Bertrand’s Primary Challenge Obviously Got Under King’s Skin

SKingOn Thursday, State Senator Rick Bertrand made it official, announcing that he’s challenging Republican Congressman Steve King in the 4th Congressional District primary.

High profile primary challenges against incumbents are rare occurrences in Iowa, especially one challenging a conservative stalwart in the most conservative district in the state.   Not only is King universally known, but Bertrand is also attempting to oust a sitting Congressman in a campaign that will last just 82 days.

The word daunting just doesn’t quite seem to describe the task Bertrand has chosen to take on. Some may believe it will be impossible for Bertrand to be successful in this endeavor. That sort of thinking is justified, but as is the case with most things in life, where there is great risk, there is also great reward.

King’s strengths are well known. He’s intelligent. He has developed a real connection with the grassroots of the Republican Party because he’s willing to fight the good fight and champion core issues. King has also has a history of being a good campaigner, the type that goes everywhere and does everything.

King’s weaknesses are equally known. While smart, his choice of words or use of certain analogies repeatedly get him in trouble with the media. He’s a notoriously poor fundraiser. Despite being a 14-year incumbent, King has never figured out how to keep his campaign coffers full which, at times, makes him a charity case but also means that he’s not able to help the effort to expand the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

Since redistricting in 2012, King’s Democrat opponents have raised more money than he has for his campaigns. That doesn’t bother King one bit. He wears the fact that he has won despite being outspent as a badge of honor. King will likely be outraised in the abbreviated primary against Bertrand. At the end of 2015, King reported having just $118,000 in the bank. Even without a primary challenger until now, King has spent more money than he has taken in during the current election cycle.

While Republican activists may struggle with Bertrand’s decision to run against an incumbent congressman, the hill he now has to climb is not insurmountable. There has always been a rub between King and the business community is Sioux City, which is something Bertrand will have to exploit if he is to be successful. Furthermore, the current configuration of the fourth district provides Bertrand opportunity to stake out territory as there are more counties in the fourth district that were represented by Tom Latham than King before redistricting.

In some ways, trying to knock of King in a primary may be easier than waiting and running once King vacates the seat. There are plenty of Republicans who are eager to run for the seat, which would make for a costly and crowded primary. While challenging an incumbent will not make him popular with some people, he is the lone alternative to King. With no other Republican primaries taking place, it’s a rather simple game – whoever turns out the most people to vote wins. Bertrand may benefit from some Democrats and independents who do not like King playing in the Republican primary.

Besides fundraising, another King liability is message discipline.   Just look at the press release his campaign sent out Thursday evening. It was petty and defensive. It said nothing of what he hopes to accomplish for the fourth district, and instead read like a “how dare they challenge me” letter.

King’s release also included the following paragraph.

Over the last few weeks, calls came from a surprisingly large number of potential candidates who were asked to challenge me in a primary by a couple of wealthy and petulant establishment Republicans who think they should own a Congressman. In every case but one, the answer was a resounding ‘No.’

What King fails to mention is that those “petulant establishment Republicans” are also constituents who donated to his campaign and organized fundraising events for him in his previous two campaigns. King is obviously bitter and distracted by a couple of individuals instead of his actual opponent.

King would be wise to rise above petty bickering, but he chose to close out his press release with the following snide sentence. “I regret the impending needless and blatant dishonesty which will surely come from my opposition.” Again, how dare someone challenge The King?

Bertrand is a talented politician, and it is a mistake to not take him seriously. He not only was able to win a tough State Senate District in 2010, but he was able to also get re-elected. I don’t know really know Bertrand all that well, but he’s impressive on the stump and meets people well. His business background should also be a benefit.

At his announcement on Thursday, Bertrand painted a positive vision for his campaign and the fourth district. Bertrand believes that the Highway 20 expansion, which is being completed in large part because of the gas tax increase that he supported, makes the district the state’s new economic frontier.

As for his challenge to King, Bertrand told the Sioux City Journal, “The District needs a more effective congressman to push for changes required to maximize that growth.” He added, “I am not going in there to be a national figure. I am going to be likable and effective.” Over the past 14 years, Bertrand believes that King has become institutionalized.

Even though King has led the vocal opposition in Washington during his time there, he’s not been able to land key leadership positions in the house, mainly because of his poor relationship with leadership. This sounds like it will be the main argument put forth by Bertrand’s campaign. There have been numerous occasions where King was in line to chair a committee, only to be passed up. The most recent example was the influential Ag Committee, which King lost to Texas Congressman Mike Conaway. Unlike King, Conaway raised big money to help the GOP effort in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Presidential politics also helped pave the way for Bertrand’s decision to primary King. King is one of Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s national campaign chairmen. Presidential campaigns cause people to splinter in different groups, and with a field of 17 candidates, people fell into a number of different camps. King’s endorsement of Cruz came as no surprise, but it did pit him against the ethanol industry, which was already weary of the freshman Senator from Texas because one of the first pieces of legislation Cruz pushed was a repeal of the Renewable Fuels Standard.

