The Far-Right Radio Host Who Could Deliver the Senate to the GOP

Sam Clovis was recruited to the Iowa GOP ticket to deliver right-wing votes to Senate candidate Joni Ernst. But will his racially charged rhetoric make him a liability instead?

10.06.14 8:20 PM ET

Control of the U.S. Senate could come down to the appeal of a longshot candidate for statewide office from northwest Iowa who said it will be tough to impeach President Obama “because he claims to be black.”

Perhaps the closest Senate race in the United States is the one pitting Bruce Braley against Joni Ernst in Iowa. There, as the campaigns war over stray chickens and impeachment, the race has focused on the ground game as each party tries to turn out its most partisan supporters.

And one of the main ways that the Iowa GOP is trying to mobilize its base is by running Sam Clovis, one of four candidates who lost to Ernst in this summer’s Senate primary, for state treasurer.

Clovis is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative from northwest Iowa, the state’s Republican heartland where the GOP regularly gets between 80 and 90 percent of the vote. A college professor and sometime radio-host, Clovis was drafted to run against a 32-year-incumbent Democrat after losing his Senate bid as a way to energize conservatives on his home turf and pump up turnout for both Ernst and incumbent GOP governor Terry Branstad, who has long been viewed skeptically by right wingers in his own party.

But while Clovis is an electoral asset, energizing social conservatives and tea partiers, his career as a radio host was notable for his controversial remarks about Obama and impeachment. In 2013, for example, Clovis said that it would be difficult to impeach the President “because he claims to be black.” He has also said on several occasions, including in an interview with an Iowa newspaper, that the only thing preventing Obama’s impeachment is his race. These comments on Obama’s ethnic background echo those of Rush Limbaugh, who has labeled Obama a “halfrican American” in the past.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Clovis said his impeachment quote was taken “wildly out of context” and is a “distraction” in his current race.

“Presidential impeachment under almost any circumstances has a way of dividing America,” Clovis said. “The president is elected under a partisan agenda and his or her defenders and critics deciding on impeachment will be heavily influenced by their partisan influence. Much of the nation transcended race when they elected the president. It would be very bad for America to create a scenario where race was tied into a partisan issue.”

With the Braley campaign pushing the message that Ernst is an extremist, the question is whether having Clovis on the ticket will reinforce these talking points with the remaining undecided swing voters.

In the meantime, in a race that is still a tossup, Clovis’s presence on the ballot will certainly draw a few more diehard conservatives to the polls in some of the most Republican counties in the state, giving Ernst and the national GOP a boost as they look to win the Senate.