Cruz runs into trouble over ethanol – the 3rd rail of Iowa

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, meets with attendees during a campaign stop, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Tilton, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, meets with attendees during a campaign stop, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Tilton, N.H. AP

The Republican governor of Iowa urged Tuesday that his state defeat Ted Cruz in the crucial Iowa precinct caucuses in less than two weeks, blasting the Texas senator for opposing federal support for ethanol.

Gov. Terry Branstad did not endorse any GOP rival but singled out Cruz for his opposition to federal support for ethanol, a corn-based fuel that advocates say is crucial for jobs in the corn-producing state.

The issue had the potential to hurt Cruz in Iowa as much as or more than the endorsement Tuesday of rival Donald Trump by tea party icon Sarah Palin. Ethanol is politically potent in Iowa, where one advocacy group estimates 73,000 people have jobs associated with it. And it tests the conservative coalition.

While Republicans rally around a message aimed at cutting government, Iowa Republicans do like government help for ethanol. According to a Des Moines Register poll in December, 61 percent of likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers support the federal mandate that helps the fuel.

“I think it would be very damaging to our state” if Cruz won Iowa’s caucuses, Branstad told television station WHO-TV after speaking to an Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit. “I believe it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him.”

Branstad also answered “yes” when he was asked whether he wanted Cruz to be defeated.

The slam against Cruz could be a boost to New York billionaire Donald Trump, who is neck and neck with the Texas senator in Iowa and who quickly tweeted and amplified Branstad’s opposition to Cruz.

Trump spoke at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit after Branstad. “He’s a respected man and when he speaks, people listen,” Trump said.

Trump, who usually speaks without notes, read from a prepared statement in support of the renewable fuel standard, saying he’d warn Congress against changing it. “I am there with you 100 percent,” he told the audience.

Trump suggested his stance is because he’s self-funding his campaign and not beholden to corporate interests.

I do what’s right so when I want to go with ethanol I can go with ethanol. Don’t forget other candidates are supported by the oil industry. . . . They have them totally wrapped up.

Donald Trump

Cruz tweeted a response to Trump, saying the billionaire “continues to seek Establishment support. Cartel wants more deals & cronyism; fears conservatives.”

America’s Renewable Future, a nonpartisan group that supports the federal Renewable Fuel Standard requiring that a certain volume of ethanol be blended into gasoline, gave only two of this year’s presidential candidates a bad rating on the issue, Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. All the other Republican and all the Democratic candidates got a good rating.

Branstad’s son Eric is the Iowa director of the group.

Cruz recently dropped his call for an immediate phase-out of the federal mandate and said instead that the existing requirement should be allowed to stay in place until 2022, when the current program authorization runs out.

America’s Renewable Future spokeswoman Majda Sarkic said failing to support the so-called ethanol mandate would “threaten the 73,000 Iowa workers tied to ethanol. . . . It would be absolutely devastating for both Iowa farmers and the state economy.”

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark