IA-03: GOP primary developments

Seven-term Representative Leonard Boswell is only the 64th most vulnerable Democrat in the House of Representatives, according to Crisitunity’s “vulnerability index,” but Iowa Republicans still like their chances against him. Five candidates have already entered the GOP primary, and two others I’ve never heard of were reportedly collecting signatures on nominating petitions at the off-year caucuses on January 23. The field may expand before the filing deadline in March.

A few recent developments in the Republican primary race are after the jump.

Former Iowa State University wrestling coach Jim Gibbons is way ahead in the money race, thanks to support from heavy-hitters like ethanol baron Bruce Rastetter as well as a number of political action committees. After announcing his candidacy in November, Gibbons raised $207,310, spent $2,240 and ended the year with $205,069 on hand and $2,686 in debts owed. In the fourth quarter, he raised more money than Boswell, who collected $169,377, spent $50,643 and had $462,193 cash on hand as of December 31. (Most of Boswell’s fourth-quarter fundraising came from political action committees.)

Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican blog has been promoting Gibbons’ candidacy for a while now, and he is ready to declare victory for Gibbons in the primary already, based on the fundraising numbers. However, Bleeding Heartland user mirage (a supporter of State Senator Brad Zaun) noted in the same thread, “About $51,000 of Gibbons funds will be restricted (meaning they can’t be used against Zaun in a primary), and about $130,000 came from outside the 3rd district.”

Speaking of Zaun, he raised $30,600 during the fourth quarter, spent $93 and ended 2009 with $30,507 on hand. Presumably he has raised more money since January 1, because he made a television ad buy last week. It’s generic Republican fare with low production values:

Zaun was the first up on television, but as Robinson noted triumphantly, “Even if [Dave] Funk or Zaun raised $1000 everyday between now and the primary, they still wouldn’t match what Gibbons currently has in his campaign account.”

Funk, the IA-03 candidate favored by the Tea Party crowd, raised $22,685 in the fourth quarter, spent $19,553 and ended the year with $16,507 on hand. According to mirage, much of Funk’s remaining money is restricted for use after the primary. I don’t think he’ll be needing that.

Mark Rees, who is running as a more moderate Republican, raised $3,100 and loaned his own campaign $52,647. He spent $3,247 and ended the year with $52,500 and $52,647 in debts owed to himself. I don’t know how much of a moderate GOP base is left in the Des Moines suburbs, but if conservatives divide their support among three or four candidates, Rees could slip through.

Yesterday we learned about an internal poll of the GOP race, conducted by Victory Enterprises, campaign consultants for Zaun. I posted the whole polling memo from Victory Enterprises at Bleeding Heartland. The poll was conducted on January 27 and 28 and surveyed 400 Republicans in Iowa’s third Congressional district who are likely to vote in the June primary.

The poll shows 60 percent of respondents were undecided about whom to support in the primary. Zaun had 26 percent support, compared to 5 percent for Gibbons, 3.6 percent for Funk, 2.1 percent for Pat Bertroche and 1 percent for Rees. In Polk County, the population center of the district, 37.5 percent of respondents supported Zaun. His family has owned hardware stores in the Des Moines area, and he is a former mayor of Urbandale, a large suburb. His state senate district includes Urbandale and part of Des Moines.

About half the respondents hadn’t heard of Zaun. (This poll was in the field before his tv ad went up on January 29.) I was more surprised to see that 67.8 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Gibbons. His supporters have promoted him as almost a celebrity candidate, because he was the last person to lead Iowa State to a national championship in wrestling.

Several of the candidates will gain more name recognition in the coming months as they begin to advertise and hold campaign events around the districts. Gibbons clearly will have the resources for an extensive paid media campaign. National Republicans seem to have picked Gibbons already, which is one reason he’s pulled in so much out of state PAC money.

Robinson brings you the pro-Gibbons spin on Zaun’s internal poll at The Iowa Republican blog:

Zaun’s early activity is similar to that of another former Victory Enterprises client, 2008 2nd Congressional District candidate Peter Teahen. In May of 2008, Victory Enterprises polled the 2nd Congressional District. Teahen, the better known candidate from the largest county in the district, had a big lead in the poll.

In VE’s 2008 poll showed Peter Teahen with 36% of the vote, while Miller-Meeks had 14 percent, and Lee Harder netted 7.5 percent. Forty-one percent of likely GOP primary voters were undecided. Despite the Teahen’s early lead, Miller-Meeks won the primary by 218 votes.

The difference between the 2008 2nd District race and this year’s 3rd District primary is that Gibbons has created a huge fundraising advantage over his opponents. Thus far, Gibbons has not run any ads, sent mail, or paid for phone calls.

The money race between Teahen and Miller-Meeks in the primary was tight. While Miller-Meeks outraised her opponent, Teahen had the ability to loan his campaign a considerable amount of money. Gibbons has already raised more money in his first fundraising quarter than Miller-Meeks and Teahen spent combined in the 2nd District primary.

I agree with Robinson that this race is up for grabs with so many Republicans undecided and most of the candidates lacking name recognition. I also think Boswell will be re-elected, despite the Republican wave that may be coming. None of the GOP candidates seem impressive, and the eventual nominee will have little cash left after the primary.

NY-23: Bill Owens Won’t Raise Your Taxes

One of the popular lines that the Republicans come out with every time they campaign against Democrats is the old “they are going to raise your taxes” schtick. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. Quite frankly, it’s getting old. Lately, it hardly ever works (as evidenced by their losses in 2006 and 2008).

So when they claimed in a recent ad targeting NY-23 Democratic candidate Bill Owens that he was for raising taxes, it caught FactCheck.org’s attention.

Here is the ad:

Factcheck.org set the record straight regarding this claim:

The announcer misleads, however, when he says: “Now, Bill Owens wants to help Nancy Pelosi raise your income taxes.”

As support, the NRCC cites Owens’ Web site, where he says that he supports “allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.” The NRCC also cites a brief from the National Center for Policy Analysis, a group whose stated goal “is to develop and promote private alternatives to government regulation and control.” The paper describes the effect on small businesses if they faced three simultaneous tax hikes.

We know of no one who has called for enacting all three of the proposals laid out in the paper, but we needn’t venture further into that tangle. Suffice to say that the only tax increase Owens has said he supports is the one above, allowing the expiration of the tax cuts for the “wealthy,” which is scheduled to happen in 2010. (Under Bush, the top marginal tax rate was cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.)

What’s “wealthy”? Owens’ Web site doesn’t specify. During his presidential campaign, though, Barack Obama used a threshold of individuals making $200,000 or more, and households making at least $250,000. Under those limits, how many constituents of the NY-23 would be affected by Owens’ proposal?

Not a whole lot. According to the most recent Census data, 2,728 households in the district had a total income of more than $200,000 in 2007. That’s just 1.1 percent of all the district’s households. Average household income was $52,801.

We’re not minimizing the fact that those relatively few households might be unhappy about the prospect of seeing their income taxes go up. We’re just saying it would affect, well, relatively few. Which is a lot less than the ad would have you believe.

Amazing what lengths the Republicans will go just to make this claim.  

IA-Gov: Roundup of recent news

It’s been a while since I posted a diary here about the Iowa governor’s race, so I’m catching up today after the jump.

Governor Chet Culver said this summer that he’d be “cranking up” his campaign operations soon, and last week the governor hired Andrew Roos to run his re-election campaign and Jesse Harris as deputy campaign manager. Jason Hancock has background on Roos and Harris at Iowa Independent.

Republican candidate Christian Fong, a Cedar Rapids flood recovery leader, claims Culver hasn’t done enough on flood recovery (more on that here). Illogically, Fong also opposes the I-JOBS state bonding program, which has allocated $45 million to flood recovery projects in Linn County alone. (Click here and here for a more detailed look at the Obama-like campaign narrative Fong is building.)

The Republican front-runner (for now), Bob Vander Plaats, held a few events around Iowa on Labor Day to officially announce his candidacy. In keeping with his tendency to advocate unworkable policies, he pushed another off-beat idea. Instead of just criticizing Culver’s I-JOBS state bonding program, like every other Republican does, Vander Plaats says that if elected, he would try to pay back the bonds during his first term (you can read the Vander Plaats press release here). State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat, and State Representative Chris Rants, a rival Republican gubernatorial candidate, agree that the Vander Plaats idea is unworkable.