Despite being a staunch support of the RFS, King repeatedly sang Cruz’s praises and helped convince Iowa voters that a Cruz presidency would be good for the ethanol industry. Ironically, after the campaign left Iowa, Cruz now makes a point in election night speeches and on national debate stages to tell people how he took on the ethanol industry in Iowa and won. Most people can understand why members of Iowa’s renewable fuels industry are a little upset with King.

This race is sure to be in the political spotlight from now until primary day on the first Tuesday in June. If King’s press release is any indication, this is going to be a bitter battle.




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.

Poor Fundraising Numbers Could Hurt Blum’s Chances in General Election

Rod Blum is the clear frontrunner in the Republican primary in the First Congressional District, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at his fundraising report.    Blum’s campaign reported that it had raised $77,710.09 in the first quarter of 2014, but when you subtract the $20,120.78 of expenses he reported as in-kind contributions to his campaign, his campaign actually raised just $57,590 in the quarter.

That number is especially disappointing since Blum’s chief opponent in the primary, State Representative Walt Rogers, ended his campaign in February.  That should have created an opportunity for Blum to expand his donor base across the district and even attract some statewide donor support once he became the clear favorite to be the Republican nominee in the First Congressional District.

Even though Blum is making his second attempt at running for Congress, his fundraising report suggests that he still has not figured out how to raise money for a congressional campaign.  A significant portion of the money that Blum raised is from his hometown of Dubuque or nearby communities.  It’s natural for a candidate to raise a significant amount of money from their home turf, but Blum struggles to raise money elsewhere.

A large portion of Blum’s first quarter donors is also made up of people who have already contributed to his campaign before.  Again, this is common, but for Blum to fund a general election campaign, he is going to needs to constantly attract new donors to his campaign, which means that he must find ways to reach out and solicit funds from individuals who he may not know personally.  Blum is an impressive candidate with a great resume.  People should donate to him because he is the likely Republican nominee or because they simply like his background and message.

When a congressional candidate struggles to raise six figure numbers in a quarter, it sends the message that they are not really trying when it comes to fundraising.  What’s odd about Blum is that he’s an excellent campaigner.  He’s impressive on the stump, and based on my fundraising experience, I have no doubt that he would perform well in a fundraising meeting.  The problem may be that Blum simply doesn’t know what or how he should go about raising money for his campaign.

Blum’s anemic fundraising numbers create two different problems for his campaign.  The first problem impacts him if he is successful at winning the Republican nomination in June.  A lot of people believe that national money flows into races once a contested primary is over.  That is simply not true.

National groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee are constantly monitoring all the congressional campaigns across the country.  It is the candidate’s responsibility to get their attention.  In essence, each congressional race is like stock, and the NRCC is a major investor.  The investor (NRCC) looks at a number of factors.  They look at the district make up, the quality of the Democrat and Republican candidates, polling data, and of course fundraising numbers.

When a group like the NRCC sees that Blum only raised $57,000 in the last quarter, they are not going to be impressed or interested in the race.  The NRCC’s Young Guns program lists Blum as “on the radar,” meaning they are keeping an eye on him.  It’s good that they are watching the race, especially since he is running in an open seat, but Blum needs to put up fundraising numbers to get their attention.  Without a formidable primary opponent, Blum should have performed better this quarter.

The second problem Blum faces will impact his primary against Cedar Rapids businessman Steve Rathje.  Blum’s poor fundraising performance means that he has failed to close the door on Rathje.  Like Blum, Rathje has run for office before, and thus does have an existing network.  Rathje also hails from the largest county in the district, which in 2010, cast almost four times as many votes in the Republican primary than Blum’s home county of Dubuque did.

Ironically, Blum finds himself in the same position in which Ben Lange, the 2012 Republican nominee in the First Congressional District, found himself.  Like Blum, Lange was a clear favorite but did little to put the primary away.  On primary day, Lange won, but by a much narrower margin than people expected.

Rathje is campaigning around the district, but his first quarter fundraising numbers are even worse than Blum’s.  Rathje raised just $22,689.07 from January through March.  His campaign has $33,718.50 cash on hand, which isn’t much, but enough to run some radio ads across the district.  It is also possible that Rathje could put some of his own money into the race if he feels there is an opportunity to upset Blum.

Make no mistake, the Republican primary in Iowa’s First District is Blum’s to lose, but winning the nomination isn’t the prize.  Blum’s fundraising issues are problematic for the general election.  Not only does he need to raise a lot of money to impress the powers that be in Washington D.C., but he also needs to increase his fundraising to be able to wage a top-notch general election campaign.

Tick-Tock: Just 75 Days Until the Primary – The Weekly Round Up

The June 3rd primary is only 75 days away, meaning that we are now officially in the final stretch of the primary campaign.  The U.S. Senate and 3rd Congressional District primaries are the most interesting.  In both instances, candidates need to move their numbers in an aggressive manner if they want to have a legitimate shot at winning the Republican nomination outright.

Let’s check in to see what the campaigns are up to.

U.S. Senate Race

Mark Jacobs:  Jacobs has either ramped up his TV spending as of late, or I’m just watching more Wheel of Fortune lately.  The Jacobs strategy has been apparent since before Christmas – use TV and radio ads to build statewide name recognition.  The polls seem to indicate it’s working, but the real question is, is it working fast enough to allow him to surpass the 35 percent threshold on primary night?  Jacobs’ ads make him out to be a likeable guy, but voters need more than that to convince them to give their support.

