GOP ventures into IC

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GOP ventures into IC

Brent Griffiths, [email protected]

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It was the one county Gov. Terry Branstad’s machine could not touch in a re-election rout in 2014. Locals affectionately call it the “people’s republic.”

But this past week, four Republican presidential hopefuls had their eyes on the area’s 17,437 Republicans.

The Grand Ole’ Party may be outnumbered here, but with a plethora of choices for the Feb. 1 caucus, those active on the other side of the aisle welcome the opportunity.

“Johnson County, despite being a blue dot in a sea of red, is still the fifth-largest Republican County in the state,” said Karen Fesler, national caucus coalition adviser for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who stumped in Iowa City on Tuesday.

While Democrats in town huddled on campus and local restaurants to watch the Democratic debate, Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee converged on Grace Fellowship Church just south of Iowa City.

While Santorum was declared the eventual winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, he finished a distant third in Johnson County — behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. Huckabee finished closer in 2008, when the future Fox News host lost the county to Romney by 9 percentage points. As in Santorum’s case, Huckabee also went on the win the caucuses despite Romney’s intense focus on Iowa.

At the core of Huckabee and Santorum’s strategy was evangelical voters, the same group the three candidates courted in Iowa City and have in countless other events in the other 98 counties. An ordained minister, Huckabee jokingly put his presence in Johnson County in the language one would use from the pulpit.

“Sometimes, you want to put your light where the darkness is the strongest,” Huckabee said after the event on Tuesday. “The one thing I learned in 2008 is you win Iowa by going where going where other candidates don’t bother to go.

“You win by coming more often than they are willing to come; you can’t win this state by flying over, and waving, and buying TV spots.”

Jindal, the only newcomer out of the trio, said he has been in successful in Louisiana in places Republicans have not always done well in.

“I think that voters Democrat, Republican, independent regardless are frustrated with the direction of the country and we’re willing to fight for every vote in every vote in every county we’re not going concede any county or any vote,” Jindal said afterwards.

Former University of Iowa Professor David Redlawsk said he was not surprised to see the three candidates who have struggled to resonate in Iowa scrape voters up wherever they can.

Redlawsk, a Rutgers professor and afellow in the Harkin Institute at Drake University, noted that with students scheduled to be on campus during the caucuses, there might be more votes to be had than in previous cycles. Such an audience is the core of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s caucus strategy. Paul was in town on Monday for a rally on the Pentacrest.

If all the Republicans seem out of place, self-described democratic socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will return for a string of events in Iowa City this weekend.

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