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Weekend open thread: Church and state edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The non-profit advocacy group Secularity USA brought world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to Des Moines on Saturday. I couldn't make it to the event; if you were there, please share your impressions. The mission of Secularity USA is to raise public awareness "of the dangers of religious bias in government and promoting the traditional separation of church and state." While Dawkins is a well-known atheist, Secularity USA seeks to unite "religious and nonreligious supporters of church-state separation."

Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation this week inviting "all Iowans who choose to join in thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014." I wouldn't go so far as one blogger, who declared that Branstad "signed away separation of church and state," but it does seem inappropriate for the governor to lend his support to such a specific religious movement. The "Prayer 7-14-14" group, which is calling for the national day of prayer, sounds pretty far out there. Endorsing this project is different from routine appearances by governors at prayer breakfasts, or the prayers that typically open daily sessions in the Iowa House and Senate.

I wonder whether the governor's staff sensed that he crossed a line, because I didn't see any announcement of this event on the governor's official news feed. Normally that feed highlights several proclamation signings each week. It mentioned more than half a dozen other documents Branstad signed this past week--including, ironically, a proclamation for Muslim Recognition Day. Perhaps Branstad viewed inviting Iowans to pray on July 14 as nothing more than empty pandering to the FAMiLY Leader contingent, which is promoting the national prayer day. The governor hasn't elevated social conservative goals in most of his public speeches or in his legislative agenda.

Former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan headlined an Iowa GOP fundraiser in Cedar Rapids last night. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio at Radio Iowa. As usual for Ryan, he said little about social conservative priorities, focusing instead on federal budget and tax issues, Obamacare, and the need for Republican unity. But he did nod to his religious heritage by urging his audience to give up "infighting," "tunnel vision," and "acrimony" for Lent.

Last month I never managed to post a thread on one of this year's biggest news stories related to church-state separation: the U.S. Supreme Court considering what has become known as the Hobby Lobby case. After the jump I've posted six links on the oral arguments in that case, which will determine whether two corporations are entitled to a religious exemption from the 2010 health care reform law's contraception mandate.  

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Do minority party state legislators need to show up for work?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 17:10:00 PM CDT

The Des Moines Register ran a front-page feature today on retiring Republican State Senator Hubert Houser. Having served for ten years in the Iowa House and twelve in the Iowa Senate, Houser stopped showing up for work at the statehouse in early March. He plans to return only for "a day or two" at the end of the session. He has taken on more responsibilities at his family farm and contends that he doesn't need to be at the capitol, since Republicans are the minority party. They can't bring their own bills to the Iowa Senate floor and don't need Houser's vote.

On the one hand, I can imagine minority lawmakers must get tired of spending days at the Capitol, not accomplishing much while thinking about all the work that needs to be done at home. On the other hand, the Iowa legislature is only in session a few months of the year. Houser's constituents elected him to do a job. He's collecting a salary for work he isn't doing.

Asked to comment on Houser's prolonged absence today, Governor Terry Branstad said, "I respect individual legislators' right to make the decisions that they make with regards to their vote and things like that," adding that Houser has been a "great representative for the people of southwest Iowa."

Missed Iowa Senate votes may become a salient issue in the U.S. Senate race. In early March, Rod Boshart was the first to start tallying GOP State Senator Joni Ernst's many excused absences during this year's legislative session. Only a few of the missed days could be chalked up to National Guard duty; others were related to campaigning or fundraising for her U.S. Senate bid. Ernst's short political career doesn't open up many lines for attack, but this will be a big one for Democratic candidate Bruce Braley if he faces Ernst in the general election. Republican blogger Craig Robinson, who is supporting Mark Jacobs in the IA-Sen GOP primary, has repeatedly called attention to Ernst missing Iowa Senate votes this year. I would not be surprised to see Jacobs' campaign, or some dark money entity supporting him, make this case against Ernst before the June primary. Nick Ryan (best known to Bleeding Heartland readers as the head of the American Future Fund) is handling direct mail for the Jacobs campaign.

