The shrinking Republican tent (part 1)

Iowa’s second Congressional district is the most Democratic-leaning of our five districts. It has a partisan voting index of D+7, which means that in any given year, we would expect this district to vote about 7 point more Democratic than the country as a whole. In 2008, Dave Loebsack won re-election in IA-02 with about 57 percent of the vote against Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who couldn’t crack 40 percent.

Today Republican blogger Craig Robinson previews the GOP primary to take on Loebsack. His piece is a good reminder of how small the Republican tent has become in a district once represented by Jim Leach.  

The three likely candidates in the Republican primary are Miller-Meeks and two more conservative Republicans, Steve Rathje and Christopher Reed (who says he won’t focus on personal attacks like he employed against Senator Tom Harkin last year). Robinson notes,

A couple of weeks ago, while discussing the second district primary race on WHO radio, Steve Deace forwarded the idea that, since Republicans went with Miller-Meeks in 2008 and she lost by 50,000 votes, wouldn’t Republicans be wise to nominate a hard working, young, rock-ribbed conservative in Reed this time around?

That’s actually a very good question for Republican primary voters in the second district to explore.

Later in the piece, Robinson points out,

If Miller-Meeks and Reed are serious in their attempt to knock-off Dave Loebsack, then both will have to figure out a way to be more competitive in Linn and Johnson Counties in the general election. Miller-Meeks lost Johnson and Linn counties by almost 47,000 votes, while Reed lost those same two counties [to Harkin] by 72,000 votes.

Let’s review a few salient facts.

The most Democratic-leaning House district held by a Republican is Louisiana’s second (D+25), but Joseph Cao won that seat primarily because of incumbent William Jefferson’s massive corruption.

Excluding LA-02, which Democrats are likely to win back in 2010, only 10 House Republicans represent districts with any Democratic lean whatsoever. The most Democratic of these is Delaware’s at-large seat (D+7), currently represented by pro-choice moderate Republican Mike Castle.

The best strategy for Republicans against Loebsack would be to nominate a moderate in the Jim Leach mold, who wouldn’t turn off as many voters in Linn and Johnson counties. Then the challenger could focus on economic issues; unemployment is quite high in southeast Iowa.

But Iowa Republicans aren’t even considering, let alone recruiting, a moderate challenger for Loebsack. Miller-Meeks is portrayed as a moderate, but she opposes abortion rights with very few exceptions and sticks to the party platform on other social issues. Even so, Miller-Meeks isn’t conservative enough for many in the GOP.

Most people would recognize that a district with demographics like IA-02 is not going to elect a hard-core right-winger. However, in today’s Republican Party, ideology trumps finding a candidate who would be a good fit for the district.

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