Wealthy Liberal Leads Iowa GOP Primary

A wealthy businessman with a strikingly liberal record is out to an early lead in the June 3 Iowa GOP senate primary.

Former energy executive Mark Jacobs has expressed support for cap and trade, Common Core, the Ryan-Murray budget compromise, and raising the debt ceiling. He donated to Arlen Specter after Specter switched parties to become a Democrat. And in a new campaign ad he says one of the best things about a strong economy is that it would provide the federal government more tax revenue.

Jacobs early lead in the polls – he's benefiting both from abundant personal resources as well as a field split across six candidates – has Hawkeye State Conservatives spooked that none of the several credible conservative candidates will emerge as the top Jacobs challenger.

Iowa Rep. Steve King told Breitbart News a nominating convention – which would occur if no candidate secured 35 percent – is still a possibility and would present some “interesting drama” if one candidate does not pull away from the pack. Six-term incumbent King is the last nominee chosen at a convention, and a convention in this year's Senate race would be only the 2nd such instance in 50 years, according to Roll Call.

Jacobs' wealth has helped him gain more name recognition statewide than his challengers and allowed him to present himself as a business leader who does not come from the political world to voters in all of Iowa's 99 counties. The former Reliant executive is leading a Public Policy Polling poll of GOP primary voters in addition to internal polls.

According to a Public Policy Polling poll released Feb. 25, Jacobs leads with 20% of the vote to 13% for state senator and Lt. Colonel Joni Ernst, who has the declared support of Iowa’s lieutenant governor Kim Reynolds and the behind-the-scenes support of Gov. Terry Branstad. Former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker is at 11% and former conservative talk radio host Sam Clovis is at 8%. Author Paul Lunde and former car salesman Scott Schaben are at 3% each. But 42% of voters are undecided, and Jacobs has the highest name identification at only 32%.

PPP’s poll was consistent with Jacobs’ internal poll, which, as the Iowa Republican website reported, found him with 22 percent of the vote while his opponents combined for 25%, with nearly 50% of voters still undecided.

Craig Robinson, the former political director of the Iowa GOP who runs the influential Iowa Republican site, said it looks like Jacobs is on a path to victory and will clear the 35% threshold “unless something changes drastically.”

Ernst, who many of Iowa’s elected officials believe has the best chance of defeating Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) in the general election, and Clovis, who may be the most conservative candidate in the race, are hoping that Jacobs's comments in support of cap and trade can be the issue that alters the race.

King said that "there are more questions to be asked and answered down the line" about what he believed was Jacobs' "business position" on cap and trade.

When he was the head of Reliant Energy, Jacobs went on record to support cap and trade numerous times, but his campaign spokesperson said Jacobs "personally never supported a cap and trade policy," was reflecting the position of the company he was leading, and is running to change growth-killing regulatory policies after seeing firsthand how wrongheaded they could be.

“I would say this: We are very much committed to environmental stewardship. It’s one of our core values here at Reliant,” Jacobs said  then. “We believe the best approach is a national level policy. We believe the market-based cap and trade system works very well.”

As the Des Moines Register noted, Clovis said that “it appears Mark Jacobs was for cap and trade when it helped the company that was paying him.” Clovis’s campaign has also sent out an email reminding Iowans that the failed cap-and-trade bill “would have destroyed nearly 31,500 jobs here in Iowa and would have increased the average Iowan families’ electricity bill by more than $1,076 per year.”

Ernst’s campaign has set up a “Who is Mark Jacobs?” website that hammers him for standing with President Barack Obama and Braley on cap and trade. 

“I’d say that Mark Jacobs would be the Charlie Crist of 2014, but I think Charlie was more conservative,” Todd Harris, an Ernst strategist, said. “You can’t support cap and trade and Arlen Spector, and then call yourself a conservative.”

