Iowa Irish Launch Campaign

IRISH American Democrats will launch their Iowa campaign for Senator Hillary Clinton at the Historical Museum, in Winterset, Iowa, home of an historic Irish settlement, on Friday, November 9.

As usual, the chairwoman of Irish American Democrats, Stella O'Leary, has done an extraordinary job in rounding up the troops for an event that may well feature the former first lady.

Winterset is in Madison County -- yes, that Madison County - where millions of American women lost their heart to Clint Eastwood in the movie The Bridges of Madison County based on the best-selling book.

Also on hand at the Historical Museum will be Congressmen Richie Neal and Joe Crowley to officially launch the campaign where the first votes will be cast in January.

Because Iowa is a caucus state, the numbers who vote are much less. Thus, the gathering in Iowa of Irish supporters for Clinton will be closely watched. Organizers say a large crowd is expected in the Irish heartland of the state.

Starting in 1852, the Irish settled in Madison and Warren counties, close to Des Moines, Iowa. Although most Irish Famine emigrants settled in urban areas, these Irish were farmers.

Iowa was then a new state and the government sold farmland at low prices, encouraging many to leave other states and relocate to Iowa. They settled mostly north of North River and in time they built a log church and named it St. Patrick's.

First they were attended by missionary priests, but in time their sons became priests and served at St. Patrick's Church.

These Irish settlers were described by James Gillespie in an article in the Madison County Historical Journal in 1907 as "industrious and prosperous, and as to honesty, few will say they have been cheated by an Irish man. Cheerful hospitality can be found among the Irish settlers and their descendants and as freely given as on any part of the globe."

In 1979 Pope John Paul II celebrated an outdoor Mass at the site of St. Patrick's Church, Madison County. Many Iowans remember him preaching on a hill in a cow pasture amid a crowd of 250,000 Iowans on a chilly, windy day in October 1979.

He was visiting the heartland of America lured by a letter from a simple farmer.

Dems for Dinner

AFTER the Iowa meeting the Irish will also be out in force at the Jefferson Jackson dinner held the following night in Des Moines. The dinner is the largest event held by the Democratic Party in the state, and with the election soon at hand no doubt interest will be at fever pitch. Up to 8,000 people are expected to attend.

The event will feature speeches by Senators Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, former Senator John Edwards and Governor Bill Richardson. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will serve as the master of ceremonies.

"The Iowa Democratic Party is honored to have our presidential candidates speaking at our largest event of the year. We are also excited that Speaker Pelosi will serve as our emcee," said Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan.

"This event will give the candidates a chance to speak directly to over 8,000 caucus-goers."

Harkin's Backing Vital

OF course, the key endorsement in Democratic Party circles in Iowa is none other than Senator Tom Harkin, who attended an Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform rally earlier this year and is related to European Member of Parliament Marian Harkin, who is from Sligo.

Back in July, Harkin's wife Ruth probably tipped his hand when she endorsed Clinton for president. Her husband has come under strong pressure from the Obama camp since, as he is seen as one of the most liberal members of the Senate, but he has remained neutral.

That will likely change right after the dinner, when Harkin is confidently expected by the Clinton camp to climb on board. Harkin is a member of the Friends of Ireland and is a popular figure at Irish Embassy events.

GOP Plans

MEANWHILE, not to be outdone over on the Republican side, plans are already afoot for big bash by Irish American Republicans during the Republican convention being held in Minneapolis next year.

It is expected that White House counselor Ed Gillespie will be special guest of honor at a major Irish American Republicans event. Gillespie now is a key figure in the Bush White House, having returned to his old haunt to help the president out in his final year.

In addition, Republicans will be out in force at the economic conference to be held in Belfast next May to coincide with the first anniversary of the power-sharing government.

There is even talk that President George W. Bush may drop in to the proceedings, which would be an incredible boost for the conference. Others who may attend include Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.