Skip this post if you think it's too early to start talking about the 2012 presidential campaign just because Barack Obama hasn't been inaugurated yet.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, was back in the state this week. On Thursday he held book signings that attracted some 600 people in Cedar Rapids and an even larger crowd in a Des Moines suburb. According to the Des Moines Register, he "brushed off talk of a 2012 run" but
brought to Iowa a prescription for the national Republican Party, which he said has wandered from its founding principles.
"There is no such thing as fiscal conservativism without social conservativism," Huckabee said. "We really should be governing by a moral code that we live by, which can be summed up in the phrase: Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you."
Governing by that principle would lead to a more humane society, with lower crime and poverty rates, creating less demand on government spending, he said.
Huckabee was accompanied on Thursday by Bob Vander Plaats, who chaired his Iowa campaign for president. Vander Plaats has sought the Republican nomination for Iowa governor twice and is expected to run again in 2010. He recently came out swinging against calls for the Iowa GOP to move to the middle following its latest election losses. The Republican caucuses in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate elected new leadership this month, and the state party will choose a new chairman in January. Vander Plaats is likely to be involved in a bruising battle against those who want the new chairman to reach out more to moderates.
Many Iowans who didn't come to Huckabee's book signings heard from him anyway this week, as he became the first politician to robocall Iowa voters since the November election. The calls ask a few questions in order to identify voters who oppose abortion rights, then ask them to donate to the National Right to Life Council. According to Iowa Independent, the call universe included some Democrats and no-party voters as well as registered Republicans. Raising money for an anti-abortion group both keeps Huckabee in front of voters and scores points with advocates who could be foot-soldiers during the next caucus campaign.
Meanwhile, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made two stops in Iowa yesterday. Speaking in Cedar Rapids,
Jindal said America's culture is one of the things that makes it great, but warned that its music, art and constant streams of media and communication have often moved in the wrong direction.
"There are things we can do as private citizens working together to strengthen our society," he said. "Our focus does not need to be on fixing the (Republican) party," he said. "Our focus needs to be on how to fix America."
I'm really glad to hear he's not worried about fixing the party that record-high disapproval ratings, according to Gallup.
Later in the day, Jindal headlined a fundraiser in West Des Moines for the Iowa Family Policy Center. He said he wasn't there to talk politics (as if what follows isn't a politically advantageous message for that audience):
"It all starts with family and builds outward from there," said the first-term Jindal, who was making his first visit to Iowa. "As a parent, I'm acutely aware of the overall coarsening of our culture in many ways."
The governor said technology such as television and the Internet are conduits for corrupting children, which he also believes is an issue agreed upon across party lines.
"As governor, I can't censor anything or take away anyone's freedom of speech - nor do I want to if I could," he said, "but I can still control what my kids watch, what they hear and what they read."
The problem is that parents who want to control what their kids read often try to do so by limiting what other people's kids can read. A couple near Des Moines
are fighting to restrict access to the children's book "And Tango Makes Three" at East Elementary School in Ankeny. The book is the story of two male penguins who raise a chick together.
The Ankeny parents want it either removed or moved to the parents-only section, arguing that it promotes homosexuality and same-sex couples as normal and that children are too young to understand the subject.
Gay rights are sure to be an issue in the next Republican caucus campaign, especially if the Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality next year. The court will soon hear oral arguments in a gay marriage case.
For now, though, it's enough for Jindal to speak generally about "family" and "culture" and raise his name recognition among the religious conservatives who have often crowned the winner in the Iowa caucuses.