Marco Rubio returns to eastern Iowa

BY DI STAFF | JULY 08, 2015 5:00 AM

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Eastern Iowa caucus campaigning is about to get a distinct Sunshine State vibe.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio began a three-day journey across the state on Tuesday, returning for the first time after Sen. Joni Ernst’s June fundraiser.

While the freshman senator may lag behind in his time devoted to the state, recent polls and interviews suggest there is a growing base of support for the 44-year-old.

Since 2014, Rubio has spent seven days campaigning with a total of about 14 appearances — that ranks well behind former caucus winners Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who led the pack in their early commitment here.

Rubio has spent time in this corner of the state before, but events on Wednesday mark his first time stumping in the Corridor area since he announced his campaign in April.

One Johnson County political expert said Rubio will encounter a much more moderate wing of the party during his trip through the area.

This is a clear contrast with northwestern Iowa, which is famous for its evangelical conservatives. Rubio has yet to stump in that part of the state, but he appeared at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition candidate forum in Waukee.

“You can’t just come in and say ‘I’m a social conservative candidate,’ I’m an establishment candidate or libertarian candidate, because there is competition in all of those areas,” said Timothy Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science.

Beginning his day in Urbandale, Rubio’s first eastern Iowa appearance will be at luncheon hosted by the Linn Eagles. The Eagles are a key GOP fundraising group in Linn County.

Eagle Chairwoman Kathy Pearson said the organization has hosted a number of caucus candidates in the past. Of the 2016 batch, though, Rubio is the first to make an appearance.

Later, Rubio will stop in Coralville for a fundraiser at the home of Taylor and Gwen Parker. The appearance will benefit Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and his efforts to help Republican retake the upper chamber in the Iowa Legislature.

The night will end at a $25-per-person fundraiser for Rep. Bobby Kaufmann in Wilton. Bobby is son of state GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann.

Despite Rubio’s lack of attention, a late-June poll of likely Republican caucus goers by Quinnipiac University showed the Florida senator hanging with the pack in the state.

Seven percent of respondents said they would caucus for Rubio if the contest were held today. With a 3.8 percent margin of error, this means Rubio is in a statistical dead heat with nine other candidates. Only Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to enter the race next week, is beyond Rubio’s reach.

Johnson County Republican Chairman Bill Keettel said conservatives are drawn by a number of factors to Ru- bio. One of those reasons is the story on how Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, rose to the U.S. Senate.

“He’s achieved a very significant position of power and status while coming from a background that suggests he made it on his own,” Keettel said. “When Occupy Wall Street and the left say that it is all a fix, well maybe so, but nobody says you can’t be in the 1 percent if you don’t go for it.”

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