Political candidates often have to appeal to their base, in order to win a primary. Then they appeal to a broader set of voters, in order to win an election.
a forum on Tuesday offered the chance for the republican US Senate candidates to differentiate themselves from one another.
Joni Ernst is pro-life, pro-gun and anti-gay marriage. So is Mark Jacobs. And Sam Clovis. Matt Whitaker wants lower taxes, he’s white and he’s Christian. Ditto the other three.
From a distance, they’re hard to distinguish.
So what makes them different from one another?
"Well, I am the only one with a proven, conservative, pro-growth policy,” says Joni Ernst, a state senator from Montgomery County.
Ernst is the only woman; Clovis the only one with his own talk-show. All three wear flag pins, call themselves pro-business and know their way around a tough question.
“Of these other three candidates who are here tonight, who is the least qualified?" we ask.
"Oh, I think each one of these candidates brings a unique perspective,” says Whitaker, of Ankeny.
“I’m not gonna answer that,” says Clovis.
“I couldn’t say," Ernst says.
“Uh, you know we’ve got some other good people in the field," Jacobs answers, "and that will ultimately be up to the voters in the state of Iowa to decide.”
What some of the voters at Tuesday night’s National Federation of Independent Business have decided is that they want a potential winner who can defeat Democrat, Bruce Braley.
“I would probably have to go with the one with the best chance of beating Bruce,” says Mike Kinter, a small business owner.
“We need someone who has a reasonable chance of winning,” says Randy Bradley, who owns a chain of Burger King restaurants across Missouri and Iowa.
Some say Whitaker is the front-runner. He’s the only attorney and former Hawkeye.
“I played for Coach Hayden Fry," Whitaker beams. "I was on the last Rose Bowl team; 1991.”
Ernst has served in the military, Clovis has, too. Both say one of the candidates has more money than the rest.
“We certainly have one candidate in the race who can spend pretty much whatever he wants," Clovis says. "He has that kind of money."
That might be Jacobs, a former oil executive.
“Well, we’re working very hard," Jacobs says. "Again, my focus is making sure we have the right resources we need to run the type of campaign we need to be successful.”
Jacobs says he’s a leader, Whitaker a small-business expert and Clovis, all of the above.
“Most of the other people have been involved in one or two things," he points out, "I’ve been successful in many things, and I mean very successful.”
Clovis is confident he’ll win. But then again, so are the others.
The republican primary for the Senate seat will be held on June 3rd. The winner faces eastern Iowa democrat, Rep. Bruce Braley who was invited to the event, but did not attend.