Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Democratic leader of a city with 75 miles of coastline, immigrants from around the world and the Kardashians, is considering running for president in 2020. But first he would have to make it through Iowa. On a recent visit, he did his best to connect, playing up everything his city shares with the rural, overwhelmingly white voters. It was no easy task.
"Iowa and Los Angeles have much more in common than you might think, and it's not just because we have the USS Iowa parked in the Port of L.A.," Garcetti said at a party dinner.
WHY IT MATTERS
For more than 40 years, the Iowa caucuses have led off the two major parties' presidential nominating process. A surprising finish can reward the winner with momentum; Democrat Barack Obama proved that by beating Hillary Clinton in Iowa in 2008. Failing to meet expectations can mean an early beginning to the end; Democrat Howard Dean showed that four years earlier.
Garcetti is the sort of candidate who could need Iowa. He has a minimal national profile and could use a burst of momentum to be considered in the Democrats' top tier.
He's also fighting history. While former mayors have gone on to be president, no candidate has jumped straight from city hall to the White House. Mayors of other big cities such as New York and New Orleans also are thinking about the 2020 race and hoping their records in office might be enough. But the gap between urban and rural voters in the U.S. is wide, making their challenge considerable.
WHAT TO WATCH
Will Iowans buy it?
Los Angeles has a million more people than Iowa and packs them into one-tenth the area. It has the nation's busiest seaport. It could also be called the city of immigrants. For 139 countries, Los Angeles is home to the largest population living outside their homelands. In contrast, Iowa is landlocked and more than 80 percent white.
Undeterred, Garcetti is playing up the similarities.
He compares Iowa and Los Angeles as renewable energy leaders. "Los Angeles is the No. 1 solar city in America. Iowa is the No. 1 wind state in America." True.
"We're both manufacturing capitals of heavy equipment." Also true.
His moves are nothing new in a state where presidential prospects scrounge for any connection.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani once likened the nation's largest city, with more than 8.5 million people, to Cedar Rapids, population 131,000.
Clinton, over the course of her two presidential campaigns, often told of her family's stay at the Tall Corn Motel in Davenport on a childhood road trip. It might have been an attempt to cast herself — wealthy, powerful and protected by the Secret Service — as just one of the folks.
Garcetti's take was that the differences don't matter.
"It's false that people wake up and say, 'Oh, I'm a coastal person, I'm a heartland person,'" Garcetti told reporters during his visit. "We struggle with the same things here and we have the same victories."
His effort to link his work in Los Angeles to Iowa's small cities and towns is somewhat of a stretch. Immigration and trade, both big issues for Garcetti, are big in Iowa, too.
The 47-year-old Garcetti noted that he's the great-grandson of a Mexican immigrant who brought his grandfather to Los Angeles as an infant. Today, Garcetti's grandfather would have been among those immigrant children living in the United States illegally but protected by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; Trump has threatened them with deportation.
With that as part of his family's history, Garcetti has steadfastly opposed federal efforts to reduce "sanctuary cities," municipalities like his that resist federal mandates to verify immigration status as part of routine police stops. He promoted his enactment of a $10 million legal defense fund for immigrants.
Garcetti's is a popular position with Democrats in Iowa, angry about a new Republican-backed law enacted outlawing sanctuary cities in a state without any. Minority activists packed into the room in the Iowa Capitol, where GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure just days earlier, and erupted into cheers at Garcetti's encouragement to take action.
Garcetti's message hearkens back to Obama-style message of trying to find commonality in diversity. As he likes to say, he's "just your average Mexican-American-Jewish-Italian."
ONE LAST THING
Garcetti has a personal connection to Iowa.
Garcetti's wife, Amy Wakeman, traces her family's roots to Iowa, as Garcetti said almost everywhere he went on his recent visit. Wakeman wasn't along for the trip, but was "so jealous because I'm going to all the places her family is from," Garcetti told The Associated Press.
He visited the Waterloo gravesite of Wakeland's great-grandparents and a memorial for her great uncle, killed in World War II.
"Iowa is not just the geographic heart of this country, it's the moral center," Garcetti said at the party dinner. "It's a place where decency and hard work still mean something."