UPDATE: Speaking to the Des Moines Register, Secretary of the Senate Michael Marshall said Houser is still taking both his legislator's salary ($25,000 annually) and per diem expense reimbursement payments. Marshall said Ernst "has sometimes asked not to be provided legislative per diem payments for certain days."

Speaking to WHO-TV, Ernst said she has missed five days in the Iowa Senate this year for campaign-related activities.

SECOND UPDATE: Sounds like Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix leaned on Houser, who is now planning to show up for work and indicated that he will return per diem expense payments for days he's missed.

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IA-03: First look at Robert Cramer's campaign messaging

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 08:27:24 AM CDT

With six candidates seeking the Republican nomination in Iowa's open third Congressional district, I've decided to focus on individual campaigns rather than news roundups on the whole field at once. Robert Cramer's up first, since he is already running his introductory ad on television.

Cramer is defining himself as the business mind in the field, not a bad place to be in a GOP primary. Although he is emphasizing his connection to "conservative principles and enduring values," he is downplaying his social conservative activism. If you need any proof that Bob Vander Plaats' ship has sailed, even in Iowa Republican circles, look no further than Cramer's case to primary voters.

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Weekend open thread: Liberty movement missing in action edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 30, 2014 at 07:30:00 AM CDT

Here's your weekend open thread: all topics welcome.

I'd like to hear views from the Bleeding Heartland community on a question that's been on my mind lately, as the "Liberty" movement ceases to be the dominant force in the Republican Party of Iowa. Why haven't more people from the large contingent of Ron Paul/Rand Paul admirers stepped up to run in this year's Iowa Republican primaries?

Despite plenty of speculation, no one associated with Ron Paul's presidential campaign went for Iowa's first open U.S. Senate seat in 40 years. Why not? This opportunity won't come around again soon, not with Senator Chuck Grassley already planning to seek a seventh term in 2016. Did fundraising concerns or some other factor keep Drew Ivers, David Fischer, or others from believing they could run a strong Senate campaign?

In Iowa's open third Congressional district, none of the six Republican candidates publicly endorsed Ron Paul for president, as far as I know. Nor did any of the three Republicans running against Representative Dave Loebsack in IA-02.

Iowa's most prominent "Liberty" candidate is Rod Blum in the open first Congressional district. There are a few Paulinistas running in GOP primaries for the Iowa House and Senate, but not as many as I would have expected, given the Liberty movement's takeover of the Iowa GOP apparatus in 2012.

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Danny Carroll to chair Iowa GOP, Gopal Krishna co-chair (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 19:45:00 PM CDT

The Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee convened today to choose a successor to A.J. Spiker, who resigned as state party chair to work for U.S. Senator Rand Paul's RandPAC. Danny Carroll, who became party co-chair in February, was the only person nominated for the chairman's job. Carroll is a well-known social conservative and lobbyist for Bob Vander Plaats' FAMiLY Leader organization. He served four terms in the Iowa House before losing his seat to Eric Palmer in 2006, then losing a rematch against Palmer in 2008. In 2010, he was a leading supporter of Vander Plaats' gubernatorial campaign and famously vowed never to vote for Terry Branstad. Earlier this year Carroll told Radio Iowa that he and the governor have a "cordial" working relationship.

According to Kevin Hall's liveblog of today's proceedings, seven of the eighteen State Central Committee members abstained from the vote on Carroll. Later, an Iowa GOP press release indicated that there were no dissenting votes on Carroll's nomination, prompting several members to tell the Des Moines Register that they inadvertently voted yes on Carroll, "mistakenly thinking they were casting a vote to close nominations and move to ballots." Hall also argued that it was inappropriate for Iowa RNC Committeewoman Tamara Scott to nominate Carroll, since she and he are both paid lobbyists for the FAMiLY Leader.

