratic National Convention wearing matching black t-shirts with the phrase "Got Hope?" in white lettering on the front of their t-shirts. Jackie was Obama's Iowa state director for the general election; both were serving as "whips" on the floor of the national convention.)  Read through the news release below to see other Obama-connected people who've landed in Vilsack's agency.

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Apparently, there’s been some sort of digital revolution

Apparently, there's been some sort of digital revolution. Soon after Michael Kiernan was elected chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, Kiernan joked he intended to "friend" Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn.  (BTW, no confirmation from either that they have become Facebook "friends."  Now, more on the techno front – a news release, just issued this afternoon, is below.  I would ask you keen readers of this blog if the verb in the second sentence of the news release is correct…


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Inside Vilsack’s confirmation hearing


(See paragraph below for info on picture above.) Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is testifying before the U.S. Senate Ag Committee this morning, part of the process of winning senate confirmation to the job of U.S. Ag Secretary.  I'm listening to it online.  A source inside the hearing room says there's a who's who of Iowans and Iowa-connected political types inside the room.  It includes Dusky Terry and his wife, Connie.  Dusky Terry worked in Vilsack's office when he was governor and Terry ran for Iowa Ag Secretary in 2006 (he lost in a primary). Drake ag law professor Neal Hamilton (a native of Lenox, Iowa, I might add) is there.  Iowans Tim Gannon and Nate Beecher are there, as are non-Iowans Kiki McLean (she was Vilsack's press sec when he ran for presient); B.J. Thornberry (former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association); Shari Jost-Gold (a fundraiser for Vilsack).

Shown in the picture above are, from left to right, Senators Grassley and Harkin and Vilsack.  The woman in the front row who you can see between Harkin & Vilsack is the above-mentioned McLean.  The woman on the far right, just behind Vilsack, with her back to the photographer is Teresa Vilmain, manager of Vilsack's presidential campaign who was brought in for the last few months to manage Hillary Clinton's Iowa Caucus campaign. 

Vilsack just said: "It's important and necessary…"  Reporters like myself who covered Vilsack during his political career in Iowa are quite familiar with that phrase.  He's also using the word "opportunity" a lot this morning. A couple of Vilsack's former colleagues in the Iowa legislature had some things to say about today's hearing.   

Senator Tom Harkin is chair of the Senate Ag Committee.  Harkin's office just released a text of Harkin's opening statement this morning:

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