Meanwhile, Vander Plaats is promising not to balance his ticket with a less-conservative running mate:

“I’m not looking to balance the ticket with somebody who’s moderate or liberal or who doesn’t believe in those core values like I do,” he said. The core values, he noted, include believing in a right to life and that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

He didn’t mention former Gov. Terry Branstad, but the inference was clear – the former governor chose pro-choice Republican Joy Corning as his running mate.

Lest anyone get too impressed by Branstad’s ticket-balancing, Rekha Basu reminded me recently that Branstad endorsed the inept Jim Ross Lightfoot over the highly capable Corning in the 1998 GOP gubernatorial primary. Also, when one of Lieutenant Governor Corning’s annual diversity conferences included a workshop on workplace discrimination, Branstad sided with an anti-gay crusader who attacked the workshop.

Establishment Republicans have been trying to recruit Branstad since two Republican-commissioned polls taken in July showed him leading Culver in a hypothetical matchup. The Iowa Republican blog’s poll, in the field the first week of July, had Branstad ahead of Culver 53-37. Hill Research Consultants did a poll for the 527 group Iowa First Foundation later in July and found Branstad ahead of Culver 53-34.

Branstad has said he’ll announce in October whether he plans to run next year, but it looks increasingly likely that he’ll jump in. Since he’s not a candidate yet, he can’t raise or spend money on the race. Enter the “Draft Branstad” political action committee that former State Representative Sandy Greiner launched at the beginning of September. They’re collecting signatures on a petition at draftbranstad.com. They’ve been advertising on The Drudge Report, one of the highest-traffic conservative websites. Draft Branstad flyers were distributed at Saturday’s Iowa/Iowa State football game. They’re running a 60-second radio ad statewide. Among other things, the flyers and radio ad praise Branstad for his “fiscal discipline” and balancing the budget. That’s quite the revisionist history lesson.

I’m enjoying the @draftBranstad Twitter feed, which periodically reprises the great one’s profound words: “My passion for our state has grown with every day I have served it.” Branstad 1/13/98″; “This spirit of neighbor helping neighbor is as Iowan as the tall corn we grow.” -TEB 1/9/96

Des Moines Register Marc Hansen wrote last week that “coming back could be the biggest mistake of [Branstad’s] life.” Highlights:

The best Branstad could do in 1994 against fellow Republican Fred Grandy was talk about how Rep. Gopher wasn’t a real Iowan. […]

The further removed from office he gets, the more popular he becomes. In February 1997, not long before Branstad reaffirmed his decision not to run for a fifth term, the Iowa Poll said 55 percent of Iowa adults believed Branstad should not seek another term in 1998. Thirty-five percent said he should. The other 10 percent were unsure.

The minute he wasn’t running, his numbers started climbing.

I don’t even want to get into Richard Johnson, the state auditor who supported Grandy in ’94 because of the way he said Branstad was keeping the books.

Incidentally, Richard Johnson is co-chairing the Vander Plaats campaign. We’ll probably be hearing more from him if Branstad enters the gubernatorial race, as most political observers now expect. For a preview of other arguments rival Republicans are likely to make against Branstad, see here and here.

Branstad didn’t turn up at the Iowa Family Policy Center Action’s fundraiser on September 12, but four others in the Republican field attended. For some reason, State Senator Jerry Behn wasn’t there, despite recently forming an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial bid. Iowa Senate minority leader Paul McKinley didn’t attend the Iowa Family Policy Center’s event either, but that’s par for the course for him since he claimed to be “aggressively” exploring a campaign for governor.

Vander Plaats was on friendly turf at the Iowa Family Policy Center event, easily winning the straw poll with 63 percent of the votes. (Fong and Rants finished a distant second and third.) The Vander Plaats plan to stop gay marriage on day one as governor is a hit with that crowd. Vander Plaats also also promised not to expand gambling and to put representatives for parochial schools and home-schoolers on the State Board of Education.

Rants usually talks about the budget and taxes in his stump speeches, but he adapted his pitch for the Iowa Family Policy Center event, referring to moments of personal prayer as well as his efforts to bring a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to the Iowa House floor. Rants also

acknowledged that there’s not a lot of space separating Republican candidates on the issues.

But honesty will be important, he said. That might be difficult in the primary, he said, noting that some of the things he’s said in the past few weeks have made some people uncomfortable. He did not give more explanation, but in the past few weeks, he’s called into question Bob Vander Plaats’ portrayal of himself as a CEO who’s been a turnaround artist. Rants released tax returns that appear to show deteriorating finances at a nonprofit organization that Vander Plaats led.

“If we’re going to ask Iowans to trust us,” candidates have to lead by example, he said.

I can’t see any way Rants gets the nomination. I don’t even know of another state legislator who’s endorsing him, which is remarkable given that he used to be Iowa House speaker until the GOP lost the majority in the 2006 elections. That said, Rants is smart enough to know that there probably will be room for only one other candidate if Branstad enters the race. So, he’s been going after Vander Plaats for bad policy ideas as well as his record as CEO and board president of the non-profit Opportunities Unlimited. (I recommend reading the whole comment thread under this story.)

Fong tried to inspire the Iowa Family Policy Center crowd:

Too much debt and too-high taxes are problems; so are abortion and other major issues, he said. But “the critical issue for our cause” is spiritual, he said.

Christ-like leadership is needed, with integrity and compassion, he said. It’s service above self. Voters are hungry for something greater than government and politics, he said.

“A hurting Iowa” needs that leadership, he said.

He called for leadership based on the “political philosophy of Jesus Christ himself.”

State Representative Rod Roberts claimed to have the right leadership qualities for a governor:

He’s been asked, “Rod, Aren’t you too nice to run for governor?” He replies: His two favorite Republican presidents are Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. They were friendly, civil and respectful, but they also knew what they believed, stood their ground and knew where they were going, he said.

“That’s what leadership is about,” he said.

“A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way,” he said.

Before the gubernatorial candidates spoke, Iowa Family Policy Center head Chuck Hurley previewed his group’s efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“If they don’t see the light, maybe they’ll feel the heat,” said Hurley, who urged supporters of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman to seek more information at luviowa.com on how to get involved. […]

The goal of the group’s effort is to get all 150 state legislators on the record where they stand on the marriage issue and then “to pressure middle-of-the-road legislators who said they believe in one-man, one-woman marriage to vote that way in January and February,” Hurley said.

He also made a special point to let the audience know that three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who overturned the state’s 1998 defense of marriage act will be up for retention votes on the 2010 ballot. Hurley said it was the justices’ “rogue decision” to allow “counterfeit marriage” that now requires a vote of the people to “rein-in” the judicial malpractice and to “rebuild the moral and legal culture that respects and strengthens marriage rather than tears it down.”

It looks like Hurley’s group is not focusing on the quickest way to amend the constitution: urging voters to approve the ballot initiative calling for a Constitutional Convention. That’s going to be on the November 2010 ballot anyway and, if approved, could lead to amendments being drafted in 2011. Social conservatives may be afraid that Democrats would end up controlling a Constitutional Convention, but if stopping same-sex marriage is such an urgent need for them, they should be pursuing all legal avenues to do so.

I didn’t see whether anyone at the Iowa Family Policy Center’s event mentioned the September 1 House district 90 special election. The Republican Party and conservative interest groups went all-in for that race but came up 107 votes short. Craig Robinson thinks the GOP erred in letting staff from Iowans for Tax Relief run the campaign of Republican Stephen Burgmeier. The Iowa Family Policy Center also delegated a staffer to work on Burgmeier’s campaign.

Share any thoughts or predictions about the gubernatorial campaign in this thread. If you follow Delaware or Virginia politics, feel free to share your thoughts about Andrew Roos.

I am looking forward to the next Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register, which will probably come out during the next month.

Is the GOP’s best bet to create racial polarization? (w/poll)

(Cross-posted at Election Inspection

I happen to be reading around on the blog when I find a response written by Ta-Nehisi Coates to Matt Yglesias’s response to an article written by Pat Buchanan concerning whether or not the best bet for the Republican Party is to give up any pretext of doing well among the non-white vote. Here’s the basic point behind Buchanan’s argument:

In 2008, Hispanics, according to the latest figures, were 7.4 percent of the total vote. White folks were 74 percent, 10 times as large. Adding just 1 percent to the white vote is thus the same as adding 10 percent to the candidate’s Hispanic vote.