Shortly after Carroll's election, State Central Committee member Gopal Krishna was the only candidate nominated for state party co-chair. He has previously served as party treasurer, and he and Carroll both sought the position of party chair in early 2009. At that time the State Central Committee preferred Matt Strawn.

Carroll and Krishna may not remain in their new jobs for long, since a new Iowa GOP State Central Committee will be elected later this spring. UPDATE: Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson posted audio and highlights from Carroll's press conference on March 29. He confirmed that he will seek to stay on as party chair after the new State Central Committee takes over.

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IA-Sen: Joni Ernst's first tv ad arrives at remarkably convenient time (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 11:27:40 AM CDT

In what may be merely a coincidence, two stories related to Iowa's U.S. Senate race made a big splash yesterday on national blogs and cable news networks as well as in local media.

In what may be merely a coincidence, State Senator Joni Ernst's campaign released its first television commercial on the same day the 501(c)4 group Priorities for Iowa released a video drawing national attention to a gaffe by Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley.

In what may be merely a coincidence, several prominent Ernst supporters run that 501(c)4 group, which was created a few weeks after Ernst's campaign launch.

It's common nowadays for candidates' campaigns to spend money spreading positive messages, while outside entities (political action committees, 501(c)4 advocacy organizations, or 527 groups) pay to get the best opposition research into the public sphere. But candidates are not allowed to coordinate messaging or timing with those outside groups.

I'm not saying someone from the Ernst campaign gave Priorities for Iowa a heads-up on when they were planning to release their tv ad. I'm not saying someone from Priorities for Iowa let Ernst staffers know ahead of time when they planned to drop their bomb on Braley. I'm just saying, the clip from a two-month-old speech by the Democratic candidate couldn't have been released at a better time for Ernst to capitalize on her attention-getting "castration" spot.

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Spiker takes parting shot at Branstad over medical marijuana

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 09:56:39 AM CDT

A few days before he will formally step down as the Republican Party of Iowa's leader, A.J. Spiker advocated legalizing medical marijuana in a guest editorial for the Sunday Des Moines Register. Excerpts from Spiker's column are after the jump. Framing the case for medical cannabis in terms of personal freedom, Spiker rebuked Republicans who have been unwilling to acknowledge strong arguments for allowing doctors to prescribe the drug. While he didn't name names, his points came across as a rebuttal to Governor Terry Branstad, who would rather drag his feet on this issue.

Spiker and Branstad have clashed repeatedly, and it's an open secret that the governor hasn't been happy with the Iowa GOP's priorities or fundraising since Spiker took over from Matt Strawn in early 2012. It's shrewd for Spiker to stake a claim for medical marijuana, a position that is increasingly popular, especially with younger voters. Now his last impression as state party chair will be as a forward-thinking leader, rather than the guy who sometimes seemed to care more about Ron Paul's Liberty movement than about electing Republicans.  

Speaking of medical marijuana, the issue was the focus of last Friday's edition of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program. Steve Lukan, director of the governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, appeared along with West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer and State Senator Joe Bolkcom, leading advocates for legalizing medical cannabis using the New Mexico model. The video and transcript are available here. I was disappointed to see Lukan basically repeat the same talking points throughout the program, without acknowledging that many legal drugs can also be abused and may have devastating side effects for patients. Branstad didn't search for anyone with expertise in drug policy before offering the state's top job in this area to Lukan.

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Jon Van Wyk drops out of Iowa House district 28 GOP primary

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 14:17:46 PM CDT

Yesterday was the deadline for Iowa candidates who had qualified for a major-party primary to have their names removed from the primary ballot. The full list of candidates is on the Secretary of State's website (pdf). Jon Van Wyk's name is now absent from the Republican Party line in Iowa House district 28. His challenge against first-term State Representative Greg Heartsill was shaping up to be one of the most interesting state legislative primaries. However, the Knoxville Journal-Express reported that six people objected to Van Wyk's candidacy because he and his family live in Clive, a suburb of Des Moines. They plan to move to Sully, located in House district 28, this summer.

