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Shadow Senator Visits Iowa, Leaves Trip Open to Speculation

Strauss took the D.C. statehood effort to Des Moines, Iowa. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Strauss took the D.C. statehood effort to Des Moines, Iowa. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When senators head to Iowa, speculation about presidential aspirations heats up — a fact one shadow senator who traveled to Des Moines over the weekend kept in mind.  

Paul Strauss, one of the District of Columbia’s shadow senators (elected representatives who advocate for D.C. statehood), noted that politicians’ trips to the Hawkeye State often raise questions about a “broader agenda.”  

“Our goal was to focus on the issue of D.C. statehood,” Strauss told CQ Roll Call. “And we’re considering all kinds of ways to make D.C. statehood a part of the national campaign.”  

Asked directly if that meant he is considering a presidential bid, Strauss said, “We’re going to do anything we have to, to advance the issue of D.C. statehood.”  

Reading between the lines of his indirect answer, the Democrat, might be trying to jump into the pond. But he said his first trip to Iowa was about statehood and full voting rights for the District of Columbia.  

“Everybody understands the special role that Iowa plays in the electoral process,” Strauss said. He later added, “Our goal is to interject the issue of D.C. statehood and make it a national issue in the presidential debate. We want Iowans to begin to ask these questions when candidates visit.”  

Strauss said he stressed the issue during an event hosted by the Polk County Democrats and “Roske on Politics ,” an Iowa political talk show hosted by filmmaker and former congressional candidate Brent Roske. Strauss and Roske met at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, when Roske was working on the series “Chasing the Hill,” in which Strauss had a cameo . The two became friends and Strauss said Roske was the one who convinced him to come to Des Moines.  

“He’s someone that I had talked to and raised the issue of statehood and voting rights, and really convinced me that Iowa was somewhere that we needed to be,” Strauss said.  

The shadow senator, first elected in 1996, said he spoke to a crowd at the State Historical Building, first addressing a group upstairs at Cafe Baratta’s before heading downstairs and making brief remarks before a viewing of “Roske on Politics” in the auditorium.  

Strauss said the mayor of Des Moines introduced him, and the group included Polk County Democratic officials and other Democratic activists from the area. He did not have an estimate for the number of people in attendance, but said organizers told him the crowd was similar to when former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley stopped there in October (reports from that event suggested there were 50 attendees).  

Strauss said he laid out his argument for D.C. statehood, saying the concept is in line with democratic values, and making D.C. a state likely means more Democratic voices in the House and Senate, given the District’s liberal nature.  

Strauss took questions from attendees and noted, “Most of the questions focused on how can we help you make it happen, as opposed to why it should happen.”  

He also is working with the Polk County Democrats to adopt a resolution supporting D.C. statehood, and a similar resolution for the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting.  

All of these efforts are aimed at a broader goal of putting the statehood effort in the national spotlight, especially since the statehood bills face opposition in a Republican Congress.  

“We’re not expecting the same kind of action on the bill that we saw last session,” Strauss said, referring to a bill that garnered a record number of co-sponsors and the first Senate hearing in two decades. “So we need to find a way to use these next two years to build support for the issue and to educate people outside of the capital itself.”  

Asked whether he would be making trips to other early presidential primary states, Strauss didn’t give a definitive answer, but he said the statehood movement has a history of reaching out to New Hampshire for support and also has garnered support from some South Carolina House members. (Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., is a co-sponsor of the statehood bill.)  

Strauss said the movement does not have the resources to reach out to every state, but the media coverage from his Iowa trip showed a targeted strategy could be effective.  

Editor’s note: The headline of this article was changed after publication.

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