If John McCain, instead of getting 55 percent of the white vote, got the 58 percent George W. Bush got in 2004, that would have had the same impact as lifting his share of the Hispanic vote from 32 percent to 62 percent.

But even Ronald Reagan never got over 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Yet, he and Richard Nixon both got around 65 percent of the white vote.

When Republican identification is down to 20 percent, but 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservatives, do Republicans need a GPS to tell them which way to go?

Why did McCain fail to win the white conservative Democrats Hillary Clinton swept in the primaries? He never addressed or cared about their issues.

These are the folks whose jobs have been outsourced to China and Asia, who pay the price of affirmative action when their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors. These are the folks who want the borders secured and the illegals sent back.

Had McCain been willing to drape Jeremiah Wright around the neck of Barack Obama, as Lee Atwater draped Willie Horton around the neck of Michael Dukakis, the mainstream media might have howled.

And McCain might be president.

Basically, Buchanan is arguing that the Republicans are engaging in a vain effort to make nice with Latinos (and Blacks, for that matter) when they should be playing hardball on these types of issues (particuarly concerning Judge Sotomayor, President Obama’s pick to the Supreme Court).

Matt Yglesias seems to agree with Buchanan’s reasoning (even if he thinks the reasoning is scuzzy):

At any rate, while Buchanan is being repugnant, I do think this is something conservatives are going to want to think about. Consider the case of Jeff Sessions (R-AL). We’re talking about a guy who’s too racist to get confirmed as a judge, but just racist enough to win a Senate seat in Alabama. And it’s not because Alabama is a lilly white state. With 65 percent of its electorate white, and 29 percent of its electorate African-American, Alabama is much more demographically favorable to the Democrats than is the country at large. But while McCain pulled 55 percent of the white vote nationwide he scored 88 percent of white vote in Alabama. And this is what you tend to see in the Deep South, white Americans exhibiting the kind of high levels of racial solidarity in voting behavior that you normally associate with African-Americans in the US political context.

Consequently states with small white populations like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi can be solid GOP territory. Under the circumstances, it’s not entirely crazy for Republicans to believe that the right way to respond to shifting American demographics is by just trying to amp-up the level of racial anxiety in the shrinking white majority. An analogy might be to religion. When the country was overwhelmingly Christian, Christianity didn’t play much of a role in our politics. But as the Christian majority shrank it became more and more viable to explicitly mobilize Christian identity for political purposes.

Yglesias seems to buy into Buchanan’s argument, that it might be a politically smart move to attempt to shore up the white vote against the non-white vote (basically Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Indians, etc.). I disagree with Yglesias’s reasoning for a few reasons. Ta-Nehisi Coates pretty much sums up part of my disagreement with Yglesias:

The second problem is that it likely turns a significant portion of white people also. The GOP’s problem isn’t that it needs to shore up Alabama–at least not yet. It’s problem is, well, basically everywhere else that isn’t Alabama. I don’t know how bashing Sotomayor makes you more competitive in, say, Colorado or Oregon. I’d assume the opposite.

Coates points out that the White vote, like the Latino vote, is simply not a homogenous group in the same way the Black vote is (although the GOP’s racist rhetoric regarding Latinos could turn the Latino vote into a more strongly Democratic vote than it is now). Though I do think that there are states where this could possibly pay dividends for the GOP outside of the Deep South, there are also plenty of states where this sort of tactic won’t work, and in some cases can backfire. Think about this for a second, take away the states of North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania from Obama and give them to McCain (67 electoral votes), Obama would win the electoral college with nearly 300 electoral votes (298 votes, 297 if you take away NE-02 from Obama’s column). That’s assuming that you’d make net gains among the White vote in those states, when there is plenty of reason to think otherwise. Looking at Ohio, the quintessential bastion of the White Working Class that Pat Buchanan is so obsessed with, Obama won the state by only marginally improving among the less educated group and improving greatly among the more educated compared to Kerry’s performance in 2004. Something which Buchanan and his ilk have failed to understand is that one of the reasons that the GOP has been collapsing has little to do with their strength among blue-collar Whites, rather it’s been because the Republicans have been doing worse and worse with better educated White voters and with minorities in general, and one thing that these two groups have in common is that they’re more likely to turn on groups who use the type of polarized voting that Buchanan advocates.

The second problem with Buchanan’s (and Yglesias’s) logic is that even if this strategy would help them out in the short term (a view which I strongly disagree with) in the long term, it would probably spell the end of the Republican Party. Think about this for a moment, Barack Obama only lost the state of Georgia by 5 points, compared to John Kerry’s embarrasing 18 point loss to George Bush, yet Obama did this despite doing as well with white voters as John Kerry did. This is the main problem with the Republican gambit, many states which form the core of the Republican Party’s base in the electoral college (Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arizona) have populations which are becoming more and more non-white (Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi will probably be majority-minority states in the next decade or two). If McCain had lost the four states which I mentioned before (without taking back any of the other states I mentioned before) then he would’ve only had 108 electoral votes. The Republican Party may very well succumb to the demographic tide which is moving against it, but Buchanan’s advice would speed up the schedule very quickly.

By what margin will Bob Shamansky win?

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IA-Sen: Could Grassley face a primary challenge from the right?

Angry social conservatives are speculating that Senator Chuck Grassley could face a primary challenge in 2010. The religious right has been dissatisfied with Grassley for a long time (see here and here).

After the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, Grassley issued a statement saying he supported “traditional marriage” and had backed federal legislation and a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But when hundreds of marriage equality opponents rallied at the state capitol last Thursday, and Republicans tried to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the Iowa House floor, Grassley refused to say whether he supported their efforts to change Iowa’s constitution:

“You better ask me in a month, after I’ve had a chance to think,” Grassley, the state’s senior Republican official, said after a health care forum in Mason City.

Wingnut Bill Salier, who almost won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2002, says conservatives are becoming “more and more incensed [the] more they start to pay attention to how far [Grassley] has drifted.”

Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn denies that party activists are unhappy with Grassley. I hope Salier is right and Grassley gets a primary challenge, for reasons I’ll explain after the jump.  

Before anyone gets too excited, I want to make clear that I don’t consider Grassley vulnerable. His approval rating is around 71 percent (if you believe Survey USA) or 66 percent (if you believe Selzer and Associates). Either way, he is outside the danger zone for an incumbent.

That doesn’t mean Democrats should leave Grassley unchallenged. Having a credible candidate at the top of the ballot in 2010 will increase the number of straight-ticket Democratic voters. So far Bob Krause is planning to jump in this race. More power to him or any other Democrat who is willing to make the case against Grassley. We should be realistic, though, and understand that unless something extraordinary happens, we are not going to defeat this five-term incumbent.

So why am I hoping a right-winger will take on Grassley in the Republican primary? Here’s what I think would happen.

1. A conservative taking potshots at Grassley would intensify the struggle between GOP moderates and “goofballs” just when Iowa Republicans are trying to present a united front against Democratic governance. GOP chairman Strawn claimed this weekend that Democratic tax reform proposals had unified his party, but if Grassley faces a challenger, expect social issues to dominate next spring’s media coverage of Republicans.

2. Although some delusional folks seem to think Grassley could lose a low-turnout primary, Grassley would crush any challenger from the right. That has the potential to demoralize religious GOP activists and their cheerleaders, such as the popular talk radio personality Steve Deace. (Deace already has plenty of grievances against Grassley.)

3. Every prominent Iowa Republican will have to take a position on the Senate primary, if there is one. I assume almost everyone will back Grassley, which would offend part of the GOP base. But if, say, Strawn or Congressman Steve King surprised me by staying neutral in the primary, that would demonstrate how much power extremists have within the Republican Party. Most people intuitively understand that you don’t try to replace a U.S. senator from your own party who has a lot of seniority.

A Senate primary could become a distracting sideshow for Republican gubernatorial candidates. It’s not clear yet how many Republicans will run against Governor Chet Culver, but almost all of the likely candidates would endorse Grassley over a right-winger. I would expect even Bob Vander Plaats to support Grassley, although he could surprise me. Vander Plaats believes Iowa Republican have been losing elections because they’ve become too moderate.