After the jump I've posted Van Wyk's comments on dropping out and a map of House district 28, where Van Wyk plans to run again in 2016.

Heartsill, one of the most "out there" Iowa House Republicans, has the GOP nomination locked up and will face Democrat Megan Suhr in a rematch from 2012. He won that race by 8,197 votes to 6,569. House district 28 leans Republican with 6,020 registered Democrats, 7,368 Republicans, and 8,049 no-party voters as of March 2014.

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58 Iowa House seats uncontested, including a dozen in competitive Senate districts

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 17, 2014 at 07:20:00 AM CDT

In any given general election, roughly a dozen or two of the 100 Iowa House districts are in play. A first look through the list of candidates who qualified for the primary ballot suggests that this year, fewer Iowa House districts will be competitive than in 2010 or 2012. Republicans have failed to field a candidate in 32 of the 47 Democratic-held House districts. Democrats have failed to field a candidate in 26 of the 53 Republican-held House districts.

Although a few of these districts may see major-party candidates nominated through special conventions after the primary, it's rare for late-starting candidates to have a realistic chance to beat an incumbent. (That said, two Iowa House Democrats lost in 2010 to candidates who joined the race over the summer rather than during the primary campaign.)

After the jump I've enclosed a full list of the Iowa House districts left unchallenged by one of the major parties. I highlighted the most surprising recruitment failures and what looks like a pattern of uncontested House seats in Senate districts that will be targeted by both parties, which may reflect a deliberate strategy. House incumbents with no fear of losing may slack off on GOTV in one half of a Senate district where every vote may count.

A future post will focus on the ten or fifteen Iowa House races likely to be most competitive this fall.

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Twilight of the Iowa GOP's Liberty era (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 11, 2014 at 13:37:23 PM CDT

Time for a discussion thread on news that broke over the weekend: A.J. Spiker will step down early as chair of the Republican Party of Iowa in order to serve as an adviser to U.S. Senator Rand Paul's political action committee. I've posted the Iowa GOP's official announcement after the jump. It puts a positive spin on Spiker's tenure, which began after Matt Strawn was forced out early over the 2012 Iowa caucus vote-counting debacle. Spiker's critics have complained of poor fundraising and an insufficient focus on party unity and electing Republican candidates.

Spiker was a leading supporter of Ron Paul's presidential campaigns in Iowa and benefited from the "Paulinista" dominance during the 2012 county, district, and state GOP conventions. However, Ron Paul loyalists were unable to repeat that performance at this year's county conventions on March 8. In fact, some high-profile Paulinistas weren't even able to win district convention delegate slots.

David Fischer, another prominent figure in the "Liberty" camp, stepped down as state party co-chair earlier this year. Danny Carroll, a former Iowa House Republican and unsuccessful candidate to lead the state party in 2009, won a very close State Central Committee election to succeed Fischer in that role.

Longtime social conservative activist Steve Scheffler made a deal with the Liberty crowd in the summer of 2012 to retain his position as Republican National Committeeman. He told the Des Moines Register that he expects "a huge turnover" on the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee after district conventions on April 26. Scheffler would like to see Carroll serve as the Iowa GOP's interim leader until new State Central Committee members begin their terms this summer.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. P.S.- Some observers believe Spiker's departure will spell doom for the Ames Straw Poll. I suspect the Iowa GOP will still organize some kind of candidate forum a few months before the Iowa caucuses, perhaps even a fundraiser. But new party leaders will likely be swayed by Governor Terry Branstad and other straw poll critics in planning that event next year.

UPDATE: Speaking to a conservative breakfast club on March 12, Danny Carroll confirmed that he will run for party chair this month and again after the new State Central Committee members are selected. He told Radio Iowa he'd like to see the straw poll continue, while making sure tickets are not overpriced and candidates are not charged "exorbitant rent for space at the venue."