Joni Ernst: Ernst scored the endorsement of former State Senator Larry McKibben this week.  McKibben’s endorsement came on the heels of him being confirmed by the state senate for a full term as a member of the Board of Regents.  Ernst has racked up legislative endorsements by the truckload, but what her campaign really needs a truckload of money so she can get her message out the voters.  Ernst is getting some outside help with her campaign; ShePAC recently sent out a fundraising appeal that featured Ernst with five other women running for the U.S. Senate.

Matt Whitaker:  Whitaker continues to make the rounds at GOP gatherings and candidate forums across the state.  From all accounts, Whitaker does well when stacked up against his fellow Republican candidates, but he has yet show that his campaign has the financial resources to spread his message beyond those groups he’s able to stand in front of.  Still, I think Whitaker is one to keep an eye on over the final two months of the campaign.  He’s been frugal with the money he’s raised, which means he will be able to message to a larger audience when he decides to do so.

Sam Clovis:  Clovis is another cash-starved U.S. Senate candidate, but that’s not going to slow him down any.  According to Facebook, the Clovis campaign is opening a Sioux City office on Monday.  Clovis had a good one-liner this week.  In a National Federation of Independent Business candidate forum, Clovis responded to a question about how Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley would likely attack him by saying, “I’m short, I’m old and I’m ugly.”  That response got some good laughs and media coverage.

Third District Congressional Race

Monte Shaw: Shaw continues to build out his campaign apparatus.  On Thursday, he announced members of the Iowans for Shaw Agriculture Team.  The 3rd District race is fascinating for a number of reasons, but Shaw’s candidacy is particularly interesting because he’s a well known activists, has strong connections to the ag community, and after managing a number of high-profile campaigns, he knows exactly what he needs to be doing to win the nomination.

Robert Cramer: Cramer became the first Republican congressional candidate in the race to air a television ad. Before entering the race, Cramer told that he would be willing to spend some of his own money to get his campaign off the ground.  His ability to run TV ads gives him an advantage as it will help him become better known.  I like the spot.  It’s different than what we have seen before, but it does an excellent job of educating people on who Cramer is.

Matt Schultz: Rick Santorum is coming to Iowa next week to help Schultz raise money for his campaign.  Schultz is not known as a prolific fundraiser, so getting a helping hand from the guy who won the 2012 Iowa caucuses is a nice get for Schultz.  Schultz needs to prove in his first fundraising quarter than he can raise serious money.  If he can do that, then he’s going to be a real contender for the Republican nomination.

David Young: Running for the 3rd District Congressional seat hasn’t been any easier for Young that running for the U.S. Senate.  Still, the smaller geographical, contest gives him a much better chance of winning the Republican nomination than if he remained in the U.S. Senate race.  Young has been able to rack up some endorsements.  Senator Grassley’s grandson, State Representative Pat Grassley, endorsed Young’s congressional candidacy.  Pat Grassley night not live in the district, but the Grassley seal of approval isn’t going to hurt any.

Brad Zaun:  The Urbandale state senator is in the catbird seat in the 3rd District primary.  Many people might not acknowledge it, but Zaun has a huge advantage over his Republican opponents – name recognition. If you don’t think that matters, ask Dave Funk and Jim Gibbons who didn’t come close to touching Zaun in the 2010 primary.  While Zaun was roughed up in the general election in 2010, he sailed through his primary.  Zaun still needs to raise money and do all the things a good candidate needs to do, but the fact that there are five quality candidates in this race, only makes it that much more difficult to beat Zaun.

If any of the other candidates really want to beat Zaun in the primary, they are probably going to have to attack him.  The condensed 3rd District race was already difficult, but having to attack a candidate like Zaun in order to win is not going to be an easy task.  It’s not going to be cheap either.

The next 75 days will tell us what candidates are really in it to win it.  Time is of the essence, and only one candidate can win on primary night.  I expect to see sparks start flying any day now.

Bob Vander Plaats is not the 800 Pound Gorilla He Thinks He Is

There is no disputing it.  Bob Vander Plaats is the best-known social conservative in the state of Iowa.  Congressman Steve King is perhaps the only other social conservative in the state with similar name recognition, but King’s never been a statewide candidate, and everything Vander Plaats has ever involved himself in has been a statewide effort.

As Vander Plaats’ new self-imposed February 15th deadline looms, chatter about Vander Plaats, whether it be about where he’s at, what he’s doing, who he’s meeting with, and when he plans to formally announce his candidacy, are running rampant.  It’s difficult to have a political conversation in Iowa without the Vander Plaats topic coming up.

It seems likely that Vander Plaats is about to jump into the Republican U.S. Senate primary.  Starting in 2002, Vander Plaats name has been on a statewide primary ballot every other election cycle.  He ran for Governor in 2002, 2006, and 2010.   Having run for office every four years, it seems only natural that Vander Plaats be on the ballot in 2014.  The only difference this time is that he would be running for the U.S. Senate, and not for governor.

