AMES, Iowa – The Democrats are camped just outside the grounds of the Republicans’ Iowa Straw Poll in the alumni center of Iowa State University, trying to inject their perspective into the conversation.
“He’s all hat and no cattle,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the national chairwoman, said of Rick Perry, the Texas governor who is jumping into the GOP race Saturday in South Carolina.
It was a nice use of the regionally appropriate put-down. Perry’s greatest strength is the record of job creation in his state, the highest rate in the country. Democrats say that he can’t really claim credit for it, however, and that the growth has been accompanied by a porous social safety net and deep cuts to education.
“You have to give more credit to OPEC than Rick Perry for the jobs in Texas,” Wasserman Schultz said. Many of the state’s new jobs are in the oil industry, or the result of Pentagon spending or the much-derided stimulus, she said.
As for the entire Republican field, she figures that there will be a good contrast in fall 2012 between the GOP nominee and President Obama, one that will benefit the incumbent despite his poll doldrums at this point. “These individuals are desperately trying to out-right-wing each other,” Wasserman Schultz said.
But the Republicans, sensing a vulnerable president, seem to have more intensity on their side at the moment, and intensity drives turnout that wins elections. Many rank and file Democrats seem dispirited.
Sue Dvorsky, the Iowa Democratic chairwoman, said that’s not really the case on the ground in her state. The party had 1,000 applicants for 75 unpaid organizer positions to lay groundwork for 2012 this summer, she said. Iowa Democrats are also geared up to try to hold the state Senate, which they control 26-24, she said.
Party activists want to avoid what happened in nearby Wisconsin, where GOP Gov. Scott Walker, with his party in control of the legislature, stripped collective bargaining rights from public workers.
“This is not a matter of getting the old band together,” Dvorsky said. “Iowa’s Democratic base is ready to go. They’re nervous.”