Cruz Out of Sync on Ethanol with Likely Republican Caucus-Goers in Iowa Poll

The poll also shows the parochial nature—and potential for hypocrisy—surrounding federal assistance programs
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Ted Cruz's position on a requirement that's key to corn-based ethanol runs counter to the views of a solid majority of those likely to attend Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses, the latest Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows.

Read the questions and methodology here.

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets the minimum amount of ethanol and other biofuels that must be included in the nation's gasoline supply, is supported by 61 percent of those planning to participate as Republicans in the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 1. The junior senator from Texas opposes the standard, a view shared by slightly more than one-third of Republicans surveyed.

Cruz's position, which is drawing a sustained attack against him from a pro-ethanol group trying to influence the caucuses, could threaten his standing as the Republican front-runner in a state that's key to his potential path to the nomination. Iowa is the nation's top corn and ethanol producer.

"We have to look at all sorts of ways to extend our energy supply," said Gloria Filean, a Republican from Des Moines who supports the RFS and plans to attend the caucuses. "It's good for the country to have that extra resource."

Corn prices in 2015
Corn prices in 2015
Bloomberg

The poll also exposes the parochial nature—and potential for hypocrisy—surrounding federal assistance programs.

While majorities of likely Republican caucus-goers favor help for ethanol and government-backed crop insurance, they're generally opposed to support for other agricultural products, such as peanuts, sugar and milk, that don't do much to benefit their own state.

Government-supported crop insurance is favored by 57 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers. Subsidies for peanuts, sugar and milk are opposed by 56 percent. The one exception to the home-state favoritism: oil and gas exploration. Among Iowa Republicans surveyed, 59 percent supported tax deductions for the fossil fuels that ethanol and other alternatives are vying to displace.

Support for certain government programs that assist Iowa comes even though Republicans often call for a much smaller federal government. Cruz defends his opposition to the RFS as a matter of consistency in that regard. He says he's trying to avoid having the federal government pick "winners and losers" in the energy sector.

Likely Democratic caucus participants are more supportive of government agriculture assistance across the board. Majorities back federal assistance for ethanol (77 percent), crop insurance (74 percent) and subsidies for peanuts, sugar and milk (52 percent). On tax deductions for oil and gas exploration, however, 69 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers are opposed.

Cruz's opposition to the RFS has made him the prime target of America’s Renewable Future, a pro-ethanol group that is led by the son of Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad. The group is in the midst of a three-week advertising campaign critical of Cruz that's playing out on radio stations statewide, as well as through direct mail and digital ads.

“We want Iowans to know that, unlike what Ted Cruz would like to have them believe, he is a typical politician who will say one thing in Iowa and do another in Washington,” Eric Branstad, the group's state director, said in a statement this week as part of the release of a new ad critical of Cruz. “His entire career he’s been in the pocket of the oil industry and he will continue to stand up for it against Iowa farmers and the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

Catherine Frazier, a Cruz campaign spokeswoman, didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

ARF, a non-profit, was formed to organize around the ethanol issue ahead of the caucuses. The group has 17 field staffers across the state, more than many of presidential campaigns, and is active in each of the state's 99 counties.

It also says it has pledges from more than 50,000 people to attend the caucuses, with slightly more than half of those being Republicans. That's a sizable group, considering roughly 122,000 attended the 2012 Republican caucuses.

An ear of corn pealed open for examination on a farm near Farley, Iowa, in August 2007.

An ear of corn pealed open for examination on a farm near Farley, Iowa, in August 2007.

Photographer: Mark Hirsch/Bloomberg

In some ways, Cruz is an easy target because he comes from an oil-rich state and has been the beneficiary of significant campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

He also was a co-sponsor of legislation that would repeal the RFS. Earlier in the year, he touted his stance on the issue as proof that he won't pander to those in early-voting states.

His opposition to ethanol is being highlighted at a time when farmers are under pressure because of low corn and soybean prices triggered by what appears to be a record harvest this year and plentiful global supplies.

The Iowa Poll, conducted Dec. 7-10 by West Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., included 400 likely Republican caucus participants and 404 likely Democratic caucus participants. On the full sample, it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, although higher for subgroups.

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