Vander Plaats’ name recognition across the state alone makes him a formidable candidate in the U.S. Senate primary.  Since his last primary defeat, Vander Plaats has also built up strong relationships with key-social conservative organizations like the National Organization for Marriage, the Heritage Foundation, and Citizens United.  Vander Plaats is going to need some outside assistance should he choose to run for the U.S. Senate since primary day is less than four months away.

Vander Plaats has been contemplating running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate because he feels the current field of Republican candidates is weak.  Sam Clovis, a grassroots candidate with social conservative credibility, has been running for the U.S. Senate since late May.  The knock on Clovis since day one has been his lackluster fundraising, and the $161,000 he raised in all of 2013, has done nothing to quiet his critics.

Vander Plaats also perceives weakness in the other three candidates, State Senator Joni Ernst, Mark Jacobs, and Matt Whitaker.  Like Clovis, Ernst and Whitaker have struggled to raise significant funds that would enable them to make the case to voters that either of them is the candidate most capable of beating Congressman Bruce Braley.  Money isn’t an issue with Jacobs, but he’s done little to impress the state’s grassroots activists.

When Vander Plaats peers in to his mirror, he believes that what is staring back at him is the 800 pound gorilla who could wreak havoc in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.  In regards to name I.D., he’s right, but should Vander Plaats actually run, his other inadequacies will once again become apparent.

As far as campaign staff goes, Vander Plaats has never shown the ability to attract a top-notch staff to run a statewide campaign.  Vander Plaats struggled to raise money for his three gubernatorial campaigns when there was no contribution limits.  Raising money for federal office is far more difficult, and he’s never done it.  In his 2006 and 2010 campaigns, Vander Plaats enjoyed the free publicity from his personal friend and advisor, Steve Deace.  Deace is no-longer the drive-time host on WHO Radio, thus his free daily public relations agent and chief attack dog doesn’t have as much bite as he did in Vander Plaats’ last campaigns.

Vander Plaats’ biggest weakness is message discipline.  There is little doubt that, once Vander Plaats enters the race, he will attempt to make social issues the front and center topics of debate.  This is how Vander Plaats will get his supporters to engage in the race, but the current race for the U.S. Senate is a lot different than the last two gubernatorial campaigns.  First and foremost, he’s not running against a former governor or congressman with lengthy record to pick at.  Second, only one of the candidates in the race has a voting record, and she’s only served in the state senate for three years.

With virtually no voting records to pick apart, it’s going to be difficult for Vander Plaats to distinguish himself from his Republican opponents.  All of them are pro-life and favor traditional marriage, which means Vander Plaats will have to stake out some extreme positions if he hopes to use those issues to separate himself from his Republican counterparts.

Primary voters who believe social issues are the most important issues in the race are likely to support Vander Plaats because he’s championed those issues for the past decade.  Yet, while Vander Plaats is the best-known social conservative in the state, one shouldn’t over look the fact that his track-record in advancing pro-family issues in the state is miserable.

Vander Plaats has never stood behind a governor as an important piece of legislation was signed that Vander Plaats and his organization fought for.  He’s never stood outside of the Iowa Supreme Court building after a court ruling to say that his organization played a key role in preserving traditional marriage.  No, all of Vander Plaats’ accomplishments are political accomplishments.  He’s credited with helping two social conservatives win the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 and 2012, and he led the campaign that ousted three Iowa Supreme Court Justices.

The defeat of the three justices in 2010 is Vander Plaats’ biggest accomplishment, yet he was unsuccessful in a similar effort in 2012.  The different outcome is due in large part to the fact that Iowa voters were frustrated 2010 because they wanted the ability to vote on whether or not gay marriage should be allowed in the state.   All of that frustration had to go somewhere, and Vander Plaats was wise to direct it towards the justices who were up for retention that year.

Even though talk of Vander Plaats has dominated political conversations around Iowa in the last week, it’s doubtful that he will dominate in the U.S. Senate primary.  Vander Plaats may view Sam Clovis as an inferior U.S. Senate candidate, but a guy like Clovis isn’t about to cede the grassroots network he’s built over the past 8 months to Vander Plaats.

What Vander Plaats sees as a clear opening may end up being a big muddy mess as far as social conservatives go.  Vander Plaats has complained to everyone who will listen about how Rod Roberts staying in the 2010 gubernatorial race cost him the nomination.  If Vander Plaats can’t win over or get Clovis to bow out, he’s not going to be able to consolidate the social conservative vote behind his candidacy either.

Many think that Vander Plaats entering the U.S. Senate race late means that it is more likely that the winner will be decided at the state convention.  While it’s too early to know if that will indeed be the case, if Vander Plaats can’t surpass the 35 percent in the primary necessary to be the Republican nominee, he’s not going to be the odds on favorite in the convention.

Clovis has worked the convention angle the most out of all the U.S. Senate candidates, and it doesn’t help Vander Plaats that the Branstad campaign has been encouraging its supporters to participate in the caucus-to-convention process in 2014 in hopes of electing new leadership for the Republican Party of Iowa.

