Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Why Ashton Kutcher should run for Congress in Western Iowa
By DOUGLAS BURNS
Celebrity activist and new media pioneer Ashton Kutcher just beat CNN in a race for 1 million followers on the Internet social networking site Twitter.
A suggested next challenge for the Iowa native: move back to your home state - the western side, say Council Bluffs - and run for the 5th Congressional District seat.
As much as anyone in America Kutcher has brilliantly blended fame with substance to create an interactive organization that he's trained on fighting malaria and child sex trafficking.
An obvious new platform for the earnest Kutcher would be a run for political office. And the place to do it would be in heavily conservative western Iowa where U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, appears to have a Gordian knot on elections, anchored as he is with an eye-poppingly reliable GOP vote in many northwest counties.
Kutcher could raise truckloads of money - just a $5 donation from only half of the now 1.2 million people following him on Twitter - would yield $3 million. This doesn't take into account his own considerable assets - and those of wife Demi Moore, an American icon who was worth millions while Kutcher was still waiting to be discovered at the Airliner bar in Iowa City.
There's plenty of reason to think Kutcher would run as a Democrat. He campaigned visibly (check out YouTube) for President Barack Obama last year and John Kerry in 2004 - although the Cedar Rapids native voted for George W. Bush in 2000.
"I would say that I'm a fiscally conservative individual, in general, and probably very socially liberal, but there really isn't a party that exists for that," Kutcher said last November on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher." "So I'm a little bit in between. I wasn't that far away from looking at John McCain as a viable candidate for myself, because I sit somewhere in the middle. But, as soon as a Sarah Palin comes onto a ticket, it turns me away so feverishly."
Kutcher is largely known for zany roles in "That '70s Show," "Dude, Where's My Car?" and MTV's "Punk'd."
For much of his career, Kutcher, 31, offered no evidence, at least publicly, to suggest that he was anything other than the "dumb handsome guy," a description he laments in Details magazine.
But behind those Hollywood looks are some Iowa smarts.
Kutcher studied biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa before entering modeling and moving on to smashing success on TV and in film. In 2002, he founded Katalyst, a production company that has shepherded more than 10 feature films and television series to completion.
Until just recently I'd never considered Kutcher beyond the caricature he helped erect. But just after the election, he appeared on Maher's politically hot-blooded "Real Time," where even the most quick-witted of the professional chattering class are pushed to the limits.
Kutcher's clearly well-read and passionate about issues and got off one of the more memorable lines of the program about the flagging American auto industry, a suggestion more rhetorical than practical, but containing within powerful truth.
"You know who should bail them (auto companies) out, is the oil companies," Kutcher said. "The reason for their companies' decline is their allegiance to the oil companies."
For his part, Steve King, has made more rumblings, some of it right in Carroll a few weeks ago, about a possible bid for governor.
If he does that, the open congressional seat creates opportunities for many in both parties.
But should King remain in Congress a high-profile candidacy from Kutcher would have impact on the 2010 political season beyond Iowa as the star could in effect nationalize King, something the congressman has done to some extent with his uncommon artistry for soundbites.
Kutcher could go a long ways toward making extreme right-wing King more of the face of the Republican Party - which would help Democrats in Iowa and perhaps even tilt the balance in the GOP presidential nominating process here in 2012 more toward the Sarah Palin-minded and away from candidates with stronger economic portfolios and intellectual ballast.
Right off the bat it important to note that the numbers in the 5th District don't appear to add up for any Democrat, even a resurrected John F. Kennedy.
That said, the power of celebrity should never be underestimated. And remember, Iowans in the western part of the state have fond memories of another television funny man-turned-pol representing them - Fred Grandy, who went from playing Yeoman-Purser Gopher Smith on "The Love Boat" to Congress and a near primary upset of Gov. Terry Branstad.
There are, of course, countless arguments against Kutcher running here.
He could be attacked from left, right and center as a Hollywood carpetbagger with exotic ways.
And in many respects a run for Congress - and status as a freshman legislator should he pull it off - would be awfully limiting for someone of Kutcher's wide-ranging talents.
What's more, some would suggest that as an eastern Iowan Kutcher would be better off going for Republican U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley's seat. But as a state of 3 million people Iowa is certifiable if it doesn't keep re-electing the senior senators, Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democrat who chairs the Agriculture Committee.
Politically, Kutcher has the better angle here in western Iowa.
In the 2008 election, the Democratic candidate for the 5th District, Rob Hubler, was never able to take full advantage of King's continuing long line of provocative statements. (King called disgraced red-baiter Joseph McCarthy a "great American hero" and contended that Iraq is safer than Washington, D.C., and compared the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison to fraternity hazing.)
In short, this material, would be golden in the hands of someone with Kutcher's exceptional skills at, well, punking.
In the end, the best argument for Kutcher is what happened last week when he reached the watershed of a million followers on Twitter, a texting/blogging convergence tool that allows users to send information out in 140-character or less blasts to anyone interested in reading them.
In effect, Kutcher just built a muscular grassroots political machine that would be the envy of many a campaign pro.
He should now test it.
There's no better place to do that than in western Iowa's 5th District, where Kutcher would give King's loyal followers a royal headache at the very least, and maybe even provide the opposition a fighting chance.
This column first appeared in the Carroll (Iowa) Daily Times Herald.