As Joe Walsh described his message, there emerged a theme that should sound familiar to Iowa Republicans.
Walsh is a former GOP U.S. representative from Illinois who is running for president, daring to offer a primary challenge to President Donald Trump. And he was in Iowa this past week, conducting interviews with local media and meeting with Republican activists and voters.
When asked how he would attempt to sway voters in a state that went for Trump by nearly 10 percentage points in 2016, Walsh’s response stirred echoes of another Republican primary taking place in Iowa.
“I’m going to go to voters and say, ‘I’m a conservative. I care about the border. I care about the debt. I want to keep your taxes down. You’re just not going to get all the b------- and all the cruelty and all the drama,’” Walsh said during an interview in Des Moines.
Sound familiar, western Iowa Republicans?
Walsh is making essentially the same case as the three Republicans who are running in their party’s primary against incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve King, who represents the 4th District.
A key argument from King’s challengers Randy Feenstra, Jeremy Taylor and Bret Richards has been, to paraphrase, “I’m just as conservative. I’ll vote for all the things you care about. I just won’t get myself in the headlines for the wrong reasons like Steve King does.”
It was striking to hear a similar pitch from Walsh.
“I think if there is an alternative, then maybe there’s some movement,” Walsh said of the Republican presidential primary.
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Walsh made the assertion despite Trump’s strong job approval rating among Republicans. In a Fox News Poll published this past week, 89 percent of Republican voters said they approve of the president’s job performance.
The same poll asked about the Republican primary, and Trump garnered 86 percent of the support.
Walsh and his fellow primary challengers, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Bill Weld, the ex-governor of Massachusetts, each got 2 percent.
Walsh also said that, depending on the Democrats’ nominee, Republicans are in danger of losing party voters who are frustrated with the president.
“Here’s the danger: If Trump’s our nominee, and say a guy like Joe Biden’s the Democrat nominee, you’re going to get a hell of a lot of Republicans who are going to vote for Biden,” Walsh said. “Because they’re going to say to themselves, ‘It’s a ---- soap opera every day with Trump. I’ll put up with Biden for four years.’
“You’re going to see tons of that movement. Because I hear it everywhere.”
There’s more evidence to support this Walsh claim. In that same Fox News Poll, voters overall said they would choose Biden over Trump by a 14-point margin, 52 percent to 38 percent, and 10 percent of Republican voters said in that matchup they would vote for Biden.
Walsh said he feels confident the Republican Party of Iowa will hold a presidential preference straw vote during the Feb. 3 caucuses even though Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina already have canceled their primaries.
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann has insisted clearly and on multiple occasions that Republicans will hold their caucuses and have a presidential preference straw vote.
Walsh said he is less sure what would happen if Trump were to pressure Iowa Republican leaders to nix the straw vote.
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“I expect that call to be made because I know that call’s being made in other states,” Walsh said. “We’re in uncharted ground here. ... I never thought a president would put pressure on Republican state parties to eliminate elections.”
Walsh said he plans to take his message directly to Republican voters. He also insisted he will come to Iowa often, despite Trump’s success here in the last election.
Assuming Walsh does return to Iowa frequently, he will have an opportunity to test his message with Republican voters, the same voters congressional hopefuls are trying out in western Iowa.
We’ll see which, if any of them, are successful.
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