Watching the Republican establishment line up behind Grassley will remind social conservative activists that the party likes to use their support but doesn’t take their concerns seriously. These people will hold their noses and vote Republican next November, but they may not donate their time and money when Strawn and the gubernatorial nominee need their help to improve the GOP’s early voting operation.

My hunch is that no challenger to Grassley will emerge, because even the angriest conservatives must understand that they have little to gain from this course. Then again, we’re talking about people who believe the little-known, inexperienced Salier would have done better against Tom Harkin in 2002 than four-term Congressman Greg Ganske. Maybe some Republican is just crazy enough to run against Grassley next year.

Will Steele keep Iowa first in 2012?

If Iowa’s representatives on the Republican National Committee had had their way, Michael Steele would not be the party’s new chairman.  

Iowa RNC Committeeman Steve Scheffler and Committeewoman Kim Lehman both supported South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who turned out to be Steele’s toughest rival in yesterday’s voting.  Don’t ask me why Republicans who presumably want to start winning elections again would want the party’s leader to be a southerner who was in an all-white country club when the GOP is looking more like a regional party than ever before and the Democratic president (who happens to be black) is wildly popular.  

Seriously, to hear Dawson explain the roots of his political views, it all started when he got mad that the government desegregated his school when he was 15. Just the guy to give the GOP a more tolerant, inclusive image!

But I digress.

Scheffler and Lehman didn’t quietly prefer a different candidate for RNC chair, they went on record criticizing Steele earlier this month:

Though the pro-life and pro-gun Steele built a conservative record in his home state, the former Maryland lieutenant governor’s one-time affiliation with the Republican Leadership Council, which religious conservatives view as hostile to their agenda, remains a deal breaker in some sectors of the committee.

“That is an organization that created itself for the purpose of eliminating a very important part of the Republican Party and its family values,” said Iowa Committeewoman Kim Lehman, who supports South Carolina Republican Party Chair Katon Dawson’s campaign. “Michael Steele crossed over a serious line.”

“In that field, the only one that would be my number six out of six choice would be Michael Steele,” said Iowa Committeeman Steve Scheffler, citing Steele’s “past deep involvement with the Republican Leadership Council.”

“They partnered with groups like Planned Parenthood,” said Scheffler, who joined Lehman in endorsing Dawson. “In my view, you don’t lend your name to a group if you don’t agree with them.”

Incidentally, Lehman has a history of intolerance toward Republicans who believe abortion should be legal even in limited circumstances such as rape or incest. The State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa censured her in December for failing to support Republican Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02).

Iowa’s third RNC member, newly elected state GOP chairman Matt Strawn, endorsed the incumbent RNC chair Mike Duncan earlier this week but apparently backed Dawson over Steele in the later ballots yesterday.

Steele’s election immediately sparked concern among some Iowa politicos that we may lose our first-in-the-nation status when the GOP selects its next presidential nominee. However, Strawn, Scheffler and Lehman had only praise for Steele in their official statements. Strawn said,

“I am excited to work with Chairman Steele to advance our principled agenda, rebuild our party from the grassroots up, and elect Republicans all across Iowa.  I am also encouraged by my conversations with Chairman Steele regarding Iowa’s First in the Nation presidential status. I will work closely with him to ensure Iowa retains its leading role for the 2012 caucus and beyond.”

Side note regarding the RNC leadership contest: I was surprised that former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell turned out not to be a serious contender, despite lining up a long list of endorsements from conservative intellectuals.

With Steele and Blackwell back in the news this month, I’ve really missed Steve Gilliard. He used to write hilarious posts about them in 2006, culminating in the classic rant You Have Shamed Us.  

The Republicans’ problem is what they say, not how they say it

The State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa picked a new party chairman yesterday. The winner was Matt Strawn, a former Congressional staffer best known as part of the group that owns the Iowa Barnstormers arena football team.

I’ve written more at Bleeding Heartland about the challenges facing Strawn as he takes over the divided Republican Party of Iowa, so I won’t go into too much detail about Iowa politics here.

I thought the Swing State Project community would be interested in Strawn’s promise to use technology to improve Republicans’ standing with younger voters:

Strawn, 35, noted that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama beat Republican John McCain by 2-1 among young adults in Iowa. He said part of the problem is Republicans have failed to use modern communications methods, such as Twitter and Facebook. People are left with the impression that the party either doesn’t know how to use those channels or doesn’t care to, he said. “Either way, we’re sending a terrible message.” […]

Strawn said at a press conference that he would reach out to all age groups as he seeks to build up party registrations, raise money and recruit strong candidates for office. He vowed to regain the majorities in both houses of the Legislature, win back the governorship and make gains in Congress.

He said Republicans could do all those things without watering down the party’s conservative priorities. “If we communicate our beliefs, we can win elections,” he said.

There’s no question that the Republican Party lost young voters by large margins in 2006 and 2008, and not just in Iowa. This map created by Mike Connery shows that if only voters aged 18-29 had cast ballots for president, John McCain would have won fewer than ten states.

Republicans should be asking themselves why young voters are rejecting their candidates in such large numbers. It wasn’t always this way. When I was growing up in the 1980s, the Republican Party did quite well with the 18-30 age group, including college students. In fact, my age cohort is still relatively strong for Republicans. (A chart in this post shows the presidential vote among young Americans for the past 30 years.)

Strawn’s answer is that the GOP’s failure to fully exploit new technology is “sending a terrible message” to young voters. He won over State Central Committee members in part thanks to a technologically savvy online campaign (a blog with occasional YouTube video postings).

I sincerely hope that Republicans continue to believe that their recent election losses are rooted in communication problems. I think the Republicans’ ideology is what turns off young voters. The tendency for Republicans to campaign on “culture war” issues exacerbates this problem, highlighting the topics that make the party seem out of touch to younger voters.

Some Republicans want their candidates to emphasize economic issues more and downplay divisive social issues. Shortly after the election, Doug Gross discussed the Republican Party’s problems on Iowa Public Television. Gross worked for Republican Governors Bob Ray and Terry Branstad in the 1970s and 1980s, and he was the Republican nominee for governor against Tom Vilsack in 2002. Gross had this advice for Republican candidates:

What we really have to do is speak to the fundamental issues that Iowans care about which is I’m working hard every day, in many cases a couple of jobs, my wife works as well, we take care of our kids and yet the government is going to increase our taxes, they’re going to increase spending and they’re going to give that to somebody who is not working.  That kind of message will win for republicans among the people we have and we’ve gotten away from that.  

Ah yes, the glory days, when Republicans could win by running against “tax and spend” Democrats who supposedly took money away from hard-working Americans and gave it to “welfare queens” and other unemployed ne’er-do-wells.

I am not convinced that this is a winning message anymore. Nationwide exit polling from the most recent election showed that a majority of voters believe government should do more, not less. The same exit poll found Barack Obama won even though most people believed Republican claims that he would raise taxes.

Moreover, rising unemployment is not just an issue for lower-income or blue-collar workers. Layoffs are also hitting groups that have trended toward the Democratic Party in the last decade: suburban dwellers, white-collar professionals and college-educated whites generally. Even in affluent neighborhoods, just about everyone knows someone who has been laid off in the past six months. Government assistance to the unemployed may be more popular now than it was in the 1980s.

Losing your job means losing your health insurance for many Americans, which is particularly scary for those who have “pre-existing conditions.” More and more people are delaying routine preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions in this tough economy. Other families have been devastated after a private insurance company denied coverage for expensive, medically necessary procedures.

I believe that the problems with our health care system are another reason that Republican “small government” rhetoric has less salience now than it did 20 years ago.

As I’ve written before, Republican prospects for a comeback may have less to do with new GOP leadership than with how well the Democrats govern. If Democrats do well, they will keep winning elections. If they screw up, the Republicans may rebound no matter what party leaders do at the RNC or in contested states like Iowa.

On the other hand, if Republicans want to do more than sit back and wait for Democrats to self-destruct, they will need to acknowledge that their problems go beyond communication skills. Many conservative beliefs are outside the American mainstream. I don’t think the Republican Party can twitter and YouTube its way out of the hole they’re in, especially when it comes to younger voters.  

Year in review: Iowa politics in 2008

I do most of my writing at the Iowa progressive community blog Bleeding Heartland.

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

January 2008

The Iowa caucuses dominated the beginning of the year. In the ninth and final diary in my series on how the Iowa caucuses work, I responded to arguments in defense of what I consider flaws in caucus system.

