"I think he's one of the few individuals in the state that could put together an event like this and draw a diverse crowd of people," said Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Iowa Republican Party who now edits the Iowa Republican.
Rastetter has a track record of success. He was instrumental in convincing Terry Branstad to run for governor again in 2010, and was one of his largest contributors during that campaign and in 2014. (Branstad—along with Iowa Rep. Steve King and Sen. Chuck Grassley—are slated to attend the March agriculture summit.) Rastetter, who took over as president of the Iowa Board of Regents in 2013, was an early supporter of Joni Ernst's successful 2014 Senate bid. And at a national level, he provided the seed money for American Future Fund, which has been one of the top-spending outside groups in recent election cycles, when the nonprofit group formed in 2008.
Now, Rastetter has invited every Republican who is considering a White House bid to Des Moines on March 7 in hopes of spurring a "substantive discussion" on topics such as renewable fuels, biotechnology, conservation and sustainability—issues Rastetter and other members of the agriculture industry say have been pushed to the back burner in past presidential campaigns, despite their importance to the state's economy.
Each of the White House aspirants that attends the summit will have 20 minutes on stage to deliver brief opening remarks, then field questions from Rastetter himself.
"I think this event is him kind of stepping out and using his influence in a different capacity than he's done before. This is a really different type of political event than we've ever seen in this state," Robinson said. "I think this makes him much more of a player in this Iowa caucus race than it did in any previous presidential campaign."
It remains unclear which candidate Rastetter will back, and he's keeping coy about where he stands on the issues that the candidates are coming to Iowa to discuss. He said he supports "modern, sustainable, environmentally-sound agriculture," but he declined to elaborate where he stands on some of the specific issues he will ask the summit's attendees to address. "It's about where the candidates come out on the positions, not my positions," Rastetter said.
While Rastetter did not hold an event like this during the previous presidential cycle, he tried to impact the result in a different way. Rastetter and six other Iowa Republican financiers flew to New Jersey in May 2011 to try to convince Christie to run for the GOP nomination. When Christie opted not to enter the race, Rastetter did not publicly back a candidate, even though his support was heavily courted.
This time around, Rastetter isn't getting behind the New Jersey governor as he explores a White House bid—at least not yet. Rastetter said that "at some point in time" he will endorse a presidential candidate, adding that the summit will begin to help him make that decision.