DAVENPORT, Iowa | In his first television ad, there's a lot of video of Matt Whitaker on the football field.
The former Iowa Hawkeyes tight end says he'll always "fight for Iowa," and on the campaign trail as one of five Republicans vying for the party's U.S. Senate nomination, he points to what he says is a broad array of real-life experiences in seeking to convince voters to send him to Washington, D.C., to do just that.
The primary is Tuesday.
A former U.S. attorney appointed by President George W. Bush and who is now in private law practice, Whitaker also has numerous business investments, including in a day care and community bank.
In those walks of life, he says, he has dealt with public policy concerns, whether it's regulation or immigration, that he says makes the political debates real to him.
"They're not just talking points," he says. "I've got a lot of real-world experience in the big issues of the day."
Whitaker faces Morningside College professor Sam Clovis, of Hinton; state Sen. Joni Ernst, of Red Oak; former energy company executive Mark Jacobs, of West Des Moines; and auto sales professional Scott Schaben, of Ames. The winner of the Tuesday primary will advance to face presumptive Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, of Waterloo, in November.
Polls show Ernst and Jacobs leading the pack. What may help Whitaker is that Jacobs and Ernst have increasingly turned their fire on one another, providing a potential opening. Whitaker also has won high marks from analysts in the debates that have been held so far.
As of the end of March, he’d raised $438,000 and had $289,000 in cash on hand.
Whitaker says he wants to reduce federal government spending, and that entitlements must be dealt with in a bipartisan way.
He also proposes getting rid of the Internal Revenue Service, repealing the amendment allowing the federal income tax and instead moving to a national sales tax.
Like other Republican candidates, he pledges his allegiance to a free market economy, and he recently said he wants to eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard, a favorite with Iowa politicians across the spectrum.
"I'd like to see a reasonable glide path to free market competition," he said.
The statement prompted Democrats to accuse Whitaker of courting the votes of the "tea party" wing of the Republican Party.
Actually, Whitaker is clear that he's not happy with the GOP leadership in Congress, which has been faulted by many party activists. When asked who he might emulate — other than perennial Iowa GOP favorite, Sen. Chuck Grassley — he points to his similarities with Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah.
With both, Whitaker cites their common background in law enforcement. But he also applauded Cruz's aggressive tactics towards the Affordable Care Act last year that led to a government shutdown.
Some Republicans have lamented the hit they took in the polls as a result, but Whitaker says, "I think he's been an outstanding, thoughtful conservative leader."
Whitaker also sides with another GOP firebrand when it comes to the projection of American military force.
"I've said I'm much more like Rand Paul on this than John McCain," he says.
He says he wants a strong military, but he objected to American intervention in Syria and says he wouldn't intervene or send arms into the Ukrainian crisis, either.