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Weekend open thread: New Register poll edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 16:25:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? The hour I lost with "spring forward" was the hour I needed to get the open thread up at the usual time. But better late than never. All topics are welcome.

For the past week, the Des Moines Register has been releasing results from its latest statewide poll. Selzer & Co surveyed 703 Iowa adults between February 23 and 26, producing a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent. This morning's newspaper revealed that President Barack Obama's approval rating has hit a new low in the state he carried in the last two presidential elections. Just 36 percent of respondents said they approve of Obama's job performance, while 59 percent disapprove. Those findings will embolden Republican candidates who plan to make this November's elections a referendum on the president's policies.

Looking ahead to the 2016 caucuses, 50 percent of Iowans, including 88 percent of the Democrats in the Register's poll sample, think it would be good for Hillary Clinton to run for president again. Support for Vice President Joe Biden was much lower, with 33 percent of the full sample and 58 percent of the Democrats saying it would be good for Biden to run for president again. Like I've said before, there is no evidence Hillary Clinton has any lasting problem with Iowa Democrats.

U.S. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's reputation with Iowa Republicans doesn't appear to have suffered from being on the losing ticket with Mitt Romney in 2012. Selzer's poll for the Register found that 67 percent of Republican respondents think it's a good idea for Ryan to run for president. The full sample was split, with 41 percent supporting a Ryan presidential bid and 42 percent saying it would be a bad idea. In the Republican sub-sample, 65 percent said it would be good for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to run for president again, 50 percent said the same about Texas Governor Rick Perry, and 48 percent said the same about former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

My impression last year was that other potential candidates, including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, are telling Iowa Republicans what they want to hear, while Santorum's message is not striking the same chord. If Ryan runs for president, he will surely come under attack for recent deals with Democrats on the federal budget.  

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Republican state delegate intrigue edition (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 09:13:28 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Republicans in Governor Terry Branstad's orbit tried to rig the game to ensure that the March 8 Polk County GOP Convention ratified a long list of at-large delegates to the third Congressional district and state conventions later this year. Shane Vander Hart provides good background at Caffeinated Thoughts. Activist Kim Schmett, who was the GOP challenger to Representative Leonard Boswell in 2008, complained to the Des Moines Register, "Some unknown person is coming up with an ultimate list. Why have a county convention at all if 40 percent of your delegates are hand-picked ahead of time?"

Sounds like Branstad's team was not satisfied with results from their efforts to turn loyalists out to the off-year precinct caucuses in January. The governor needs to prevent any serious challenge at the state convention to Kim Reynolds' nomination for a second term as lieutenant governor. I am convinced that if re-elected, he will step down in the middle of his sixth term to ensure that she becomes governor.

State convention delegates may also end up selecting the GOP nominee for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat, if no one wins at least 35 percent of the vote in the June primary. Similarly, a third Congressional district convention may select the GOP nominee if none of the six declared IA-03 candidates wins at least 35 percent of the primary votes.

The Iowa Republican blogger Craig Robinson worked with Polk County GOP Chair Will Rogers and two Branstad campaign staffers to resolve concerns over delegate selection. As a result, the at-large slate was reduced from 100 to 50 delegates guaranteed to be at the district and state conventions. Vander Hart commented, "While I'm glad they responded to the backlash it should be the Polk County Republican Executive Committee, not the Branstad Campaign, determining this list." Obviously.

The Polk County GOP addressed the controversy in a Facebook post I've excerpted after the jump. UPDATE: Added some comments below from Dave Chung, an Iowa GOP State Central Committee member. SECOND UPDATE: Added excerpts from Craig Robinson's commentary.

And now for something completely different: music geeks may enjoy Seth Stevenson's analysis of the strange time signature of the theme from the original Terminator movie, which (amazingly) is 30 years old this year.