Vander Plaats has likely enjoyed all the attention he’s been receiving lately, but all that attention turns in to expectations once he officially enters the race.  Like every other candidate who has jumped into this race has realized, it’s one thing to talk about running for statewide office, but it’s another things to actually do it and do it well.

If Vander Plaats runs for the U.S. Senate, he will change the current dynamics of the race, but he will also have a lot to prove on a number of different fronts to become the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.


Photo by Dave Davidson,


How to Unite The Party After a Heated Primary

In every contested election, somebody wins and somebody loses.  After any heated primary campaign, there will be those who vow to never support the nominee because their candidate didn’t win.  Some follow through on their promise, while others will ultimately support the nominee in time.

The difference between this cycle and ones that have preceded it is that people now have more ways to broadcast their dissatisfaction with who won the election.  Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter allow people to communicate their thoughts and feeling to a wider audience than ever before.

While the mainstream news media will be sure to focus on any discontent that exists after the Republican primary, people being frustrated with the outcome of an election is nothing new.  In fact, it’s something that I have a lot of experience with myself.

A lot of people have tried to make the Branstad/Vander Plaats primary into a rehashing of the Huckabee/Romney caucus campaign of 2008.  While one can understand that, it reminds me more of the Bush/Forbes match-up from the 2000 caucuses, something that I experienced first hand.

My first real political experience came when I was a field staffer for Steve Forbes in 1999 and 2000.  In that campaign, then-Governor George W. Bush was the clear frontrunner, while Steve Forbes was a mere afterthought.  Still, the Forbes campaign always believed that it could compete with the Bush effort, especially here in Iowa.

When you work on a campaign or are personally invested as a volunteer or supporter, it can take on civil war type mentality – kill or be killed.  There was nothing I really liked about George W. Bush.  I didn’t think he was intelligent, I didn’t think he was a real conservative, and I thought he was incapable leadoff leading the country.

The Forbes campaign set a goal of 5000 votes for the Ames Straw Poll and wanted 30% of the vote on caucus night.  The campaign met its goals, but Bush won both the Straw Poll and the Iowa Caucuses by a sizable margin.  Needless to say, on the night of the 2000 caucuses, I felt defeated.  It wasn’t long until George W. Bush had sewed-up the Republican nomination, and the candidate that I had worked so hard for had faded away.

Just as we are seeing today, some of the people I worked with vowed not to support Bush in the fall, while others embraced the winner.  I was somewhere in the middle.  I never made a phone call, put a bumper sticker on my car, knocked on a single door, or volunteered to help the Bush campaign.  There is also something else I didn’t do – I didn’t continue to bash Bush.

Instead, I kept my mouth shut and found other campaigns to work for and help out.  That fall I helped State Representative Jamie Van Fossen with his re-election campaign. I spent my time putting up yard signs and door knocking.  My strong feelings about the presidential nominee were never a problem.  I did vote for Bush in 2000, not because he won me over, but because not voting or voting from someone else wasn’t an option for me.

In 2004, while I admired President Bush for his handling of the 9-11 attack, I still wasn’t motivated to stop what I was doing and help his re-election campaign.   If I did anything to help Bush in his 2004 re-election campaign, it was getting people to sign petitions to put Ralph Nader’s name on the ballot for the fall.  Nader was on the ballot in the fall.  He received 6000 votes, and Bush won Iowa by 10,000.

The reason why I share my experience following the 2000 caucuses is because we all need to realize that different people will handle the results of a contested primary differently.  Nobody should expect a Vander Plaats supporter to automatically show up at the Branstad office to make phone calls or volunteer.  It doesn’t happen that way.

There are more races on the ballot this November than just the gubernatorial race.  With Republicans needing seven seats in the Iowa House and eight seats in the Iowa Senate to attain majorities, there are lots of candidates who need help.  Candidates like Kent Sorenson who is running against Sen. Staci Appel, or Tom Shaw who is trying to win a rural seat that the Democrats have held for more than two decades.

There are a lot more candidates to be excited about than just those two.  All across the state, there are some outstanding candidates that need help.  I challenge people to channel any frustration they may have with the gubernatorial primary outcome and work to elect other Republican candidates who would have a huge impact on the makeup of each legislative chamber.

Find those candidates who excite you and help then get elected.  Not only will you be a productive member of the party, but you might be electing people who could be influential in subsequent elections, or maybe even someone who eventually runs for higher office in the future.

Don’t give up.  Don’t walk away.  Find another outlet where you can advance your agenda and values.

Iowa Primary Predictions

The only poll that counts is the one they take on Election Day. The polls opened at 7 a.m. and will close this evening at 9 p.m. It is likely that we will know the winners of each of these contests before the 10 o’clock news is over.

There are six major Republican primaries going taking place today. The primary that has garnered the most attention is the gubernatorial race. While that race will be the focus of most of the news coverage tonight and tomorrow, it is the congressional races in the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts that will be exciting to watch.

There are also two other statewide primaries that could be very close. The Secretary of State and the State Treasurer primaries pit well-qualified candidates against one another. Regardless of who wins, Republicans will have an outstanding candidate on the ballot in November.