I supported John Edwards and was impressed by some of Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics, but on the whole January 3 was obviously Barack Obama’s night.

Chris Woods posted some early analysis of the Iowa caucus results. Barack Obama won 41 counties, John Edwards won 29 counties, Hillary Clinton won 25 counties and four counties were ties.

I was frustrated by my failure to secure a third delegate for Edwards in my precinct.

Chris Woods lamented the Iowa mainstream media’s lack of interest in political blogs.

Iowa Republicans were already downbeat about their election prospects, having failed to recruit a credible candidate against U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. Republicans in the state legislature fell behind Iowa Democrats in fundraising.

I was hoping the legislature would put some balance in our state’s transportation planning, but the powers that be wanted to spend virtually all the new money on road-building.

Secretary of State Mike Mauro did us all a favor by proposing a bill to require paper ballots in every Iowa precinct.

I took a stab at explaining why Iowa has never elected a woman governor or sent a woman to Congress.

Yet another study confirmed that runoff from conventional farms in Iowa is a major contributor to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Former Governor Tom Vilsack called for more action to combat global warming.

Noneed4thneed called for more leadership from Chet Culver on conserving energy and making Iowa the renewable energy capital.

A report by the American Wind Energy Association showed Iowa falling to fourth in wind power.

Environmental advocates arranged for world-class expert testimony before the Iowa Utilities Board against a proposal to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown.

Ed Fallon announced his candidacy for Congress, and I explained why I planned to support him against six-term incumbent Leonard Boswell in the third district primary.

I was a respondent in a long poll commissioned by Boswell’s campaign, which tested some of Fallon’s messages against the incumbent.

I called for fixing the problems with the Iowa caucuses and learned that the Nevada Democratic Party adopted slightly better caucus rules than ours. (Unfortunately, precinct chairs in Nevada were poorly-trained, and the caucuses were a fiasco in many precincts.)

I was disappointed when Edwards dropped out of the presidential race, even though I knew he had no chance of winning the nomination.

February 2008

What started out as a routine illness put me in the hospital for a week. Things might have taken a very bad turn if I had waited longer before seeing a doctor. I told the story here: My health insurance may have saved my life.

Noneed4thneed discussed the connection between anti-tax zealots and local roads that are in terrible condition.

Renewable Rich sounded the alarm about attempts by state legislators to define nuclear power as a form of renewable energy. Fortunately, that bill was not approved.

The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women supported a bill that would make it easier for working mothers to breastfeed. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it out of committee in the Iowa House.

Senator Tom Harkin stayed neutral in the Clinton-Obama contest and said the Democratic Party should eliminate superdelegates from the presidential nominating process.

I was already getting tired of safe incumbent Harkin’s repeated fundraising appeals, and there were dozens more to come before the year was over.

Democracy for America endorsed Ed Fallon in the third district Congressional primary.

Boswell was among 21 House Democrats who worked with Republicans to do George Bush’s bidding on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But he stepped up his constituent outreach by helping my suburb, Windsor Heights, secure a unique zip code.

Fourth district Congressional candidate Kurt Meyer started posting diaries occasionally at Bleeding Heartland.

Secretary of State Mauro ran into opposition from Chet Culver over his efforts to require that all voting machines use paper ballots. However, the governor soon got behind a plan to eliminate touchscreen voting machines.

I argued that a new law requiring all Iowa children to be tested for lead is worth the cost, not only because lead harms children. It seems that exposure to lead may diminish the functioning of the aging brain decades later.

Iowa joined California’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency “for its legal action which denied states’ rights to adopt vehicle emissions standards to regulate global warming emissions.”

Iowa State Senator Matt McCoy paid a fine to settle an ethics investigation.

Noneed4thneed alerted us to a corporate-funded advertising campaign targeting five first-term Iowa House Democrats. (Four of the five won re-election in November, but Art Staed lost by a heartbreaking 13 votes.)

I reflected on a year without Steve Gilliard, whose News Blog I used to read daily.

March 2008

Governor Culver rejected federal funds that had strings attached to require “abstinence only” sex education.

The Republican 501(c)4 group Iowa Future Fund ran untruthful ads against Culver without disclosing its donors, but Iowa law does not require political ads to be true.

In a party-line vote, the Iowa House rejected a Republican effort to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage up for debate.

Tom Harkin introduced the Complete Streets Act of 2008 in the Senate.

Congressman Steve King of the fifth district made his infamous comment about how terrorists would be “dancing in the streets” if Obama were elected president.

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s list of top House targets did not include any of Iowa’s Democratic-held seats.

Ed Fallon came out against new coal-fired power plants proposed for Marshalltown and Waterloo, while Boswell declined to take a position on the issue.

Boswell used his franking privilege to send glossy campaign-style flyers to voters in the third district, and the Des Moines Register called him on it.

Boswell defended his vote for the bankruptcy bill, which was unpopular with many liberal Democrats.

Boswell also changed his stand on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and touted his record on supporting the middle class.

A national LGBT rights group endorsed Fallon.

Boswell’s campaign sent out a mass e-mail saying Fallon is “no Democrat.”

I explained why I thought Fallon would be a more effective representative than Boswell.

Fourth district Congressional candidate William Meyers started posting diaries here and continued to do so throughout the primary campaign.

Noneed4thneed encouraged Bleeding Heartland readers to support first-term Democrats in the Iowa legislature who were targets of a corporate-funded advertising campaign.

A report from Families USA estimated how many Iowans die prematurely because they lack health insurance.

I wrote about the disparities in c-section rates in Iowa, depending on where a woman lives and in which hospital she births.

Speaking of babies, I gave some reasons to use cloth diapers.

April 2008

A Polk County judge ordered Secretary of State Mauro to stop providing voter information in languages other than English, proving that the English-only bill Governor Tom Vilsack signed in 2002 was more than symbolic.

Chet Culver signed the law banning touchscreen voting machines in Iowa.

Our state’s Republican representatives in the U.S. House, Steve King and Tom Latham, voted against a federal bill on verified voting.

After reviewing voter records, the Des Moines Register concluded that very few ineligible voters participated in the Iowa caucuses.

The U.S. House approved a “plain language” bill sponsored by Congressman Bruce Braley of the first district.

I discussed how much money in earmarks each member of Iowa’s Congressional delegation secured in 2007.

The Iowa legislature approved a major new transportation bill without putting additional funds into public transit or stipulating that road money be spent on fixing existing infrastructure.

I urged Culver to veto a bill seeking more study of the livestock odor problem instead of action, but he signed it.

The legislature also approved a ban on smoking in most public places, with a few exemptions, such as casino gambling rooms.

I suggested 10 ways for smokers to stop whining about the smoking ban.

Mrs panstreppon speculated about the political ambitions of Bruce Rastetter, a businessman and funder of the anti-Democratic 501(c)4 group Iowa Future Fund. The Iowa Future Fund had been running television ads attacking Chet Culver.

Mrs panstreppon also wrote about the new Republican 501(c)4 group Iowa Progress Project, which was created to replace the Iowa Future Fund.

The Des Moines Register razzed Culver for staying at Bill Knapp’s Florida condo without paying the full market rental rate.

I wrote a four-part series on the Boswell campaign’s efforts to question Fallon’s ethics and explored the differences between Fallon and Boswell on farm issues.

Progressive Kick created an entertaining website highlighting Boswell’s voting record in Congress.

Fallon blasted Boswell’s vote for the Military Commissions Act, which gave the president the authority to determine what interrogation techniques are “torture.”

Boswell’s campaign sent out positive direct-mail pieces on the economy, Iraq and health care. His campaign also sent two direct-mail pieces in one week highlighting Fallon’s support for Ralph Nader in 2000. I transcribed them here and here.

Polk County voters rejected a plan to borrow money to build a new courthouse.

A sign that the housing bubble had well and truly burst: Iowa’s largest home-builder ceased operations and laid off its entire staff.

Mixed-use developments are good for people, business and the environment.

I weighed in on a local hot topic when Pizza Hut fired a Des Moines delivery driver who shot an alleged armed robber. (The restaurant chain does not allow drivers to carry guns.)

In honor of cesarean awareness month I wrote about how to avoid having an unnecessary surgical birth.