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New 2016 Iowa Republican caucus discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 06:40:00 AM CST

It's been a while since we had a thread about the 2016 presidential campaign on the Republican side. Spin your own scenarios in the comments.

Public Policy Polling's latest survey of Iowa Republicans shows a jumble, with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee slightly ahead, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas notably trending up and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida trending down, along with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Highlights are after the jump, or click here for full results and cross-tabs. I'm not surprised to see Cruz's favorability improve, as he wowed Republican crowds during two Iowa visits last year.

PPP's robocall format only allows a maximum of nine candidates to be listed. I find it strange that the pollster included Huckabee and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, neither of whom seem likely to run for president in 2016. It's all the more odd since the poll did not give respondents a chance to choose former Senator Rick Santorum, the narrow winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, as a presidential candidate.

PPP's poll also did not offer respondents a chance to choose Texas Governor Rick Perry, who came to Iowa this week. He appeared on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program, attended a "business roundtable" in Davenport organized by the Koch Brothers group Americans for Prosperity, and spoke to GOP activists in Polk County at a private fundraiser and a small "rally" at Governor Terry Branstad's campaign headquarters. I've posted excerpts from Perry's "Iowa Press" comments below. I was particularly interested in his take on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoing a bill that would have allowed private businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples. Perry provided a textbook example of how to pivot away from the question you don't want to answer the question you wanted.

Another ambitious Republican excluded from PPP's Iowa poll is former Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who recently agreed to headline the April 3 GOP dinner in tiny Ringgold County. Brown visited the Iowa State Fair last summer and spoke at a Scott County GOP event in November.  

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IA-Gov: Tom Hoefling to challenge Branstad in GOP primary

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 16:29:23 PM CST

Via Radio Iowa I learned that Tom Hoefling is collecting signatures to run for Iowa governor as a Republican. Looking on his campaign's website, I see he announced his candidacy in early December. I've posted some background on Hoefling after the jump. This guy seems drawn to hopeless causes; he is a former supporter of Alan Keyes for president, but he appears to have become disenchanted with the Republican Party sometime during the last decade. In 2008 Hoefling and "many stalwart Reagan conservatives from across the country" founded the "America's Party." He ran for president in 2012 as the America's Party nominee.

It's anyone's guess whether Hoefling will manage to qualify for the GOP primary ballot. He needs to submit nominating petitions with at least 3,654 valid signatures, spread across at least ten Iowa counties, by the end of business on March 14.

If Hoefling becomes a candidate for governor, we all know he has no chance of beating Terry Branstad. Even he acknowledges that. I will be interested to see how much traction he can gain from bashing what he calls "crony capitalism" and "economic 'happy talk' coming from the governor" that doesn't reflect "the real world for the people that I know."

Hoefling highlights some other issues that are important to many social conservatives, on which the Branstad administration and elected Iowa Republicans are perceived to be lacking. He wants GOP leaders to fight against the "Common Core" curriculum for Iowa schools and take action to reverse "the abortion holocaust" and "the homosexual agenda which is destroying marriage and the natural family."

Republican turnout statewide should be higher than average on June 3 because of the crowded U.S. Senate primary and the competitive races for the GOP nomination in Iowa's first, second and third Congressional districts. How large is the potential protest vote against Branstad? Spin your own scenarios in this thread.

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IA-02: Mariannette Miller-Meeks is in for the third time

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 17, 2014 at 13:55:00 PM CST

Catching up on news from last week, Mariannette Miller-Meeks filed a formal statement of candidacy in Iowa's second district with the Federal Election Commission (hat tip to Greg Hauenstein). An ophthalmologist based in Ottumwa, Miller-Meeks was the Republican nominee against Representative Dave Loebsack in both 2008 and 2010. She served as director of the Iowa Department of Public Health from early 2011 until resigning last month.

