Ag Summit Draws Nine Major GOP Hopefuls
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Organized by Entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter, the Event Highlights Such Issues as
the Renewable Fuel Standard, Trade, Immigration and GMOs
March 7, 2015--Nine potential Republican presidential candidates addressed agriculture issues at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on Saturday.  Bruce Rastetter, an entreprenuer and philanthropist, had invited all prominently mentioned potential candidates of both parties to appear.  He acheived a fairly good turnout as Gov. Chris Christie, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Gov. Jeb Bush,  former Gov. Rick Perry,  Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Gov. George Pataki, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and Gov. Scott Walker accepted.  There were several late cancellations; Sen. Marco Rubio bowed out citing a family wedding, former Gov. Jim Gilmore was ill, and Donald Trump had been scheduled to videotape remarks at a reception the night before but was a no show.  No Democratic prospects participated.  Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and all three Republican U.S. House Members also spoke at the event, held in the Elwell Family Food Center at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.  In addtion to the audience of hundreds seated in rows of folding chairs that filled the Elwell Center, over two hundred reporters covered the Summit.  The event ran for about six and a half hours.

Each presidential hopeful engaged in a 20-minute conversation with Rastetter.  Not surprisingly, given the importance of ethanol to Iowa's economy, the Renewable Fuel Standard was a leading topic.  The RFS is a program originally created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, that, as updated, mandates that billions of gallons of renewable fuels be blended into gasoline each year; the current number is 36 billion gallons by 2022 (>).  This has encouraged production of ethanol; according to the Iowa Corn Promotion Board/Iowa Corn Growers Association Iowa has 42 corn ethanol plants (>).  Thus support of or oppsition to RFS has significant political importance to potential candidates.  Gov. Branstad put it simply, "Don't mess with the RFS."  The audience included many people involved in the ethanol industry, and America's Renewable Future (+) was a major sponsor of the Summit.  The nine potential candidates' responses on the RFS ranged from strong support for economic and security reasons to principled opposition to the RFS as a federal mandate.  (Rastetter and the industry frame the issue not as a mandate but as a question of market access).  RFS was an important, politically sensitive issue, but Rastetter covered a range of topics including GMOs, trade, immigration, and the rural economy. 

As the Summit started more than a hundred activists from the progressive group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement staged a demonstration immediately opposite the Elwell Center, arguing that, "
Rastetter's Ag Summit celebrates corporate control of land and politics at expense of everyday people."  Additionally Gov. Christie drew a couple of demonstrators, a group of union activists protested against Gov. Walker, and, in a curiously ironic attempt to draw attention to climate change, NextGen Climate flew a plane over the Summit trailing a banner "Jeb Bush: I'm Not a Scientist."

DNC Vice Chair RT Rybak and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Dr. Andy McGuire held a press conference at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown on the morning of the Summit.  According to the DNC advisory, "As each of the potential 2016 GOP candidates attempt to pitch their agriculture credentials to Iowa Kingmaker Bruce Rastetter, Rybak and McGuire will highlight how each of their real records would hurt rural communities and middle class families." 

Additionally, three groups (NARAL Pro-Choice America, 25x'25 Alliance and Collaborative for Student Success) ran full-page ads in the Des Moines Register in connection with the Summit (+).

Although none of the nine potential candidates who participated have officially declared their candidacies, they and others in the field have been busy in the past several months testing the waters and building organizations.  In addition to their appearances at the Ag Summit, many of the hopefuls also did campaign-style events such as town halls or meet and greets during their visits to the Hawkeye state.  Also present was ultra-longshot candidate Chris Hill.  Hill, a pilot who also ran in 2012, was not invited to speak, but diligently worked the venue, introducing himself to attendees and passing out literature and photos.

Attendees line up outside the Elwell Family Food Center prior to the Summit.  It was a beautiful clear day in Des Moines.
Summit Scenes

Opening  |  Iowa CCI protest  |  Gov. Chris Christieformer Gov. Mike Huckabee former Gov. Jeb Bush  |  former Gov. Rick Perry  |  Sen. Ted Cruz  Sen. Lindsey Graham  |  former Gov. George Pataki former Sen. Rick Santorum  |  Gov. Scott Walker More  |  Media.

a forum solely dedicated to matters that directly affect Iowa farmers who feed and fuel not just the country, but the world.

Final edits March 19, 2015.  Assistance of Elaine Hites, Mike Dec/ and Southwest Airlines greatly appreciated.
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