I advised readers to drink tap water, but not from plastic bottles and to avoid using baby bottles containing bisphenol-A.

On the last day of the month the Iowa Utilities Board approved an application to build a new coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown.

May 2008

I was extremely disappointed that the Democrats on the Iowa Utilities Board voted to approve a new coal-fired power plant.

I weighed in on why Hillary Clinton lost Iowa and eventually the nomination.

An article by Joe Trippi got me speculating on whether John Edwards should have stayed in the presidential race longer.

Tom Harkin gave some reasons to be concerned about John McCain, and I added ten more reasons not to vote for the Republican nominee.

I discussed why John and Jackie Norris were important early Obama supporters in Iowa and pondered which presidential candidate had the best celebrity supporters.

The removal of Lurita Doan as head of the General Services Administration reminded me of one of Bruce Braley’s finest moments in Congress.

Governor Culver signed into law a bill that establishes a statewide 1-cent sales tax for school infrastructure.

Prevention First discussed the Healthy Families project’s successful attempt to persuade state legislators to increase funding for family planning.

Sadly, no prominent Iowa Democrat stood up for repealing Iowa’s English-only law.

I welcomed the prospect of a court challenge against the smoking ban exemption granted to casinos.

A Des Moines Register report on the Culver administration’s alleged horsetrading with lobbyists was troubling.

In the fourth district primary, Becky Greenwald introduced herself to Democrats as “the girl next door.”

As the third district Democratic primary race heated up, Fallon highlighted his early opposition to the war in Iraq and portrayed himself as “new energy for Iowa.” He also urged Boswell (a Clinton supporter) to endorse Obama for president.

Fallon and Boswell clashed over ethanol, and Fallon called for a moratorium on new confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Boswell refused all invitations to debate Fallon.

He highlighted Al Gore’s endorsement in direct mail and reminded voters that Fallon backed Nader.

Noneed4thneed argued that Boswell is not a loyal Democrat on the issues that matter most.

A 527 group bankrolled by a central Iowa developer accused Fallon of not protecting kids from sex offenders, not supporting ethanol producers, and not protecting kids from sex offenders (yes, there were two dishonest direct-mail pieces on Fallon’s vote against residency restrictions for sex offenders).

The Southeast Iowa Lutheran Synod showed real leadership on global warming.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production published damning reports on conventional livestock production in the U.S.

An editorial by James Howard Kunstler on “Driving Toward Disaster” inspired this post on how to reduce Americans’ vehicle-miles traveled by car.

In honor of asthma awareness month, I suggested 10 ways to combat asthma.

I paid tribute to my friend and fellow activist LaVon Griffieon on Mother’s Day.

I gave parents some ideas about good books to read to children.

June 2008

June 3 was primary day in Iowa. I wrote up Boswell’s final radio ad as well as his campaign’s pathetic attempt to portray Fallon as unconcerned about meth.

I received two push-polls targeting Iowa House district 59 candidate Jerry Sullivan.

On election day Becky Greenwald easily won the four-way primary in the fourth Congressional district, while Boswell easily defeated Fallon in the third district. Mariannette Miller-Meeks narrowly won the Republican primary in the second district. Christopher Reed barely edged out two Republican rivals for the chance to get crushed by Tom Harkin.

Although Boswell wiped out Fallon by 20 points, I still believe the primary challenge was worth the effort. (At least my suburb got its own zip code.)

I urged unsuccessful fourth district candidate William Meyers not to make the mistake of running for Congress as an independent.

After Republicans nominated Miller-Meeks and Democrats nominated Greenwald, I again discussed some reasons why Iowa has never elected a woman to Congress.

I was confident that the third district Congressional race would not be competitive in the general election.

Dubuque and the Quad Cities moved one step close to passenger rail, thanks to work by Bruce Braley on the House Transportation Committee.

Activists for organized labor in Iowa were still mad at Chet Culver two months after he vetoed a bill that would have expanded collective bargaining rights.

I started making the case for supporting fifth district Democratic candidate Rob Hubler against “Jackass Award” winner Steve King.

Meanwhile, King chastised Scott McClellan for revealing misconduct inside the Bush White House.

Bleeding Heartland readers weighed in on potential future leaders in the Iowa Democratic Party.

Chris Woods examined the relationship between climate change and the Iowa floods and offered his take on how Iowa should pay for flood recovery.

I advocated an investigation into why the Des Moines levee that failed was never fixed after the 1993 floods.

I was taken aback by some conservative bloggers’ views on flood relief and discussed our disagreements here and here.

Also in connection with the historic flooding, I urged readers not to use chlorine bleach to clean flood-damaged surfaces and not to use DEET-based mosquito repellents.

Noneed4thneed called attention to a report on how special interests spent big money to influence Iowa lawmakers.

The Iowa Values Fund seems not to have been good value for the taxpayers’ money.

I disagreed with Iowa Utilities Board members who argued that meeting future electricity needs will require more coal or nuclear power.

Less than three weeks after winning the primary, Leonard Boswell voted with House Republicans to approve the new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Chris Woods explained what was wrong with the FISA “compromise.”

Iowa Voter informed us that Chuck Grassley misled a town hall meeting audience on FISA. I linked to a bunch of commentaries on Obama and the FISA bill.

Opponents of the public smoking ban annoyed me when they called the new law “Soviet”  or “fascist.” Anyway, fears about the smoking ban’s impact on business were unfounded.

The US Department of Agriculture in effect told honeybees to drop dead.

I learned from noneed4thneed that Marshalltown passed an ordinance to reduce the use of plastic bags.

After reading a diary by nyceve on how insurance companies punish women who have had cesarean births, I posted more advice for pregnant women seeking to reduce their risk of having a c-section.

I had some friendly advice for Obama volunteers on how to talk to non-supporters about Obama.

I posted my take on what any Democrat should do if you get push-polled or message-tested.

July 2008

News that the Obama campaign would be running the GOTV operation in Iowa made me worried about the potential effect on down-ticket Democrats. (Sadly, the election results validated several of my concerns.)

AlanF cross-posted this excellent piece on tips for volunteers who knock on doors for a political candidate.

I offered readers five reasons to get involved in state legislative races.

Senator Tom Harkin held an online voting contest to determine which Democratic statehouse candidates would receive contributions from his campaign fund.

Second district incumbent Dave Loebsack signed on to a letter urging Congress to address transportation issues in forthcoming legislation on climate change.

Relations between Senator Chuck Grassley and social conservatives in the Republican Party of Iowa had seen better days. Some of the tension stemmed from Grassley’s inquiry into the tax-exempt status of some television-based ministries.

Leonard Boswell spent two weeks in the hospital after having surgery.

Becky Greenwald criticized fourth district incumbent Tom Latham for his loyal Republican voting record on Iraq and other issues.

I argued that Greenwald had a real chance to beat Latham, but the incumbent’s money advantage would be her biggest obstacle.

Latham put up a statewide radio ad on the need for more off-shore oil drilling.

I contrasted Bruce Braley’s record of delivering for his constituents with Steve King’s.

King kept making offensive comments regularly and showed that he has no interest in genuine Congressional oversight.

SW Iowa Guy, a fifth district resident, gave us a window onto a conference call with King.

Joe Trippi signed on as a consultant to Rob Hubler’s campaign.

A particularly horrible Associated Press story on how “Pet owners prefer McCain over Obama” inspired this post on confounding variables in opinion polling.

I posted Four comments and a question on the bad blood between Culver and organized labor.

Markos Moulitsas bashed me on the front page of Daily Kos.

I shared some thoughts on a new advocacy group seeking to repeal Iowa’s public smoking ban.

Iowa environmental groups encouraged state regulators to make utilities do more on energy efficiency.

I went over some reasons to buy local.

One of my occasional posts on parenting laid out some reasons to “wear your baby”.

August 2008

The revelation of John Edwards’ affair stirred up conflicting feelings for me, as for many other former Edwards volunteers. I posted ten words I thought I would never write and a precinct captain’s reflections on the Edwards story.

Edwards’ political career may be over, but his presidential campaign’s slogan lived on.

After getting more fundraising appeals from Tom Harkin (whose Republican challenger had only a few hundred bucks in the bank), I advocated a Use it or Lose it campaign to encourage safe Democratic incumbents to give more money to Democratic campaign committees.

Jason Rosenbaum asked readers to contact their representatives in Congress on health care.

