Walker, Fiorina and Graham look for competitive edge in crowded GOP field
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
DES MOINES, Iowa, August 17, 2015 - Three Republican presidential hopefuls tried to woo Iowa caucus goers and burnish their conservative credentials at the Iowa State Fair today, with mixed results.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose support has dropped in recent polls to third - trailing in Iowa behind businessman Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson - pledged to do the “full Grassley” and travel to all 99 Iowa counties in an attempt to gain more momentum in this first-in-the-nation caucus state.
He sharpened his attack on Democrats as well as some of his fellow Republican presidential candidates for not getting the job done in Washington.
“They told us that if we just elected a Republican Senate, the leadership out there would put a bill to repeal Obamacare on the desk of the president. Yet, it's August. We are still waiting for that measure. We need to have some leadership in Washington.”
Walker is expected to unveil his own plan to repeal and replace Obamacare on Tuesday in Minneapolis.
Walker gained some of his biggest political points on The Des Moines Register's soapbox stage when he took aim at union protesters who had travelled from neighboring Wisconsin to sit in the front row, flash posters and make disparaging remarks about his record as governor.
“I am not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else. I will fight for the American people over and over and over again,” he emphasized. “You want someone who's tested? I'm right here.”
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who has enjoyed stronger poll numbers and increased fundraising support for her GOP presidential bid since her first national debate performance, used her time on the soapbox to briefly introduce herself and then dumped the stump speech - offering to take questions during the rest of her allotted 20 minutes on stage.
She fielded questions on everything from strengthening the military, which she supports, to raising the minimum wage, which she says should be up to individual states.
“It makes no sense to say that the minimum wage in New York City is the same as the minimum wage in Mason City, Iowa,” Fiorina said. “We have to remember that a lot of minimum wage jobs are where people start, and in those jobs they learn the skills to move forward….so we need to be honest about the consequences of raising the minimum wage too high.”
She took aim at the EPA and emphasized that “innovation, rather than regulation” can solve many environmental issues.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham was preceded on the Register's soapbox by his sister Darlene, who touted his poor, small town upbringing and ability to overcome adversity. Both of Graham's parents died by the time he entered college and he later adopted his younger sibling.
Graham focused most of his comments on rebuilding U.S. military strength and fighting terrorism, reducing the national debt and creating jobs. The South Carolina lawmaker recalled the days when GOP President Ronald Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill worked across the aisle and got things done in Washington. He received frequent applause from many of the veterans gathered to watch his soapbox speech, but the crowd was considerably smaller than those who gathered for both Walker and Fiorina.
None of the candidates spoke directly about agriculture and rural issues during their soapbox comments, but each fielded questions from Agri-Pulse in between places like The Corn Stand, the Iowa Farm Bureau tent and the Iowa Pork Producers tent, where pork chops on a stick were grilling.
Both Walker and Fiorina disappointed Iowa ethanol supporters with their calls to reduce and phase out ethanol mandates, with Walker saying he would do so in two years and Fiorina committing to phase out mandates “over time” without setting any specific deadline.
Asked about whether or not he would also phase out other types of farm program subsidies, Walker offered no specifics, but emphasized that, “I think crop insurance is incredibly important. It is something I know from my years here and even in Wisconsin, so I would keep intact a strong crop insurance program.”
When it comes to dealing with environmental issues like runoff and water quality, Walker said he would push more power back to the states rather than federal agencies like the EPA. “A lot of issues have been incredibly frustrating for farmers, they love…well, they are more comfortable with ….their local and state officials…the EPA has been a big problem.
Fiorina, speaking to Iowa Farm Bureau leaders working in their state fair exhibit, said she assumed that farmers would manage their water wisely because it is their livelihood.
“Why would you expect a government bureaucrat to manage your water better than you?” she asked.
Asked about what types of farm subsidies or payments she would continue to support, she said, “One of the things we have to do before we do anything else is to stop crushing the farmers in this country, which we are.... When the EPA is going to control somewhere between 85 and 95 percent of the water in this state by the end of this month, that crushes farmers. …
“Honestly, there is so much work to do to undo the harm that's being done and we have to get around doing that immediately.
“When I talk about phasing things out, I'm talking about phasing out overtime … when we have markets that are in good shape. It's not time to do it now. It will be time at some point to phase them all out because governments shouldn't be in the job of setting markets or market prices.
“But for now, the most important thing we can do for farmers is to stop harming them.”
Of the three GOP candidates criss-crossing the Iowa State Fair today, Sen. Graham exhibited the strongest knowledge of farm and energy policy. He embraced an “all of the above” energy policy, including strong support for the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Asked about efforts to split the “food” and “farm” portions of the 2014 farm bill and the types of coalitions needed to support future farm bills, Graham observed: “Farm politics is the most unusual politics I've ever seen. It's the south versus the east and the middle of America.
“The reason we couldn't do more and split it (the farm bill) in two is because you need Democrats to vote for the farm bill. Some Republicans cannot bring themselves to vote for the farm bill because it's not ideologically pure.”
Graham acknowledged that few politicians understand the risks that farmers take on an everyday basis.
“Everybody likes to complain about the farmer until they go to eat,” he added.
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