The Iowa Endorsement
During the introduction of all the Democrats running for federal office this cycle at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Tom Fiegen raised a Bernie Sanders sign, signaling his official endorsement of the presidential candidate. Fiegen, one of three Democrats running for Sen. Chuck Grassley’s seat, brought the Sanders bleachers to a frenzy, clearly loving their candidate getting an Iowa endorsement. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. Fiegen probably gets more support for endorsing Sanders than Sanders will get from his endorsement anyway.
However, as I was searching online for more Iowa political news, as any normal person does, I found this Reddit page, where Fiegen was doing an AMA on his endorsement. Speaking about his bravery taking on “the Hillary Mafia” as one user put it, how the establishment is against Sanders, as well as policies he agrees with the candidate on such as Wall Street reform, the thread garnered more than 600 comments. Sure, it is on the Bernie for President page, but the fact that other people seemed to care shocked me. Who cares what a politician from Iowa has to say about a national election? It turns out, quite a few people.
Endorsements seem to have been an important tracker of a candidates support within the parties’ establishments since the primary systems were invented, and they tend to indicate what actual government officials think of a candidates viability. Thus, Martin O’Malley’s one federal endorsement does not bode well compared to Hillary Clinton’s 447. (His current polling doesn’t exactly help either.) It turns out Iowa’s endorsements may even carry a bit of extra weight, largely because of our first-in-the-nation status — gaining support here early can help propel a candidate through the next few states. Celebrities, candidates, elected officials and the media all can bring much-needed support to campaigns. In particular, the Des Moines Register is known for giving out endorsements that may or may not play a large role in gaining the crucial undecideds’ vote.
This cycle has already seen a number of major politicians and party backers throw their support to a candidate. Rep. Steve King has endorsed Ted Cruz, and Congressman David Loebsack backed Clinton earlier this year. Gary Kroeger, a candidate for Congress, has also endorsed Sanders. Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Joni Ernst are both highly sought-after Republican endorsements, being household names that can carry a lot of weight with Iowa voters. However, it seems unlikely they will endorse a candidate before the caucuses. The state legislators also have endorsed a wide range of candidates.
It’s not just politicians that endorse candidates. The Register compiles what they view as the 50 most-wanted people by Republicans and Democrats in the state of Iowa, and is worth looking over. Seeing which Iowans end up working for or endorsing candidates can be a good indicator at the strength of the campaigns’ operations in Iowa. Some private citizens even carry more weight than politicians, such as Bruce Rastetter, who Politico called “the real Iowa kingmaker,” and who organized the Iowa Agricultural Summit. Getting 10 candidates to your inaugural event clearly indicates some level of importance, which makes his endorsement of Chris Christie a big win.
The question of whether or not endorsements matter is a complicated one, with mixed and somewhat unreliable polling data on both sides. While they do show the establishment’s preferences, it is unclear if voters really care. However, endorsements tend to be more than just a simply promise to vote for the candidate. Particularly for the private-citizen endorsements, such as Rastetter, donations tend to follow, with Rasetter donating more than $200,000 in the 2014 cycle alone. A complete look at political donations in Iowa (or any other state) can be found here. Ultimately, while voters may not care too much about endorsements, candidates will continue chasing any edge in Iowa, and an official stamp of approval from a big name never hurts.
Tunink is a sophomore political science and law, politics, and society major from Waukee, Iowa. He enjoys running on the Drake cross country team and binging on Netflix. Follow him on Twitter.