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Campaigns tap Michiganians to press for Iowa votes

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Pella, Iowa — Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio dispatched two Michigan GOP congressmen to Iowa this week as part of a targeted mission to drum up presidential supporters for Monday’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and John Moolenaar of Midland are working two Dutch enclaves in Iowa and are focusing in part on recruiting religious conservatives for Republican Rubio at the caucuses. Rubio has concentrated during the past month on emphasizing his Christian convictions, including making references to Jesus Christ on the campaign trail and in Thursday’s debate in Des Moines.

The two elected officials are part of a small wave of Michiganians who are descending on Iowa this weekend. They hope to persuade Iowans to show up at schools, union halls, churches and other locations and cast their votes for their respective Democratic or Republican presidential hopefuls.

Huizenga and Moolenaar are both of Dutch descent and have connections to Pella and Orange City, Iowa, two cities on opposite ends of the Hawkeye State that were founded by 19th-century Dutch immigrants who also settled in west Michigan.

Moolenaar and Huizenga, who co-chair Rubio’s Michigan campaign, used the trip to make one-on-one pitches to friends, acquaintances and pastors of the five Christian Reformed Churches in Pella, a close-knit Dutch community of 10,000 about 60 miles east of Des Moines.

“Marco really has a forward-looking, positive view of the future,” said Huizenga, a three-term congressman from west Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District.

Moolenaar arrived in Iowa on Wednesday afternoon, attended a rally with Rubio in West Des Moines that night and spent Thursday and Friday meeting with officials at the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Pella Corp. windows and door manufacturer.

Pella and Michigan’s Dutch enclave of Holland in Ottawa County have close ties among families, businesses, colleges and rival tulip festivals.

As a college basketball player at Holland’s Hope College, Moolenaar played against Pella’s Central College — which shares a Dutch-themed mascot with Hope — in a tournament with Calvin College in Grand Rapids known as the “Dutch classic.”

Moolenaar also has cousins who live in Iowa who joined him for lunch Friday in Pella, where the downtown architecture and old world windmills resemble The Netherlands. Moolenaar’s grandfather emigrated from Holland to Indiana after World War II.

Earlier in the day, Moolenaar met with Republicans, faculty and students at Central College to make his pitch for Rubio, who has been placing third in most polls in Iowa behind Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

“He’s someone, I believe, who is the one candidate who can unite our party and our country,” said Moolenaar, who represents the 4th Congressional District in mid-Michigan.

Tapping Dutch roots

Sheldon Starkenburg, a pastor at Calvary Christian Reform Church in Pella, joined Huizenga and Moleenaar for lunch at the Windmill Cafe in Pella and said he’s leaning toward caucusing for Rubio. He finds Cruz “too militaristic” and uses the words “egotistical”and “blowhard” to describe Trump.

“I could support every candidate, except two — Trump and Cruz,” Starkenburg said.

Huizenga also has friends and family connections in both Iowan Dutch cities, and has visited Pella since his childhood. He was accompanied by his 18-year-old son, Garrett, and his Zeeland pastor, Art Van Wolde, who used to be the pastor of a church in Pella. Friday’s visit included a stop at the Jaarsma Bakery for some Dutch treats.

Van Wolde said he’s telling his Iowan friends that Rubio has the best temperament to end the partisan divisions in Washington.

“The more I’m looking at the Republican candidates, I think Rubio is the person who can do that,” said Van Wolde, pastor of the Haven Christian Reform Church in Zeeland.

Moolenaar and Huizenga were accompanied on their trip through Iowa with Lansing-based GOP consultants Lori Wortz and Matt Stewart of WWP Strategies, a firm that is organizing Rubio’s Michigan campaign for the state’s March 8 primary.

On Saturday, the group is headed to Orange City and Dordt College — where Van Wolde’s daughter goes to school — to try to woo more Iowa Republicans of Dutch descent to vote for Rubio.

Huizenga was planning to attend a caucus meeting Monday night in a rural northwest Iowa town on behalf of the Rubio campaign.

Other Michigan Republican and Democratic activists and politicians are expected to drop into Iowa to volunteer for their preferred presidential candidate.

Spartans for Hillary

Five Michigan State University students in the campus advocacy group Spartans for Hillary arrived in Cedar Falls on Friday to volunteer at a campaign rally former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding Saturday night in Iowa’s second-largest city. The students also will be making phone calls to likely Democratic caucus goers and canvassing Cedar Falls neighborhoods, said Ron Owens III, president of Spartans for Hillary.

Owens, 19, of Saginaw, said he will be emphasizing to other younger voters that Clinton is more qualified than Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to work with a likely Republican-controlled Congress.

“Hillary has the authority and she has the background to get any piece of legislation through,” Owens said.

Jill Alper, a Michigan Democratic political consultant, also arrived Friday in Iowa to volunteer for the Clinton campaign’s get-out-the-vote operation. Alper held a fundraiser in July for Clinton at her Grosse Pointe home.

Moolenaar and Huizenga aren’t the only elected Republican leaders in Iowa this weekend.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who chairs Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s Michigan campaign, is scheduled to land in Davenport on Sunday evening along with his political lieutenant, Rusty Hills, a former Michigan Republican Party chairman.

On Monday, Schuette and Hills are set to make phone calls to GOP voters and knock on doors to turn out Bush supporters to the 7 p.m. caucus meetings in the greater Davenport area in eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River.

“It’s basically an all-hands-on-deck turnout mechanism,” Schuette said in a Thursday interview.

Schuette said he and Hills will attend separate caucus meetings and give two-minute speeches about why they believe the former Florida governor is best suited for the presidency previously held by Bush’s brother and father.

“He’s the conservative choice, from my perspective,” Schuette said.

clivengood@detroitnews.com