I have asked the regular contributors on this website to submit their predictions for who they expect to win in these races tonight. The only race that everyone agrees on is the State Treasurers race, where all six writers believe Dave Jamison will win the nomination.

The Reasoning Behind My Picks:

Governor: Branstad has run an exceptional campaign, however it wasn’t always smooth sailing. From his retirement from Des Moines University in October to his official announcement in January, the Branstad campaign seemed adrift. Branstad’s campaign turned the corner when they began to travel the state and hired a field staff.

Branstad has run an extended media campaign and is the only candidate who made a point to push its supporters to vote absentee. Over 20,000 Republicans have voted absentee, and it is likely that 75% of those are for Branstad. He has run the most disciplined and thorough campaign. That will be evident tonight.

1st Congressional District: If there is one race that I have not followed very closely it’s this one. Ben Lange is a young attorney who has been an aide to a congressman, while Will Johnson is a connected with the Campaign for Liberty people and is a veteran of the Navy.

Neither have much for resources, but Lange has some. He also has an impressive campaign manager helping him out. In a debate held by the Scott County Republicans, Johnson said that he would not support Lange if Johnson doesn’t win the primary. That left a sour taste in the mouths of a number of Republicans who were at the event. While money is not a factor in the race, Lange’s ability to pay for a staffer and yard signs gives him the advantage, and he should win comfortably.

Second Congressional District: The 2008 nominee, Dr. Miller-Meeks is the frontrunner in the race. She won by 214 votes in 2008 over Peter Teahen. This year, she faces a much tougher field of candidates. While it’s doubtful that any of her challengers will beat her in the popular vote tonight, I do think there is a reasonable chance that her opponents will garner enough support to take the nomination to a special convention.

Miller-Meeks’ problem is that each of her three opponents takes votes from her in certain segments of the Republican Party. Steve Rathje ran strong in Linn County in 2008 when he ran for the US Senate. He has run a better campaign this time around and should perform well in Linn County again.

Christopher Reed, who also ran for the US Senate in 2008, ran well in the rural part of the district. It is likely that he will continue to appeal to rural voters in the district, an area where Miller-Meeks was basically uncontested in 2008.

Rob Gettemy is a solid Christian conservative who attends a large church in Linn County. Gettemy also has ties to the business community. While he is unknown, he has spent the most money on TV, and in an election where nobody knows what to expect in terms of turnout, Gettemy could do very well.

Miller-Meeks’ opponents don’t need to win tonight; they just need to prevent her from getting to 35% of the vote. If that happens, anything is possible in a special nominating convention in the 2nd District.

Third Congressional District: Conventional wisdom is that this race will be determined at a special nominating convention. I don’t see it. Both Brad Zaun and Jim Gibbons have had a strong media presence, but Gibbons is the only candidate running the majority of his ads on broadcast TV.

That little nugget of information is critical in making a prediction in this race. Zaun’s media buys have been heavy on WHO radio and Fox News. That makes perfect sense, but it is unlikely that rural voters are seeing many of his TV ads. In fact, unless you have cable, Zaun’s ads are not reaching you. The rural voters who get their cable television through a satellite dish or their local telephone company are not getting Zaun’s ads, but they do see the ads that Gibbons is running on broadcast TV.

Gibbons was also wise to start running his ads early while the Branstad campaign was working the absentee votes. While it’s safe to assume that a majority of those absentees are votes for Branstad, no one knows what name these voters checked in the congressional race. Gibbons was the only candidate with a large enough media presence to communicate to those people.

Gibbons wins a close one over Zaun, the other candidates will tail them significantly.

State Treasurer:
Both Dave Jamison and Jim Heavens are good candidates. I’d be happy with either, but Jamison has a big advantage over his opponent in that he’s been involved in Republican politics for decades. Jamison also has an impressive statewide network of Republican county elected officials. I think that, combined with his presence on the radio in certain parts of the state, make him a clear favorite to win tonight.

Secretary of State: Youth vs. Experience is the best way to sum up the race for Secretary of State. While Republican voters are excited about Brenna Findley’s campaign for Attorney General, a lot of them are equally impressed with and excited about Matt Schultz.

Schultz has done one thing exceptionally well in this race, he has consistently talked about voter fraud and requiring photo ID to vote, as well as being a business friendly Secretary of State. Schultz’ talking points are perfect for the office he is seeking, and he is the only candidate driving that message on the radio. Paul Pate, the last Republican to hold the office, is also his campaign chair.

George Eichhorn has also been good on the stump, but he isn’t as memorable as Schultz has been. Eichhorn touts his experience as a legislator and has an impressive list of endorsements, but that’s pretty much the extent of his campaign activity. Chris Sanger, the third candidate in the race, has not traveled the state and is unknown to most voters. I think Schultz wins a close one.

Branstad’s Campaign Philosophy Still Works

Today, Iowa Republicans go out to the polls to cast a vote for who they believe should be the Republican nominee for governor. The most familiar name on the ballot is also the one person that nobody could have guessed would be on the ballot following the 2008 elections. Terry Branstad has been out of office almost 12 years, and now he is the odds on favorite to be the Republican nominee.

