Former Lieutenant Governor and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge is advising former State Senator Swati Dandekar’s campaign for Iowa’s first Congressional district, James Q. Lynch reports for the Cedar Rapids Gazette today. The article also includes comments from Dandekar and Judge on perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Dandekar’s candidacy: the perception that she risked the Iowa Senate majority in 2011.
After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from Lynch’s article and a few thoughts about why accepting a position on the Iowa Utilities Board will likely be a problem for Dandekar in the IA-01 primary.
When news of Dandekar’s Congressional aspirations first broke in April, Judge had kind things to say, calling Dandekar a "strong woman," "good campaigner and a better fundraiser than many," and "a moderate Democrat who has been true to her convictions." Today’s article by Lynch quotes Judge as an adviser to Dandekar, dismissing speculation that the move to the Iowa Utilities Board will be a "defining issue" in the primary.
There’s a long history of Democrats who have left office to take other positions “including me, Tom Vilsack and Leonard Boswell,” Judge said. The three of them left the Senate to run for Iowa secretary of agriculture, governor and the U.S. House, respectively.
“I don’t think it’s a terrible black mark on her or me or Tom,” she said. “It won’t be the defining issue.”
What’s more, Judge said the “people who really count, people from the district, people she will represent and has represented, they know her and know she has the interest of the district at heart and will work hard for them.” […]
Voters are interested in the future, “in today’s issues, not issues from two or three years ago,” Judge said.
Dandekar is a good fit for Patty Judge, who has long supported women candidates and was a corporate-friendly Democratic office-holder herself. But Judge is glossing over a few things here. Neither she nor Tom Vilsack nor Leonard Boswell decided to seek higher office while Democrats had only a one-seat Iowa Senate majority, against a backdrop of Republicans on the march in other states.
Lynch quotes Dandekar as saying voters like her “independent streak” and want to know her plans for the future. Regarding her resignation, Dandekar said, “The control of the Senate was never in doubt with Liz Mathis as the candidate.”
I believe Dandekar will continue to face tough questions from Democrats in IA-01 about her decision in 2011. She may have been confident that the Senate majority was safe in Mathis’ hands, but consider an activist’s perspective. Iowa Democrats had just come off a horrible election cycle, losing six state Senate seats in 2010 and nearly a seventh in what should have been a safe district. Republicans were passing all kinds of horrible legislation in states where they had the “trifecta,” like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Dandekar announced her resignation on September 16, 2011. Democrats had only a 26-24 Senate majority, and the district Dandekar was vacating looked very competitive on paper. Outsiders didn’t know that the popular former television news journalist Liz Mathis would be the Democratic candidate until September 20. We didn’t know that there would be a contentious district convention for the GOP nomination, or that Iowa Senate Republicans would get distracted by a leadership challenge during the special election campaign, or that Democrats and progressive outside groups would run a superior early voter drive. In retrospect, it’s easy to say that Mathis won the special election convincingly and had no trouble holding the reconfigured Senate district last year, but that can’t erase the fears many Iowa Democrats had in September and October 2011.
I don’t mean to deny that some voters in IA-01 appreciate a moderate candidate with an independent streak, but that’s not often a path to victory in a Democratic primary. Furthermore, Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon will be competing with Dandekar for moderates in Linn County. Liberals may suspect Vernon as a relatively recent member of the Democratic Party, but Vernon doesn’t have baggage related to legislative votes either.