Third District Nomination is Up for Grabs

It took nearly a week, but the location of the Third Congressional District special nominating convention has been finalized.  The convention will be held at Des Moines Christian High School in Urbandale, and it will begin promptly at 10 a.m.  Even though the logistics of the convention were unfortunately the headline for much of last week, the reaction of the campaigns did provide us with a glimpse of each campaign’s mindset.

It was surprising to see four of the five credible campaigns come out and lobby the Republican Party of Iowa to have the nominating convention held on the same day as the state convention, which is this Saturday in Des Moines.  These campaigns made the same argument that the U.S. Senate campaigns made when the state party announced that it was going to move the date of the state convention from June 14th to July 12th.  Waiting to select a nominee is an advantage for the Democrats because they can start raising general election dollars immediately, while the Republicans are waiting around.

All that said, there is a big difference between holding the nominating convention the week after the state convention and having it on July 12th.  When no Republican surpassed the 35 percent threshold, the eventual Republican nominee was already going to be at a disadvantage since they will not be able to begin raising money for the general election until sometime on June 21st, which is just a little over a week before their first general election campaign finance disclosure.

Last week’s squabble over the convention also showed us that not all the Third Congressional candidates get along.  The campaigns of Robert Cramer, Matt Schultz, David Young, and Brad Zaun all signed a letter requesting the convention be moved, while a fifth candidate, Monte Shaw, wasn’t even approached to see if he would sign the letter.

The other candidates seem to be suspect of Shaw and worried that the Creston location may have benefitted him since he did well in the rural parts of the district.  Their zeal for wanting the convention to be held on June 14th and not June 21s also might have been motivated by the fact they didn’t want to give Shaw all that time to organize delegates before the convention.

Either the Cramer, Schultz, Young, and Zaun campaigns feel incredibly confident about where they stand with each of the 513 district delegates or they don’t yet realize how difficult the task at hand really is.  Counting delegate votes is incredibly difficult, and just because they tell you they are with you when you ask them for their vote doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually voting for you at convention.

We have seen this play out in many chairman elections with the Republican Party of Iowa.  There are always candidates who feel good about the vote only to get sideswiped when the votes are tallied.  That happens in an election with a total of a whopping 18 votes, now imagine multiplying that election by 28.  Simply put, these candidates have a ton of work to do before now and the nominating convention.  In 2002, Steve King drove across the entire Fifth District meeting with delegates individually.  That type of one-on-one campaign is necessary in this situation, as TV and radio ads no longer are effective or practical.

What is necessary is knowing exactly where you are delegate-wise and where your opponents are at.  The magic number is 257 if the maximum number of delegates are seated at the convention, but it’s very unlikely that any candidate is currently at that number.  Campaigns need to know what their hard delegate count is before the voting begins.  They can make deals with other campaigns until they are blue in the face, but if you don’t know where you stand when that first vote is taken, you’re probably going to be in for a long, or in this case, a short day.

Even though no candidate is going to be dropped after the first ballot and it’s unlikely that any candidate will have enough support to win the nomination on that ballot, where the candidates place in the first round of voting could be incredibly important.  Perception and inevitability are powerful things in politics, and it holds true in convention settings like this.  A candidate doesn’t need to finish first on every ballot to win the nomination, but it’s imperative that they don’t finish behind the rest of the pack as it will create doubt in their delegates minds, which may cause some of them to vote in the next round for their second choice.

Even though the results of the primary no longer matter, a candidate like Brad Zaun does have an advantage because he finished in first place.  The problem for Zaun is that while he did come out on top, his numbers in 2014 are nowhere near where they were in 2010 in Polk County.  In his 2010 Third District primary race, Zaun garnered 48 percent of the vote in Polk County.  This year he only mustered 33.5 percent.  In 2010, Zaun received 14,952 votes in Polk County alone, but in 2014, his number of votes dropped by 7,735, which is more than the 7,217 votes he received in 2014.  That’s a significant drop, and it hurts Zaun in the electability department, which may be a factor for convention delegates.

It’s also important to note that just because Zaun and Cramer finished first and second in the primary vote,  that doesn’t necessarily translate to support among delegates.  This is why getting your supporters to attend the precinct caucuses and county convention in order for them to be district delegates was important work back in January.

Most of the five serious candidates should have a delegate advantage in their home areas.  Zaun should do well in Polk County, Schultz should be strong in Pottawattamie County, and Monte Shaw should do well in the rural counties that he carried in the primary.  Cramer and Young don’t necessarily have a county to build their delegate strategy off of, but Cramer has widespread support across the district, and Young has some good pockets of support.

Shaw, who won 10 counties in the primary, has an advantage in securing many of the delegates from those counties.  The only problem is that none of the counties he won on primary day have large delegations.  Zaun won three large counties in Polk, Dallas, and Warren.  Polk County is a big prize in the primary, but the delegation is so diverse that Zaun might not have the advantage in the convention that one may think.

All of the candidates are working the nominating convention delegates.  On Sunday afternoon, Zaun and his wife pulled into my driveway as I was cleaning my garage.  Robert Cramer left me a message, and Monte Shaw held a meet and greet in town and gave me a phone call as well.  It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen a week from Saturday, but I think the fight for the nomination is wide open.  One can make a strong case for the top four finishers in the primary at convention, which will make this a fascinating nominating convention.

Later this week, TIR will look at the pros and cons of each candidate.  Delegates have a tough choice to make, and each candidate deserves to be thoroughly vetted so delegates can make an educated decision on the 21st.