Democrats set to target Blum in IA-01; GOP will go after Loebsack in IA-02

Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting system has given our state an unusual number of competitive Congressional districts. Major-party candidates and outside groups spent millions of dollars last year in Iowa’s first district race pitting GOP Representative Rod Blum against Democratic challenger Monica Vernon, as well as in the third district, where Republican Representative David Young faced Democrat Jim Mowrer.

Not only are Democrats determined to go after IA-01 and IA-03 again in 2018, Iowa Republicans have signaled that they will try to defeat six-term Representative Dave Loebsack, who mostly got a pass in the second district during 2016.

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IA-03: Democrat Anna Ryon is thinking about it

Anna Ryon, an attorney with the Office of Consumer Advocate, may run for Congress in Iowa’s third district next year, she announced on Facebook today. She has launched a possible campaign website and is recruiting volunteers to join her e-mail list for updates and “action alerts” on when to call members of Congress. She is not raising money “until I make a final decision” on a Congressional campaign.

Yesterday Ryon uploaded to YouTube a video of her remarks in May 2015 before the Bishop and Cabinet of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. Ryon “was invited to be part of that meeting to share my story of being a queer woman in the UMC, and in particular the hurtful response from the church when my ex-wife and I got married.” Instead, she shared the story of her father, a United Methodist minister who was gay and took his own life in 1999.

I enclose below Ryon’s bio from her new website. She is on Twitter @annakryon and on Facebook. Her “deep dive” about Adams County became one of the most popular Bleeding Heartland posts of 2016.

Current U.S. Representative David Young defeated Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer by 53.4 percent to 39.7 percent in 2016. Young performed substantially better than Donald Trump, who carried the third district by 48.5 percent to 45.0 percent over Hillary Clinton. Outside groups spent more than $7.4 million on the Young-Mowrer race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee confirmed this week that IA-03 will be on its target list again in 2018.

One of Mowrer’s 2016 primary opponents, Mike Sherzan, has turned up at a number of local Democratic events lately, including the January 21 State Central Committee meeting of the Iowa Democratic Party, which attracted a large crowd because of the state chair election.

The sixteen counties in IA-03 contain 167,453 active registered Democrats, 177,457 Republicans, and 166,620 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

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IA-01: Democrat Courtney Rowe may challenge Rod Blum

Cedar Rapids-based engineer Courtney Rowe may run for Congress against Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first district, she confirmed to Bleeding Heartland today. Rowe has been an active Democrat locally and was a Bernie Sanders delegate to last year’s Linn County, first district, and state conventions, as well as an alternate to the Democratic National Convention. She has volunteered her time on church missions, as a mentor for middle-school students, and as an officer for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Rowe described her background and motivation for considering a Congressional bid in a document I enclose below. She has not yet created an exploratory committee but plans to launch a campaign website sometime next month, both to present some of her policy ideas and to create an interactive format for voters to weigh in on the issues.

The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 166,338 active registered Democrats, 146,164 Republicans, and 191,340 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, a traditional Democratic stronghold that is also Blum’s home base, where Democrats underperformed badly in 2016.

Blum was considered one of the most vulnerable U.S. House members in the country going into the 2016 election cycle, and many Iowa Democrats believed his narrow victory over Pat Murphy in 2014 had been a fluke. However, the Freedom Caucus member defeated Monica Vernon by a larger margin of 53.7 percent to 46.1 percent. Blum ran about five points ahead of Donald Trump, who carried the IA-01 counties by 48.7 percent to 45.2 percent. That was a massive swing from Barack Obama’s double-digit advantage in this part of Iowa in 2012.

Although I haven’t yet heard of any other Democrats thinking seriously about challenging Blum, I expect a competitive 2018 primary. Any comments about the race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its first target list on January 30. IA-01 and IA-03 are among those 33 Republican-held House seats.

