Hopefuls skip book fest

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Hopefuls skip book fest

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By Quentin Misiag
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Despite months of courting them, none of the current (or former) candidates vying for a White House run in 2016 will attend a growing book festival in Iowa this year, The Daily Iowan has learned.

The four-day Iowa City Book Festival, slated for Oct. 1-4, has given a platform for budding and established authors with a celebration of books, reading, and writing for the past several years.

Ahead of the next presidential election year, organizers this year made it an initial priority to invite the major candidates and one liberal firebrand to the gathering.

“They all had other commitments or other priorities,” said Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon. “It was an interesting idea; it just didn’t gain traction.”

The concept to lure each of the candidates to liberal Iowa City was purely educational and not political, Kenyon cautioned.

The idea to bring an element of political activity to the festival came earlier this year, when well-connected Democratic activists tried to woo Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to Iowa City.

Jan Weissmiller, the co-owner of Prairie Lights, called Warren’s Massachusetts office in mid-April to invite the author to add Iowa City on her national book tour.

Weissmiller, an active Democrat, is known for luring politicians and published best-sellers to Iowa City and to the store at 15 S. Dubuque St. She was a leading voice in getting Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to Iowa City in February.

Only candidates who released a new book within the past five years would have been allowed to speak to attendees, who in election years are crucial presidential precinct caucus-goers, he said.

By that measure, the following politicians would have been given time to speak:

  • Hillary Clinton (2016 Democratic candidate)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (2016 Democratic candidate)
  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. (non-candidate)
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Business mogul and TV star Donald Trump (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA. (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Former Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas (former 2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (former 2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (2016 Democratic candidate)
  • Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig (2016 Democratic presidential candidate)
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas (2016 GOP presidential candidate)
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (2016 GOP presidential candidate)

If all of the candidates who fell into that measure would have committed to talking about their most recent book, venues in the Iowa City area would have been able accommodate them, organizers said.

This year, Iowa City Book Festival events are scheduled to be held at the downtown Sheraton Hotel, Iowa City Public Library, Coralville Public Library, Old Capitol, Prairie Lights, the downtown Java House, Riverside Theater, and others.

“We made it clear we wanted them to discuss the book they had written instead of conduct a stump speech,” Kenyon said.

Organizers have said attendance increases every year, with about 2,500 people present last year. This year, Kenyon said he expects at least 3,500 people to show up.

Although Kenyon said the book talks were a hard sell for many of the candidates, he said organizers and sponsors — including the University of Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council and the city of Iowa City — remain optimistic about future appearances.

“Maybe in 2020, we will have redefined our pitch,” he said. “Never say never. Iowa City is right in the heart of a very active political area.”

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