Jacobs donated to former moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter after Specter became a Democrat. Though Jacobs has claimed that he donated $3,000 to Specter in September of 2009 because Specter opposed cap and trade, Jacobs said that cap and trade policy was a “workable solution” and “really hits the mark” on a number of things” less than two months before he endorsed Specter in remarks on July 28, 2009: 

Rogers Herndon is going to give you a little bit more information on CO2 legislation and what that means for us on a plant-by-plant-basis, but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on CO2. First, we acknowledge the need for CO2 legislation. Second point, the Waxman-Markey bill that got passed out of the House, in our view, represents a workable framework. So, many of you'll remember we've talked about what would be ideal elements of climate change policy, so having a cap and trade in national policy -- Waxman-Markey really hits the mark on a number of those key things.

In addition, Specter actually introduced cap and trade legislation when he was a Republican with Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), so Specter was never a staunch opponent against the legislation in the first place.

Jacobs' spokesperson said that Jacobs made the donation because Democrats were in charge of Congress and Reliant had many coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania that could have been shutdown due to federal regulations. As Reliant's CEO, Jacobs felt the "only responsible approach" was working with those like Specter to save the power plants after he was forced to decide if he wanted to "be at the table, or on the table."

Jacobs may feel the heat on other issues. He donated to Democrat Jon Corzine when he was running for the U.S. Senate. Corzine, one of Obama's top bundlers and disgraced former New Jersey governor, has been investigated for the $1.5 billion that went missing from MF Global under his watch. Jacobs has also said that he would have voted to raise the debt ceiling without any spending reductions and for the Ryan-Murray budget compromise that slashed the benefits of veterans. A group that he started in Iowa even sent mailers supporting Common Core.

“If we want to improve student achievement, we must raise our expectations of what we expect children to learn. Iowa has taken an important step in this regard: adoption of the Common Core State Standards and incorporating them into the Iowa Core,” the mailer says. “The Iowa Core is a rigorous set of standards that has been developed to ensure that our students are college or career ready when they graduate from high school.”

Voters who may look for an alternative to Jacobs may turn to Ernst, a candidate King said was "solid on conservative issues we care about" like life, marriage, and the Second Amendment. Or they may consider Clovis, who King said had the best ground game, or Whitaker. But King acknowledged that those three have been stuck in the polls while Jacobs has inched ahead. 

A recent Jacobs' advertisement struck some observers as tone deaf because it touted that one of the key benefits of a strong economy is that “revenues to the government increase.”

Robinson, the Iowa Republican publisher and keen observer of the state's politics, said he ultimately believed that a convention would be unlikely because four credible candidates would have to receive 20-25 percent of the vote, but not surpass the 35% threshold--and there are not four candidates who all have that much strength right now.

The Jacobs camp believes he is leading the pack because Iowans see him as a proven business leader who has tackled tough fiscal issues and put forth a five-point plan to aid job growth. But Jacobs may have trouble getting the nomination if he cannot win the primary. 

If the race went to a convention, Robinson said that Clovis, because of his standing among conservative activists that regularly attend conventions, and Ernst, because she would have the support of the Branstad machinery, would have the advantage. He said that Clovis is underrepresented in recent polls because it is "difficult for a statewide poll to identify rural support, and deep pockets of support in northwest Iowa where he's from, which is loaded with conservatives."

King also noted that Clovis, like Rick Santorum before he won the Iowa caucuses in 2012, "has the best ground game" because he's "worked precinct by precinct" received the support of a lot of county chairmen.

Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker also did not rule out a convention, saying that though it was “highly unlikely,” there is “still a possibility" for one. 

In the end, though, Spiker told Breitbart News that the “sheer number of failed programs Bruce Braley, Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have overseen over the past few years” will give the Republican nominee the advantage in the fall, as policies from D.C. like Obamacare have made Iowans realize that “solutions won't come from inside D.C. but rather will come from Iowa problem solvers.”

But Iowa's Republicans will have to nominate a candidate first. And though King said that Jacobs is emerging as the frontrunner and has been extremely successful in business, he acknowledged that Jacobs' support for politicians--like Specter--that the grassroots have reviled may "drain some of the conservative base" that may "otherwise be more enthusiastic in a general election."


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