How David Young Went from Fifth Place to Republican Nominee

David Young’s victory at Saturday’s Third District congressional nominating convention was stunning to say the least. While some will grumble about Republicans nominating a candidate who finished in fifth place in the primary, what happened on Saturday in Urbandale is far more complicated than just handing the nomination to the fifth place finisher in the primary.

Before we begin to try and explain why and how Young won the nomination on Saturday, let me first say that Young’s victory has to be one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the history of Iowa politics. Republicans often talk about Rick Santorum’s 2012 Iowa caucus victory, but what Young accomplished on Saturday is in a league of its own.

Young wasn’t just the underdog going into Saturday’s convention, he’s been viewed as an underdog ever since he resigned his position as Senator Chuck Grassley’s Chief of Staff to run for Tom Harkin’s U.S. Senate seat in Iowa. What impresses me the most about Young is that, despite people repeatedly writing him off or even forgetting that he was even a congressional candidate at times, he never gave up, never was discouraged, and never quit working.

What Happened on Saturday

Delegates were shocked when Young beat Monte Shaw on the fourth ballot, but signs of Young’s strength were noticeable much earlier than that. After the second ballot, I tweeted that it was Young who was the surprise of the convention. I noted that he deserved a lot of credit for the nice block of support he was able to build.

Young received 86 votes on the first ballot, and while that was only good enough for him to finish fourth in the balloting, Young was strong enough to create some major problems for some of his opponents. Matt Schultz was particularly hurt by Young’s strength. Schultz, who served as a city council member from Council Bluffs, won Pottawattamie County on June 3rd, but it was Young who won the county in the early rounds of convention balloting. Young also basically equaled Schultz in Polk County and was able to pick up support from Dallas County delegates as the rounds of balloting progressed.

Schultz led Young in the first few round of voting, but it was Young who was able to pick up votes after Robert Cramer exited the race, not Schultz. On the third ballot, Young picked up 23 votes from Cramer, which is how he was able to surpass Schultz. Zaun also benefited from Cramer’s exit, but one cannot overlook how important positioning is in convention voting, and Young was the candidate on the move position-wise after the first major candidate was removed from consideration.

Many people believe that it was the Schultz supporters who voted for Young on the fourth ballot that shifted the dynamics of the convention, but it actually began a round earlier. Young just didn’t survive the third ballot, he put himself in position to move in front of Shaw on the next ballot. After the third ballot, Young trailed Shaw by only 24 votes. The problem Shaw had throughout the day on Saturday was that he didn’t have an ability to grow his support as candidates fell to the wayside. Shaw garnered an impressive 118 votes in round one, but the highest vote total he was able to get on Saturday was 126.

With Schultz out, Young was able to grow his support once again while Shaw actually lost a few votes. All of Schultz’s Polk County votes went to Young, and he picked up another big block of votes in Dallas County. There was definitely an “anyone but Shaw” sentiment at work on Saturday. Delegates were either with him or not. Young was not only able to pick up substantial support from Schultz’s supporters, but he was also able to pick up some votes that he lost in the early rounds of voting. Just as in the earlier round, Young was not only able to surpass a stagnant Shaw, but he put himself in position to challenge Zaun in the final round of voting.

After four rounds of voting, Young only trailed Zaun by 35 votes. Worse yet for Zaun, Young only trailed him in Polk County by 41 votes. With Shaw’s loyal votes not up for grabs, Young was well positioned to pick up the majority of them. It’s important to understand why Shaw’s voters were with him in the first place. They believed Shaw was the best candidate for the general election, and while it was never explicitly said, these voters felt that Zaun was not a good general election candidate.

Young was supported by 105 of Shaw’s 120 supporters, and his Cinderella story was completed. Young easily defeated Zaun by a final vote of 271 to 221.

Why it Happened

Some people are going to bemoan the fact the Republicans nominated the candidate who finished fifth in the primary, but the route Young took to victory was available to other candidates.

Matt Schultz could have won the nomination in very much the same way that Young did, but in hindsight, Schultz likely made a mistake by attacking Robert Cramer in the weeks leading up to the convention. Despite Cramer’s strong second place finish in the primary, I always believed he was going to struggle at the convention. Schultz needed those Cramer supporters, but he likely turned them off by attacking their guy.

Despite having a big block of voters on the initial ballot, Monte Shaw ended up being his own worse enemy. For some reason, Shaw felt it was necessary to declare himself the frontrunner for the nomination at the convention. All that did was put a target on his back, at which his opponents repeatedly took aim. Like Schultz, Shaw attacking Cramer was unwise. Those are the votes he desperately needed, and while those were unlikely votes for him to get, Shaw’s decision to go after Schultz and Cramer meant that the only candidate he could expect to pick up support from was Young.

Brad Zaun picked up support quickly, and at one point he did seem to be the inevitable nominee. Zaun would have easily been the nominee had the final ballot been between himself and Shaw, but Young crashed that party. His home county also hurt him when it split its vote 126 to 126 on the final ballot. Even though that result was shocking, more votes were cast against Zaun in Polk County in every round of voting than he actually received. People seemed distracted by his large vote total, but ,most people never realized throughout the day that he was struggling in Polk County.

It was also disappointing and foolish that a handful of voters left the convention once their preferred candidate was out of the running. What people often forget in the convention voting process is that it’s not the initial supporters of a candidate who deliver the win for their candidate, it’s the supports of other candidates who get knocked out that actually pick the nominee. Cramer, Schultz, and Shaw supporters determined who the Republican nominee would be on Saturday.

Looking Ahead

The outcome of the convention will probably renew the call to change Iowa law to allow for run off elections instead of conventions. That is an understandable reaction to what transpired at Saturday’s convention, but it should not be overlooked that Young was able to win because he was able to earn the support of his opponents supporters. He was a lot of people’s second choice and truly became the consensus candidate. We will look at how Young stacks up against Staci Appel later in the week.

Some Quick Thoughts

1. Some of the people who are the most upset about Saturday’s results should have involved themselves in the process instead of just being critics of it. It’s kind of like the Iowa Lottery’s motto – you can’t win if you don’t play. Yes, 513 delegates where charged with determining the congressional nominee in the Third District, but the caucus to convention process is open to everyone.

2. I think it’s telling that the final two candidates were individuals who did not attack their opponents and who also were never attacked.

3. Some people’s obsession about everything the Liberty Iowa crowd does or involves themselves in is unwarranted. Contrary to what many people think, Liberty Iowa’s support of Brad Zaun did not hurt his chances of winning. Zaun couldn’t seal the deal on Saturday because a number of delegates were rightly concerned about his ability as a general election candidate. We have been there and done that, and a majority of the convention didn’t wish to try it again.

4. Liberty Iowa also didn’t defeat Monte Shaw. Shaw was prevented from getting the nomination because he didn’t have any growth potential.

5. Young deserves all the credit. Of all the candidates, it was Young who obviously worked the delegates in a wise manner. He knew he wasn’t their first choice in many instances, but he worked hard to be people’s second choice, and it paid off. Young could also be seen walking through and talking to delegates all day. Young didn’t stop working until he was the nominee. It’s hard not to root for a candidate like that.