After leaving office, Branstad found his niche as Des Moines University’s President. The role fit him well, and the school flourished under his leadership. While he never totally unplugged from politics, Branstad wasn’t an overwhelming personality in Republican politics in the state. While he was a featured guest at a few fundraisers and got involved in a few campaigns, his presence in Iowa politics was minimal.

Branstad’s name never entered into the 2010 gubernatorial campaign discussion until May of last year. By that time, Bob Vander Plaats had already been in the race for over four months, and the field of potential candidates was about to explode to seven candidates.

The first time Branstad’s name was brought up in the 2010 gubernatorial conversation was after the Iowa First Foundation’s (IFF) poll in May. The Iowa First Foundation is lead by two close associates to Branstad – Doug Gross, and Richard Schwarm.

In the poll, they asked whether or not people would like the next governor to be someone like Governor Branstad or not. Fourteen percent of respondents said they wanted a governor a lot like Branstad, and 35% wanted someone that was somewhat like Branstad. The poll also measured Branstad’s favorability, but the results were not released to the public.

In July, conducted a general election poll and included Branstad’s name in the matchups against Culver. Branstad’s name was included in the poll because of the IFF poll and because he had never said he wouldn’t run. At that time, he kept saying the he was focused on his job at Des Moines University. poll showed Branstad beating Governor Culver by 16 points.

For the rest of the summer, rumors and speculation of a Branstad comeback ran rampant. In October, Branstad announced that he would be leaving Des Moines University, but his campaign really didn’t take shape until January after making a formal announcement.

Branstad didn’t return to the political arena empty handed. Hhe also brought with him a campaign strategy that has been successful ten other times. Like his previous campaigns, Branstad has made his 2010 comeback effort all about jobs and the economy.

While he is pro-life and supports traditional marriage, Branstad has been careful not to make his campaign just about those issues. While he is asked about those issues at most of his campaign stops, the focus of his campaign is on pocketbook issues and jobs.

The other thing that Branstad brought to his campaign is his 16-year record. Branstad’s record has provided his Republican opponents and the Democrats plenty of ammunition to attack him. Most of the damage done to Branstad during the primary has been done by Iowans for Responsible Government, a Democrat group, not his Republican opponents.

Branstad has been attacked on his two sales tax increases and his increase in the gas tax, among other things. Remarkably, despite the million dollars that has been spent attacking him, Branstad’s polling numbers remain unchanged since last July. He still leads Governor Culver in a general election matchup by 15 points, and he clears his closest primary opponent, Bob Vander Plaats, by whopping 28 points in a recent Des Moines Register Poll.

According to Branstad’s detractors, Terry Branstad is no different than Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi. Even Iowa Democrats have tried to make that argument. The only problem is that Iowans don’t find it to be believable. What his Republican detractors don’t understand is that Branstad has already been put through the political gauntlet for his tax increases and fiscal policies. Branstad’s 1994 primary against Congressman Fred Grandy was all about that. Branstad won, and then he united Republicans that fall for and won an easy re-election.

Branstad’s Democratic opponents thought they could damage Branstad in the primary. At last count, they have sent around ten mailers attacking Branstad and have been advertising on Fox News for almost a month now. The problem is that their attacks don’t come across as believable. The ads are too cute by half. Instead of confronting Branstad with a serious ad, they show him and a cartoon version of his campaign bus.

Branstad is uniquely Iowan and his passion for the state is unmatched. While there are things in his 16-year record that are of concern, like his tax increases and state sanctioned gambling, there are also things like the largest tax cut in the state’s history, the defense of marriage act, parental notification for abortions, and legalizing home-schooling.

At the age of 37, Branstad first took office in 1983. He took office at a time when the entire economy of the state was dependent on agriculture, and Iowa was in the midst of the farm crisis. There is no doubt that Branstad left the state better off than he found it. The same cannot be said of our current governor, Chet Culver.

If Branstad’s polling numbers hold up and he is the Republican nominee, Branstad will once again need to coalesce Republicans behind him. That is likely to be a more difficult in 2010 than it was in 1994. However, the political environment could be very similar to what it was 16 years ago.

If Branstad has proven anything in his most recent campaign, it’s that his campaign philosophy still works. He has also build a well-oiled campaign team that is ready for the general election. If Branstad is the nominee, he already has the necessary people in place to go toe to toe with Governor Culver.

Photo by Dave Davidson

Vander Plaats Needs More than Chuck Norris, He Needs a Miracle

With only one day until polls open, Bob Vander Plaats finds himself down 28 points to in the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll. Undeterred, Vander Plaats continues his quest to be the Republican nominee for governor.

Vander Plaats has been running for governor almost as long as his chief opponent, Terry Branstad, has been out of office. Vander Plaats’ 2010 campaign is much different that his previous two attempts.

In 2002, Vander Plaats was the newcomer in the race. Despite coming from outside of the political spectrum, he ran a solid campaign, raised an impressive amount of money, and finished with over 30 percent of the vote on primary day. While he finished third behind Doug Gross and Steve Sukup, the race was dangerously close to going to convention. His strong finish set Vander Plaats up nicely for another attempt at the nomination.

