DES MOINES, Iowa — Some Iowans question whether Democrat Jim Webb’s decision to skip a big presidential forum signals he might be backing off making a serious bid here, but his aides say he is looking forward to a “vigourous campaign in Iowa.”
Webb, a former U.S. senator from Virginia, is the only one of the five Democratic presidential candidates who isn’t coming to the Iowa Wing Ding, an annual fundraiser that’s expected to attract about 1,800 activists to Clear Lake, Iowa, on Aug. 14.
“Someone needs to help him realize how damaging it is to his campaign if he alienates the Iowa caucuses,” Dean Genth, vice chairman of the Cerro Gordo County Democrats, told The Des Moines Register on Thursday.
Genth, one of the organizers for the Wing Ding, said he hasn’t been able to get an RSVP one way or another from the Webb campaign, despite a series of “painful, lagging communications.”
But Webb’s spokesman, Craig Crawford, told theRegister on Wednesday that Webb wouldn’t be coming because the campaign “had another trip in the works for then, which is firming up.”
On Thursday evening, Webb’s Iowa campaign director, Joe Stanley, responded to the Wing Ding organizers by saying: “Missing one event and having someone say we’re backing off campaigning in Iowa is, I’ll be honest with you, a little ridiculous.” Stanley said he knows some Iowans are upset, but Webb has a long-standing New Hampshire commitment, and “you don’t cancel one event because you get another offer.”
Webb has actually spent more days in Iowa in the 2016 presidential election cycle than front-runner Hillary Clinton — 15 days by Webb versus the 10 Clinton has already logged, the Register’s candidate trackershows.
And Webb was just in Iowa for the July 17 multi-candidate Hall of Fame Dinner, a fundraiser for the state party. He got a less-than-enthusiastic response from the audience, however, accentuating his place as an underdog who ranks low in Iowa polling. He hasn’t booked any return Iowa trips, while Clinton is back this weekend. Webb’s original Iowa campaign director, Rania Batrice, resigned in May, and Democrats say they haven’t seen much organizing here.
But Iowa Democratic activist Paul Deaton thinks “Webb’s stock is up,” theorizing on BlogForIowa.comthat Webb is wise to skip the Wing Ding because “one more appearance at a multi-candidate event in front of party regulars would have diminishing returns.”
The Wing Ding organizers disagree, noting that the tri-county event has blossomed in the last 12 years into a grass-roots fundraiser that benefits 23 counties.
The four other Democratic candidates have committed to being at the Wing Ding: Clinton, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee.