SIOUX CITY | A host of Northwest Iowa Republican legislators have announced which presidential candidate they back, giving nods to a wide range of people. So, far Gov. Terry Branstad and the state's six federal lawmakers have steered clear of making endorsements.
Siouxland political scientists said there is no clear evidence from studies that endorsements affect how people vote in primaries or general elections. However, Buena Vista University professor Bradley Best and Morningside College professor Patrick McKinlay agreed candidates benefit from endorsements, even if that can't be quantified.
"It only helps, simply because it creates another opportunity that candidates have to be brought into the public eye," Best said.
The endorsements come as Republicans, in what will soon become a 17-candidate field, try to break away from the pack and single-digit polling to win the party's nomination.
In some cases, presidential candidates issue news releases about their endorsements, aiming for media coverage. Other times, the endorsing lawmaker accompanies the candidate to a campaign event, as when state Sen. Bill Anderson, R-Pierson, announced his support for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at a picnic at Pierson's city park in June.
When former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush came to Sioux City for the first time on Monday, at a forum at Morningside College, he was introduced by state Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, who emphatically called Bush the best candidate in the race.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, made a campaign stop Friday at downtown Sioux City's Historic Pearl District, developed by local businessman and state Sen. Rick Bertand. Bertrand, a Sioux City Republican, joined Rubio’s campaign team last month.
At this point, the endorsement game is being played largely on the Republican side among state legislators. The Democratic field includes former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia. State Reps. Chris Hall and David Dawson, Democrats from Sioux City, have not gotten on board with a candidate.
"I plan to later, probably late summer, early fall," Hall said.
However, in state-level offices, Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald have endorsed Clinton. They were early supporters in 2007 of Barack Obama, who has become a two-term president.
State Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, has endorsed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, saying Perry prodded economic success in Texas. Johnson said his endorsement of Perry in 2011 and 2015 demonstrates for the 60,000 people in his legislative district that they have a "shared grounding in freedom and faith."
"Endorsements by state legislators mean more to campaigns than to likely caucusgoers," Johnson said. He said Iowans want to personally vet candidates at campaign events and by talking with friends before landing on a favorite.
"Still, I like to signal my preference to GOP friends and supporters," Johnson said.
Best said endorsements give a "cue" to people about candidates worth watching. Candidates have long sought the endorsements and, even while social media and other factors in recent years have rewritten how campaigns play out, they still are pursued as a prime strategy.
"They obviously perceive it to be of some value," Best said.
Best said there would be little benefit from the endorsement of a backbencher in the Legislature with a limited track record. He and McKinlay said an endorsement from a well-regarded local legislator can be convincing for some Iowans.
"There is a level of trust, so the candidates want to capture those endorsements because that becomes an inroad to the local circles," McKinlay said.
Said Hall, "There is a value if the campaign perceives value and it is a candidate that is a natural fit for your district."
State Rep. Dan Huseman, R-Aurelia, said he is assessing whether to publicly endorse a presidential candidate. He didn't take that step in 2012.
"It doesn't hurt anything, because we have a lot of constituents who ask us from time to time," Huseman said.