California-bashing is a constant occurrence on Iowa campaign trail

From left, Vice President Kamala Harris; Rep. Nancy Pelosi; and Gov. Gavin Newsom
Vice President Kamala Harris, left, on Jan. 9 in Atlanta; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on Oct. 16, 2023, in New York; and Gov. Gavin Newsom on Jan. 10 in Sacramento. (Associated Press)

Despite the Iowa caucuses taking place 1,700 miles away from California — and the temperature being much colder here — the Golden State, its elected leaders and its policies were a constant target in the lead up to the first presidential nominating contest in the nation Monday.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) could be a “hedge fund maven,” given how much money she has made in the stock market while in office, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told Iowans. He accused GOP rival Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador, of telling more lies and being "more liberal than Gavin Newsom." Haley said she is as afraid of a Kamala Harris presidency as she is of another term for former President Trump.

Bashing California, one of the most liberal states in the nation, is a grand tradition in the GOP. But Republican presidential candidates may be targeting the state and its politicians more this cycle because they are a better target than President Biden.

“Biden isn’t as motivating a villain as other Democrats might be. So the Republican candidates are essentially running a negative campaign against California,” said Dan Schnur, a politics professor at USC, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine.

He pointed to DeSantis’ attack on Haley during a debate last week as proof.

“The very worst thing Ron DeSantis could think of to say about Nikki Haley during the debate was that she might be more liberal than Gavin Newsom,” Schnur added. “For an Iowa Republican — or any Republican for that matter — that’s an absolutely terrifying concept.”

Read more: Why Iowa? Small state has outsize role in picking the president

California was once a Republican stronghold, launching the political careers of Presidents Nixon and Reagan. But conservative attacks on the state have ramped up in the decades since Reagan left office.

In 2002, former President George H.W. Bush even apologized for referring to American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh as “some misguided Marin County hot-tubber." By 2012, California was the most disliked state of any in the nation, according to poll of Americans by Public Policy Polling. About 44% of those surveyed said they viewed the state unfavorably.

Today, GOP fundraising appeals bleat about the state’s residents — especially Hollywood celebrities and tech billionaires — fueling Democratic campaigns, despite the fact that the state also provides an outsize amount of political donations to Republican candidates.

This electoral cycle, DeSantis compared Haley to Newsom, whom he debated in November, at a CNN face-off in Des Moines last week.

Read more: With her California dream broken, she found a political haven in Iowa

DeSantis brought up Pelosi while lamenting the lack of rules on members of Congress while campaigning at Jethro’s BBQ in Ames.

“I just think we have a problem with Congress … they're almost detached from the people. They live under different rules,” he said, adding that he has not traded stocks since being elected to office and compared himself to Pelosi. “They make a killing in the market … and I don't think the congressmen should be able to be doing the stock trades. I think we need to reform that.”

Haley raised Harris, the current vice president and former U.S. senator and state attorney general, as she discussed why she believes Trump should not be reelected president.

Read more: Column: How the Vietnam War, political protests and a mimeograph machine birthed today's Iowa caucuses

“Y'all know it, chaos follows him. And we can't be a country in disarray and have a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos because we won't survive it,” she told supporters at an event space in Ankeny. “You don't defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos. And the other thing we need to think about: We can never afford a President Kamala Harris.”

California should overhaul its fiscal situation and policies before questioning why Iowa should have such an important role in selecting the nation’s presidential nominees, said former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who has family connections to California and has spent substantial time in the state.

“Maybe you ought to get your house in order. California has got the biggest deficit and California is moving in the wrong direction,” Branstad said in an interview. “California has got so much going for it. It’s a beautiful state, it has got great weather and all that stuff. But now people are leaving because of the tax burden and the hostility and all the regulations.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.