CEDAR FALLS, IOWA— The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa. Voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
It is one of the biggest issues on the minds of voters in Iowa – the growing threat of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
Iowa voter Michael Downey is especially torn by the fall of Ramadi, where U.S. soldiers battled insurgents during the Iraq war.
“The people who fought over there paid a price for that city. They’ve got to be heartbroken today. There are people who are injured or who lost family members," he said. "Today they have to ask the question, was it worth it?”
It is a question Downey knows well. His son Luke is a former U.S. Marine who served several combat deployments to Afghanistan.
“It is a sacrifice, whether it’s your sons or daughters who are in harm's way, the mothers brothers fathers and sisters, they all pay a price too," he said.
Downey and his son Luke attended a forum with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Voters here want to know where the candidates stand on sending more ground forces back to Iraq.
"You’re in an area in the United States where a very high percentage of families serve, so sacrifice and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice of losing your life for your country is taken very seriously," said Jeff Danielson, a Democratic Iowa state senator from Cedar Falls.
Danielson, who is also a veteran of the first Gulf War and serves on several Iowa committees for veterans, is running for local re-election next year alongside presidential candidates. He says possible U.S. involvement with places like Iraq and Afghanistan tops the list of concerns voters have discussed with him.
“Foreign policy is one of the reasons people vote for a president, so it's always going to be highly salient," Danielson said. "It’s probably equal to the economy and domestic issues when it comes to thinking about who you are voting for, for president."
Michael Downey is still thinking about who he wants to vote for. But there is one thing he’s looking for in whomever he chooses – someone who can generate bipartisan cooperation.
“A divided nation cannot win a war," he said.