Former Republican Congressman Jim Leach endorsed Obama for president. Leach later addressed the Democratic National Convention and headlined numerous “Republicans for Obama” events.

I suggested five ways Bleeding Heartland readers could help Rob Hubler’s campaign against Steve King.

Giant chickens started showing up outside King’s campaign events after he refused to debate Hubler.

I felt a special legislative session to deal with flood relief was warranted, but it never happened.

The Cedar Rapids-based Rebuild and Grow organization offered its own flood recovery action plan.

The Iowa Fiscal Partnership released a report on why property tax cuts are the wrong approach for flood relief.

Chuck Grassley made some shameful comments favorably contrasting flood victims in Iowa to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Unfortunately, conventional agriculture interests trumped environmental concerns on the state’s flood recovery panel.

I posted some thoughts on how to reform the Democratic presidential nominating process.

I was impressed after attending one of the Obama campaign’s outreach events for women.

I argued that Joe Biden would be a good surrogate for Obama.

A conservative baby-sitter helped introduce my five-year-old to the concept of political pluralism.

Comparing the presidential campaigns’ ground games, I became convinced that Obama’s small-town outreach would crush McCain’s.

I posted a few questions on factors that could skew polls of the Obama-McCain race.

Caught up in the excitement of the Democratic National Convention, I finally gave some money to Obama’s campaign.

I was immediately convinced that Sarah Palin would become McCain’s gift to Democrats and noted that not all evangelical conservatives were thrilled with her candidacy.

Chet Culver criticized labor practices at the Agriprocessors meat-packing plant in a newspaper editorial, and the company responded.

I discussed another failure of employer-based health insurance as Whirlpool “filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to cut the medical benefits of thousands of retired Maytag workers.”

A well-known political scientist at the University of Iowa took his own life while under criminal investigation for allegedly giving students higher grades in exchange for sexual favors.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa warned about a proposed Bush administration regulation that would restrict access to contraception. (The administration implemented that new rule in December.)

I was annoyed that my son’s public school encouraged parents to buy Tyson chicken products.

Marvin Pomerantz, one of the most influential Iowa Republicans in the last 40 years, passed away.

September 2008

As September began I was thankful Iowa’s first Congressional district was not competitive, freeing me of the responsibility to write most posts on the idiot who ran against Bruce Braley.

Obama started running radio ads on abortion in Iowa and several other states.

American007 posted this excellent summary of Sarah Palin’s record in Wasilla.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer headlined Tom Harkin’s Steak Fry, but Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge gave the most memorable speech of the day.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put IA-04 on the list of “emerging races” and declared IA-05 a “race to watch.”

EMILY’s List finally endorsed Becky Greenwald two days after I posted this piece wondering why they hadn’t done so already.

The following week Greenwald went up on tv with a biographical ad that depleted her campaign coffers while doing little to boost her support.

Tom Latham’s first television ad highlighted his big “achievement” on health care: co-sponsoring a bill that never made it out of committee. Greenwald’s campaign exposed Latham’s real record on health care in a press release, but unfortunately lacked the cash to put up a response on television.

I saw Latham’s ad as proof that he expected a big Democratic wave and was positioning himself accordingly on traditionally “Democratic” issues.

Tom Harkin posted this diary on McCain’s “crusade against renewable fuels.”

There was plenty of hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle when the U.S. House passed an energy bill designed to give Democrats cover on the offshore oil drilling issue.

I again encouraged readers to get involved in the Iowa statehouse races.

While the presidential election still looked like a tossup, I discussed what would happen if neither candidate received 270 electoral votes.

I made the case for voting early here and here.

Annoyed by the fundraising appeals I kept getting from safe Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell, I asked Bleeding Heartland readers to tell Boswell to give more to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

I argued that Democrats can win and hold districts like Iowa’s fifth. (Unfortunately, Hubler was not among the Democratic challengers who won deep-red Congressional seats this year, most notably in Maryland’s first and Colorado’s fourth districts.)

As a Democratic wave election appeared more likely, I wondered which Democratic pickups would shock us the most. (As it turned out, the most surprising pickup was probably in Virginia’s fifth Congressional district. We also had surprisingly narrow losses in California’s fourth and 44th districts.)

I thought labor unions were right to focus their political spending on the Iowa statehouse races and withhold contributions to Chet Culver’s re-election campaign for now.

The Sierra Club created an online petition for Iowans urging energy providers to invest in clean sources for electricity generation, not coal.

Environmental groups called on utilities to do more to save energy.

Renewable Rich summarized a report showing how clean energy can create thousands of new jobs in Iowa.

I went over some ways to improve the Iowa caucus system.

A grassroots group in Cedar Rapids organized volunteers every weekend for flood recovery work.

An advocate for factory farms stepped down from the state Environmental Protection Commission.

Former John Deere employees filed a class-action lawsuit in Des Moines that underscored the failures of our employer-based health insurance system.

I called for ending Iowa’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to water quality.

I had a feeling that the Wall Street bailout was a terrible idea and “a trap that will enrich a bunch of people while doing little to help the overall economy.”

There was a highly contentious election for the Des Moines school board, followed by an ill-advised attempt to censure the black sheep of the board. I found the lack of oversight on the Des Moines School Board disturbing.

A newspaper article on an abstinence club at my old high school inspired this post on why even abstaining teens need comprehensive sex eduction.

I explained why Iowa native Justin Roberts is our family’s favorite children’s musician.

October 2008

All three Iowa Democrats in the U.S. House voted for the second version of the Wall Street bailout package, while Iowa’s two Republicans voted no. The bailout became a central issue in Tom Latham’s campaign advertising after Becky Greenwald unwisely said she would have voted for the revised bailout package. Senators Harkin and Grassley both voted for the bailout.

I offered some advice to disappointed party activists on What to do when you don’t care for your party’s nominee. Bleeding Heartland user lorih followed up by explaining why she started volunteering for Obama despite her deep disappointment that Clinton did not win the nomination.

I continued to speculate on factors that might affect the accuracy of polls on the presidential race.

The third quarter Federal Election Commission filings showed all the incumbents in Iowa’s Congressional delegation with big money leads over their challengers, foreshadowing the double-digit victories all the incumbents posted a few weeks later.

I kept urging our safe Democratic incumbents to “Use it or Lose it” by donating some of their excess campaign cash to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Although I considered the second district race uncompetitive, I covered some key issues and events in Dave Loebsack’s campaign against Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Again I examined the reasons underlying Iowa’s failure to elect a woman to Congress.

Bleeding Heartland supported the Obama campaign’s strong push for Iowa Democrats to vote early (including an early voting RV tour). As it turned out, strong early voting saved several Democratic statehouse incumbents.

Tom Latham debated Becky Greenwald twice on the radio during October; I analyzed the candidates’ performance in the debates here and here.

Latham ran tv ads pounding Greenwald on the bailout, while the Democrat (lacking money for tv) had to make do with web ads and press releases highlighting Latham’s record on various issues.

Not long after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee upgraded the races in IA-04 and IA-05, I urged Bleeding Heartland readers to get serious about expanding the field by supporting under-funded longshot Democratic Congressional challengers.

Steve King continued to embarrass himself and all Iowans.

Although the outcome wasn’t what I’d hoped for, I have no regrets about encouraging Democrats to back Rob Hubler’s campaign.

Speaking of longshots, little-known Republican Senate candidate Christopher Reed blew it in his only debate with Tom Harkin.

Harkin gave more cash to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. His campaign also launched a contest where Iowans could nominate county party organizations that deserved extra money for GOTV efforts. (Marion, Muscatine and Linn counties ended up winning.)

Mark Langgin urged Bleeding Heartland readers to support Democratic candidates for the Iowa House in light of a Republican focus on the House races.

The Republican 501(c)4 group American Future Fund exploited loopholes in rules governing political advocacy groups in order to run campaign advertising in targeted Iowa House districts.

The perils of leaving any Republican unopposed were exposed when news emerged that an incumbent Iowa senator with no Democratic challenger had previously been charged with a prostitution-related crime.

The Iowa Democratic Party kept producing videos on why McCain would be bad for Iowa.

I was puzzled by John McCain and Sarah Palin’s visits to Iowa late in the campaign, despite poll after poll showing Obama above 50 percent in Iowa, with a double-digit lead over McCain. In fact, a series of missteps by McCain got me wondering whether the Republicans should have nominated Mitt Romney.

