Nine potential candidates for the Republican nomination for President took the stage at the Iowa Agricultural Summit.
It was organized by agribusiness executive and Republican donor Bruce Rastetter. He was laser-focused on farming as he interviewed the presidential hopefuls before a crowd of about a thousand people, and some two hundred thirty reporters. The top issue was the federal renewable fuel standard.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham gave the most full-throated support for ethanol. "Every gallon is one less gallon you have to buy from people who hate your guts, “ said Graham.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gave a more nuanced view. The two Texans former Governor Rick Perry and Senator Ted Cruz don’t back the RFS. Neither does former New York Governor George Pataki. But on other issues there’s far more agreement than conflict. Each politician opposes mandatory labeling of genetically-modified crops. But country of origin labels are OK. Jeb Bush brought the issue back to his own family’s dinner table.
"We’ll be cooking Iowa beef and I’ll probably make a good guacamole and I want to know where that avocado’s from,” said Bush.
The potential candidates call new clean water rules from the Environmental Protection Agency a power grab. They’re all for free trade of agricultural products, but they draw the line at Cuba. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker oppose liberalizing trade with the communist nation.
“These are untrustworthy people, can't trust them, they kick their people in the groin,” said Huckabee. "You don’t make friends with people who do terrible things.”
That puts the potential candidates at odds with Iowa corn growers who favor enhanced trade with Cuba.
Outside on a mild sunny day, opponents of corporate agriculture picketed Bruce Rastetter’s event. Some protesters made their way inside and heckled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Based on their banner, Christie judged that the protesters came all the way from New Jersey:
"I'm glad to see New Jersey has come to Iowa,” said Christie. “Great to have you here and I think you understand I'll deal with you the same way here as I deal with you in New Jersey."
But one way or another, each participant got the chance to identify with farmers. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum stressed his work on the Senate Agriculture committee and Governor Pataki talked about growing up on a farm.
Long-time Republican activist Bob Hockenberg listened to all the interviews and says since there’s so much similarity on farm issues, agriculture may not play much of a role in the contest. “I think people are going to judged more on trustworthiness and likability more than the issues,” said Hockenberg.
Several of the candidates headed from the fairgrounds to other events, meeting with voters with less than a year to go before the Iowa caucuses.