Politics

Iowa turning red? Not so fast, Vilsack says

Calls on Democrats to 'be more passionate, more energetic and more involved'

With a cardboard cutout of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in front of him, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, speaks Sunday at the Central Iowa Democrats’ fundraiser at Iowa State University in Ames. Erin Murphy/The Gazette
With a cardboard cutout of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in front of him, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, speaks Sunday at the Central Iowa Democrats’ fundraiser at Iowa State University in Ames. Erin Murphy/The Gazette

AMES — Despite polling that suggests the possibility of a second consecutive sweeping election victory for Republicans in Iowa, Tom Vilsack said he doesn’t think the state is turning red.

Vilsack, the U.S. agriculture secretary, is back in the state he governed from 1999 to 2006, campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Vilsack said he his not overly concerned about poll results showing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump ahead in Iowa, despite trailing in other swing states, or Republicans leading four of Iowa’s five congressional races.

“I don’t know that that’s the case. There are other congressional races where I think we’ve got a really good shot. And then certainly the legislative races look good,” Vilsack told reporters Sunday after speaking at the Central Iowa Democrats’ fundraising lunch at Iowa State University’s Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center.

“I think our Democrats, we need to be more passionate, more energetic and more involved in this in the last couple of weeks. And I think if we are, it will make a difference.”

Most polls in Iowa have showed a close race between Trump and Clinton, but most post-Labor Day polls have showed Trump in the lead. An Iowa Poll published Saturday, with Iowans surveyed before the revelation of Trump’s lewd talk in 2005 about groping women, showed him leading Clinton 43 percent to 39 percent.

That’s in contrasts to other swing states. Recent polls show Clinton leading Trump by 4 percentage points in Ohio, by 3 in Florida and 12 in Pennsylvania.

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“We always knew this was going to be a very tough race and a tight race in Iowa,” Vilsack said. “But I think it is important for Iowans to understand what’s at stake here. I think Iowans are going to start focusing on this race with the debates and all of the folderol over this week.”

Vilsack was referring to news reports of the 2005 audio recording in which Trump talked about groping women. In addition to heavy criticism from Democrats, many Republicans have said they no longer will support Trump’s candidacy in the wake of the comments. Trump issued a video apology for the remarks but also dismissed his 2005 comments as a distraction and claimed former President Bill Clinton has said worse.

But it’s not just the presidential race that suggests Iowa may be tilting away from its perennially purple status. Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley continues to lead Democratic challenger Patty Judge by double digits in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, and Republicans lead in the polls in three of the four U.S. House races.

While Vilsack said he does not think Iowa is more Republican than four years ago when the state went a second time for Barack Obama, he did acknowledge the state’s position relative to others in this presidential election.

“There’s only one (swing) state where she’s behind or even: our state,” Vilsack said during his remarks to the about 100 people at the event. “So what is it? What is it, Iowa Democrats, that the folks in (other swing states) know?”

Vilsack encouraged Democrats to get even more involved in the campaign and talk to their friends and neighbors about Clinton.

Vilsack also was scheduled to speak later Sunday at the Dallas County Democrats’ event, and at five campaign organizing events Monday in central and Eastern Iowa.

Actor Sophia Bush, who appears in the television drama “Chicago P.D.,” also spoke at the Central Iowa Democrats’ event Sunday as she makes her own swing through Iowa campaigning for Clinton. At the seventh event at which she appeared this weekend, Bush implored Iowa Democrats to do all they can to elect Clinton.

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“We’ve got to make sure that she gets in office so we can continue to live in an America that we know is already great,” Bush said.

A spokesman for the national Republican Party noted Bush supported Obama over Clinton in 2008, although Bush has been a vocal supporter of Clinton in this campaign.

“If Ms. Bush thinks Hillary Clinton won’t let her down, she should spend more time playing a detective in real life than on television sets and look into Hillary Clintons’ scandals including her secret server, the death of four Americans in Benghazi, and her classified State Department emails,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Lindsay Jancek said in an emailed statement. “Maybe then she’ll realize what Iowans already know — Hillary Clinton can’t be trusted and has no business leading our country.”

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