The not-so-classy McCain used the Iowa floods in his campaign’s robocalls and direct-mail pieces.

Polk County Democratic activists gained national attention by holding a clothing drive for the DAV across the street from a Palin rally in Des Moines.

I went over some tips for phone bankers trying to recruit volunteers.

I supported a referendum on taking the word “idiot” out of the Iowa Constitution. (There was no organized opposition to that referendum, and it passed easily.)

For the first time in my life, the Des Moines Register endorsed the full slate of Iowa Democrats running for Congress. Ed Fallon urged his supporters to vote for Boswell in an e-mail that linked to the Register’s incredibly lukewarm endorsement of the incumbent.

Obama made one last stop in Des Moines shortly before election day.

Iowa Voter noted that the Brennan Center gave Iowa high marks for election readiness.

Jason Rosenbaum contributed this guest post on why health care reform matters. Rosenbaum was involved with the Health Care for America Now Coalition, which kept up the grassroots pressure on Senator Chuck Grassley to support universal health care.

I attended a commitment ceremony for a same-sex couple who had gotten married in California a few months earlier.

November 2008

Obama won Iowa convincingly, but his 9-point margin was smaller than the 17-point lead he had in the final Des Moines Register poll of the campaign.

Democratic gains down-ticket were somewhat disappointing in Iowa, as in quite a few other states.

I looked at some reasons why Becky Greenwald lost to Tom Latham by more than 20 points in the fourth Congressional district.

It was weeks before recounts finally confirmed net Democratic gains of three seats in the Iowa House and two seats in the Iowa Senate.

Unsuccessful Congressional candidate Rob Hubler criticized the statewide GOTV effort in an e-mail to supporters. Hubler’s son lost an Iowa House race by only a few hundred votes in the Council Bluffs area.

I was particularly disappointed when Democrat Jerry Sullivan lost in my own district by fewer than 100 votes. He had been the target of negative advertising as well as last-minute robocalls and lit drops.

In the good news column, Democratic incumbent Eric Palmer won re-election in his House district despite Republican attempts to disenfranchise Grinnell College students who voted by absentee ballot.

Jackie Norris accepted an offer to become Michelle Obama’s chief of staff.

The presidential election results convinced Josh Goodman of Governing.com that Iowa is now the best bellwether state.

Likely future Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal reached out to social conservatives while visiting Iowa.

Meanwhile, the divided Republican Party of Iowa began work on turning the party’s electoral fortunes around by replacing its leaders in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate.

I suspect Democrats would benefit if Iowa Republicans take the advice of a leading social conservative.

Some Iowa Democrats grumble about Governor Culver, but I argued here that their discontent will not rise to the level of a primary challenge in 2010.

Bruce Braley played an active and visible role in Henry Waxman’s successful campaign to be named chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Stranded Wind sounded the alarm about the risk of famine in 2009.

A blogger’s struggle to pay medical bills inspired this post on the need for comprehensive health care reform. Our immoral and ineffective health care system was also the subject of this post.

I was surprised to learn that the Blog Gender Analyzer thinks I’m a man, a topic I explored further in this post at MyDD.

Wisconsin rejected an application to build a new coal-fired power plant, prompting the Iowa Environmental Council to call on Iowa policy-makers to follow the lead of “neighboring states to the west, north, and now east, which have concluded that clean energy makes more economic sense than coal.”

I owned up to a few things I got wrong and right during the long presidential campaign.

December 2008

Tom Vilsack’s nomination for Secretary of Agriculture was big news in Iowa. I covered the reaction to that appointment here and here.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Varnum v Brien, a same-sex marriage case. jpmassar walked us through some of the legal issues at hand, and I discussed the political implications of the court ruling expected sometime next year.

A week later I posted a recap and analysis of the Varnum v Brien hearing and reaction to it.

Deteriorating revenue projections prompted Governor Culver to impose two rounds of budget cuts. I discussed the merits of some approaches to balancing the budget here.

Culver’s announcement of $100 million in budget cuts the same day he had scheduled a $5,000 a head fundraiser inspired me to make the case for “clean elections” campaign financing.

Speaking of election reform, Sean Flaherty and I wrote about the importance of “verified voting.”

The Democratic leadership in the state legislature released the committee assignments for the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate.

I discussed Congressional Quarterly and Progressive Punch rankings for the members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation in 2008.

Bruce Braley announced plans to form a Populist Caucus and landed a spot on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

I examined how the post-census reapportionment is likely to play out in the 2012 U.S. House races in Iowa.

Organic farming is carbon sequestration we can believe in.

There is no such thing as “clean coal.”

Bleeding Heartland user American007 won our election prediction contest.

I wondered whether it matters who ends up running the Republican Party in Iowa and nationwide.

Huckabee and Jindal appeal to social conservatives in Iowa

Skip this diary if you think it’s too early to start talking about the 2012 presidential campaign just because Barack Obama hasn’t been inaugurated yet.  

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, was back in the state this week in more ways than one. On Thursday he held book signings that attracted some 600 people in Cedar Rapids and an even larger crowd in a Des Moines suburb. According to the Des Moines Register, he “brushed off talk of a 2012 run” but

brought to Iowa a prescription for the national Republican Party, which he said has wandered from its founding principles.

“There is no such thing as fiscal conservativism without social conservativism,” Huckabee said. “We really should be governing by a moral code that we live by, which can be summed up in the phrase: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

Governing by that principle would lead to a more humane society, with lower crime and poverty rates, creating less demand on government spending, he said.

Huckabee was accompanied on Thursday by Bob Vander Plaats, who chaired his Iowa campaign for president. Vander Plaats has sought the Republican nomination for Iowa governor twice and is expected to run again in 2010. He recently came out swinging against calls for the Iowa GOP to move to the middle following its latest election losses. The Republican caucuses in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate elected new leadership this month, and the state party will choose a new chairman in January. Vander Plaats is likely to be involved in a bruising battle against those who want the new chairman to reach out more to moderates.

Many Iowans who didn’t come to Huckabee’s book signings heard from him anyway this week, as he became the first politician to robocall Iowa voters since the November election. The calls ask a few questions in order to identify voters who oppose abortion rights, then ask them to donate to the National Right to Life Council. According to Iowa Independent, the call universe included some Democrats and no-party voters as well as registered Republicans. Raising money for an anti-abortion group both keeps Huckabee in front of voters and scores points with advocates who could be foot-soldiers during the next caucus campaign.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made two stops in Iowa yesterday. Speaking in Cedar Rapids,

Jindal said America’s culture is one of the things that makes it great, but warned that its music, art and constant streams of media and communication have often moved in the wrong direction.

“There are things we can do as private citizens working together to strengthen our society,” he said. “Our focus does not need to be on fixing the (Republican) party,” he said. “Our focus needs to be on how to fix America.”

I’m really glad to hear he’s not worried about fixing the party that has record-high disapproval ratings, according to Gallup.

Later in the day, Jindal headlined a fundraiser in West Des Moines for the Iowa Family Policy Center. He said he wasn’t there to talk politics (as if what follows isn’t a politically advantageous message for that audience):

“It all starts with family and builds outward from there,” said the first-term Jindal, who was making his first visit to Iowa. “As a parent, I’m acutely aware of the overall coarsening of our culture in many ways.”

The governor said technology such as television and the Internet are conduits for corrupting children, which he also believes is an issue agreed upon across party lines.

“As governor, I can’t censor anything or take away anyone’s freedom of speech – nor do I want to if I could,” he said, “but I can still control what my kids watch, what they hear and what they read.”

The problem is that parents who want to control what their kids read often try to do so by limiting what other people’s kids can read. A couple near Des Moines

are fighting to restrict access to the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three” at East Elementary School in Ankeny. The book is the story of two male penguins who raise a chick together.

The Ankeny parents want it either removed or moved to the parents-only section, arguing that it promotes homosexuality and same-sex couples as normal and that children are too young to understand the subject.

Gay rights are sure to be an issue in the next Republican caucus campaign, especially if the Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality next year. The court will soon hear oral arguments in a gay marriage case.

For now, though, it’s enough for Jindal to speak generally about “family” and “culture” and raise his name recognition among the religious conservatives who have often crowned the winner in the Iowa caucuses.