He Can Tweet but Can He Legislate?

Douglas Burns looks at the Congressional prospects of Ashton Kutcher, an Iowa native with coast-to-coast appeal.

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Celebrity activist and new media pioneer Ashton Kutcher has beaten CNN in a race for one 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, creating 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 padlock on elections, secured with an eye-poppingly reliable GOP vote in many northwest counties.

Kutcher could raise money by the truckload: 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 his 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.

Olympic gold-medalist Shawn Johnson, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore attended an Iowa/Iowa State basketball game in December 2008. All were in Iowa raising money to help with flood relief.

There’s plenty of reason to think Kutcher would run as a Democrat. He campaigned very publicly   for President Barack Obama last year (check out YouTube) and for John Kerry in 2004 – although the Cedar Rapids native has said he 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 overt evidence to suggest that he was anything other than the “dumb handsome guy,” a description he laments in the May cover story of Details magazine.

But behind those Hollywood looks are some Iowa smarts.

Kutcher studied biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa before becoming a model and moving on to smashing success on TV and in film. In 2002, he founded Katalyst, a production company that has shepherded more than ten feature films and television series to completion.

Until just recently, I’d never considered Kutcher beyond the caricature he helped create. 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 limit.

Kutcher is 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 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.”

Rep. Steve King, of the 5th District, greeted Miss Rodeo Iowa (2007), Amanda Eason, at the Iowa State Fair, August 2007.

For his part, Steve King has generated more rumblings, some of it right in Carroll a few weeks ago, about a possible bid for governor.

If he makes a run at the governorship, the open congressional seat will create opportunities for many contenders in both parties.

But should King remain in Congress, a high-profile candidacy from Kutcher could influence the 2010 political season beyond Iowa, as the star could in effect nationalize King, something the congressman has already done to some extent with his uncommon soundbite artistry. (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.)

With a national spotlight following him, Kutcher could make extreme right-wing King more of the face of the Republican Party; that would likely 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 a better handle on economics.

Congressional Quarterly
Iowa’s 5th Congressional District, in green

Duly noted: the numbers in the 5th District don’t appear to add up for any Democrat, even a resurrected John F. Kennedy. But 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.

As for the arguments again Kutcher’s candidacy in Iowa – they’re countless. 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 would be certifiable not to keep re-electing the senior senators; Grassley is now ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democrat, chairs the Agriculture Committee.

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 blasts of 140-character or less 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. Now, he should test it.

 

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