In 2006, Vander Plaats was no longer a newcomer, but he still was the outsider in his race against Jim Nussle. Jim Nussle was expected to win the primary, but Vander Plaats proved to have a small segment of strong support, and so the decision was made to offer him the Lt. Governor spot on the ticket, which Vander Plaats accepted.

That political marriage just didn’t work. Some of Nussle’s biggest backers didn’t like Vander Plaats, and some Vander Plaats’ backers never embraced Nussle. The bad political marriage, combined with a series of unfortunate breaks for Republicans nationally, sank any hopes of the Nussle/Vander Plaats ticket winning that November.

Following the 2006 election, Vander Plaats’ political future seemed grim. His decision to serve as Mike Huckabee’s Iowa Caucus chairman in 2007 revitalized his political career. For most of 2007, the Huckabee campaign seemed to be going nowhere, but in the fall, Huckabee was on the rise and ultimately won the 2008 Iowa Caucuses.

Out of Huckabee’s miraculous Iowa Caucus victory, Vander Plaats’ third gubernatorial campaign was born. It’s also important to note that many of his strongest advocates were also involved in that campaign. Eric Woolson, Huckabee’s Iowa campaign manager, is calling the shots for Vander Plaats. Even Vander Plaats social media operation, website, and TV ad were all produced by people who were part of the Huckabee campaign.

With his new team, Vander Plaats has run a credible statewide gubernatorial campaign. Last Thursday, followed Vander Plaats around to his first four events of the day. Vander Plaats began his day at the 7 a.m. Ames Conservative Breakfast Club. More than 75 people showed up to see him, Rod Roberts, and Eric Cooper, the Libertarian running for governor, speak.

From Ames, Vander Plaats’ next two stops were in Fort Dodge. At 11 a.m., he spoke at a LUV Iowa event that was organized by the Iowa Family Policy Center. Around 60 people attended the meeting. Many people grabbed Vander Plaats yard signs as they left St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

The LUV Iowa event shows some of the benefits of the Iowa Family Policy Center’s endorsement Vander Plaats. To be able to walk in and talk to a group like than on a weekday morning is a luxury that other candidates don’t have. Vander Plaats speech to the group wasn’t his normal stump speech, but there was something else missing other than just Vander Plaats’ normal remarks.

At no time during the event were the words “marriage amendment” spoken. Not by Vander Plaats, and not by the pastor who spoke before him. It seems odd that an organization that uses an acronym for “let us vote” for its name wouldn’t even mention the sole purpose of the organization at a gathering like the one in Fort Dodge.

Vander Plaats then headed to a noon-time stop at the GOP headquarters in downtown Fort Dodge. His campaign provided lunch for the 70 or so people who came. Vander Plaats’s crowd was impressive even if you take into account that a few people attended both events.

After Fort Dodge, Vander Plaats headed to Jefferson for one of his “Pizza & Politics” events that he holds at Pizza Ranch restaurants across the state. About 35 people attended the mid-afternoon event. This crowd was a little different from the enthusiastic crowd that gathered in Fort Dodge for lunch.

As Vander Plaats worked the room, one woman asked him to autograph her copy of “Light from Lucas,” a book written by Vander Plaats about his physically handicapped son Lucas. The lady said that her small group at church had gone through the book.

Vander Plaats’s Jefferson stop was also interesting for a couple questions that he was asked about his proposed executive order that would place a stay on gay marriages in Iowa. At one point after Vander Plaats said that the Iowa Supreme Court should have voided the law, but sent it back to the legislature, a member in the audience asked him how the legislature could rewrite a law that is as simple as “marriage should be between one man and one woman” in a way that the Court would not be able to strike it down. Vander Plaats failed to give a convincing answer to the gentlemen who asked it.

Just as the Vander Plaats event was ending, former Governor Terry Branstad was holding an event just around the corner. Branstad’s event drew around 60 people, ten to fifteen of them had also attended Vander Plaats’ event just an hour earlier. Even the guy who introduced Vander Plaats attended the Branstad event and put on a lapel sticker.

Unlike the Vander Plaats event, Branstad’s focus was on jobs and the economy. He was asked a series of questions about judges, gay marriage, and what it will take to pass the marriage amendment. Branstad handled all the questions rather well, and also shared with the group the news of Sarah Palin’s endorsement.

From Jefferson, Vander Plaats was traveling to Carroll then back to Sioux City before flying to Davenport for the first of his events with Chuck Norris.

While recent polling numbers show Vander Plaats trailing badly, his ability to draw crowds to his events is impressive. In addition to being better known across the state, the attendance numbers show that Republicans are more active than they have been in years.

Vander Plaats has been the most active candidate as the primary comes to a close. With Chuck Norris by his side, Vander Plaats held rallies in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, West Des Moines, Council Bluffs, and his hometown of Hinton over the weekend. The crowds have been solid, but not overwhelming.

If a Vander Plaats upset were in the making, there would be signs of it by now. These late primary polls would show him within striking distance. However, nothing indicates that Vander Plaats will win the nomination on Tuesday night. For all of the persistence that Vander Plaats has shown, he needs more than Chuck Norris. He needs a miracle.

Photo by Dave Davidson