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Iowa Congressional 4Q fundraising news roundup

The Iowa caucuses got in the way of Bleeding Heartland’s usual practice of covering Congressional year-end financial reports soon after the Federal Election Commission’s January 31 filing deadline. In the spirit of “better late than never,” highlights on fundraising and spending by the declared Iowa candidates are after the jump.

These numbers explain why last week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee got behind Monica Vernon in the first district primary but declared the third district an “emerging race” without specifying support for any candidate. That said, the New York Jobs PAC gave $1,000 to Jim Mowrer’s campaign in December; that political action committee is affiliated with Representative Steve Israel, who chairs the DCCC.

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Pat Murphy would enter this IA-01 primary as the underdog (updated)

Both Iowa Starting Line and Roll Call are reporting today that former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy is likely to run for Congress again in the first district. Murphy won the five-way 2014 primary with just under 37 percent of the vote.

Other Iowa Democrats have lost their first U.S. House race before winning a seat in Congress on the second try, including legends Neal Smith, Tom Harkin, and Berkley Bedell. Still, I am skeptical that northeast Iowa Democrats will want to give Murphy another shot at beating Republican Rod Blum.

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National Republican Congressional Committee going for IA-01, IA-02 (updated)

Ed Tibbetts reported today for the Quad-City Times that the National Republican Congressional Committee announced plans to buy television air time in Iowa’s first and second Congressional districts. The NRCC says it will spend $900,000 on air time in the Cedar Rapids and Davenport markets to influence the IA-02 race, plus $400,000 in the Cedar Rapids market for IA-01. Although the NRCC gave IA-01 nominee Rod Blum and IA-02 nominee Mariannette Miller-Meeks top-tier status in its program for challengers this summer, up to now the committee has only been advertising in Iowa’s third district, widely considered a tossup race.

Typically NRCC commercals focus on negative messages against the Democratic candidate, just like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee mainly spends its advertising dollars attacking Republicans. The expenditures announced today will likely go for attacks on Pat Murphy (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02), rather than on positive ads about Blum and Miller-Meeks.

Miller-Meeks desperately needs the help, because she is way behind Loebsack in cash on hand. So far this year, only one group (the Teaparty Leadership Fund) has made independent expenditures on her behalf in IA-02. It’s worth noting that the 24 counties in this district are located in five different media markets. Loebsack has been advertising district-wide. The NRCC ads will reach the largest cities in IA-02 but not voters who watch television stations based in Des Moines, Ottumwa-Kirksville, or Quincy, Illinois.

Blum has had only a little more outside help so far, mostly from the Teaparty Leadership Fund, the National Right to Life PAC, and the Faith Family Freedom Fund. As of September 30, Blum had somewhat more cash on hand than Murphy, but last week the DCCC announced plans to spend some $600,000 in IA-01. At this writing, only about $110,000 of that money had been spent.

The NRCC didn’t do much in IA-01 or IA-02 during the 2010 campaign. That year the dark money 501(c)4 group American Future Fund spent over $1 million against incumbent Bruce Braley in IA-01, most of it on tv ads.

During the 2012 cycle, the NRCC ran some tv ads against Braley but pulled out of the IA-01 race in late September. The NRCC spent more than $600,000 against Loebsack in 2012, most of it in September and early October. I’m a little surprised to see so much money moving into these races so late this year, and I assume the decision reflects NRCC confidence in various other House races around the country, where ad time had been reserved.

The DCCC spent more than half a million dollars defending Loebsack against Miller-Meeks in 2010 but was never worried enough to spend money in IA-02 in 2012, despite putting Loebsack in its incumbent protection program early in that cycle. I have not seen any ad buys from the DCCC in IA-02 this year, but Tibbetts reported today that the committee “joined with Loebsack to air a television commercial targeting Miller-Meeks.”

UPDATE: The DCCC will spend another $420,000 on Cedar Rapids television, according to Roll Call’s Abby Livingston. It’s not clear how much of that money will go toward Loebsack’s race and how much toward the open seat.

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