I have not seen any formal campaign announcement yet from Miller-Meeks, but she has been attending central committee meetings and other Republican events around the 24 counties in IA-02 for some time. During the past month, she has met with GOP central committee members in Johnson County, Marion County, and Mahaska County. She attended an off-year caucus in the Quad Cities (Scott County). Last week Miller-Meeks tweeted a photo of her campaign co-chairs in Muscatine County--the home base for State Representative Mark Lofgren, who announced his campaign in IA-02 last summer. Lofgren has a lot of support in the GOP establishment but has not raised much money for his Congressional bid.

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IA-Sen: Whitaker up on television (sort of)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 17, 2014 at 09:55:16 AM CST

Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker was the first Republican to enter the race for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat but has struggled a bit in the fundraising department. Whitaker ended 2014 with $232,092.45 cash on hand in his campaign account, including $50,241.07 in loans from the candidate and $28,525 that can't be spent until the general election period (if Whitaker were to win the Republican primary).

Considering that Whitaker's campaign spent just under $60,000 during the last three months of 2013 without running television or radio commercials, it's clear that Whitaker won't be able to afford much (if any) television advertising before the June primary.

However, campaign commercials aren't the only way for a candidate to raise his name recognition. Central Iowa viewers of the winter Olympics on NBC Sports have seen a lot of Whitaker these past couple of weeks. The cable tv ads are promoting his law firm, not his Senate campaign, but they hit on several themes that will resonate favorably with rank-and-file Republicans. Follow me after the jump for my unofficial transcript of the spot for Whitaker, Hagenow and Gustoff LLB. I would like to know whether any Bleeding Heartland readers living outside the Des Moines media market have seen the same commercial on cable, either during Olympics coverage or at other times.

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IA-Sen: Bob Vander Plaats opts out to promote new book

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 15, 2014 at 09:36:00 AM CST

Jennifer Jacobs has the exclusive for today's Des Moines Register: three-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats has decided not to run for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat. He had previously appeared to be leaning toward running and had promised to make a decision by February 15. While some observers may be surprised he opted out, given polls showing him leading the GOP field, no one can be surprised by his reason:

Instead, his priority is his new book, "If 7:14." It's based on a Bible passage that says if people pray and turn from their wicked ways, God will hear and heal their land.

Vander Plaats said he has been booked for speaking engagements across the country, including at the Billy Graham Evangelical Association in North Carolina a few weeks ago, the New Canaan Society in Florida, a conference in Texas next week with pastors from large churches, and the National Council of Religious Broadcasters the following week.

"When God seems to be blessing an initiative, and there's a lot of opportunity with that initiative, it's hard to walk away," he said.

That's the BVP Iowans know and love (or at least love to hate): always happy to promote himself.

I think Vander Plaats recognizes that his ship has sailed in Iowa politics. He would have zero chance of beating Bruce Braley in a statewide election and might not even win a Republican primary. All he could accomplish in a Senate campaign is mess things up for Matt Whitaker and Sam Clovis. They are fighting over the "principled conservative" niche against establishment-friendly GOP candidates Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs. I would call Clovis the big winner from today's news, since he is the most natural fit for social conservative voters who might have been drawn to BVP. Clovis is trying to repeat the grassroots strategy Rick Santorum used in his 2012 Iowa caucus campaign.

UPDATE: Added the press release from the FAMiLY Leader below. Vander Plaats is such a shameless showboater.

SECOND UPDATE: Added more details below from Steve Deace, a big supporter of Vander Plaats's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

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IA-Sen: Republicans react--or don't--to latest debt ceiling hike

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 13:00:48 PM CST

Of the four leading Republican candidates for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat, three have denounced this week's vote to suspend the federal government's debt ceiling.

The odd man out is trying to avoid the subject.

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Branstad determined to make Kim Reynolds the next Iowa governor (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 03, 2014 at 08:53:15 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad confirmed on Iowa Public Television this weekend that he wants Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to succeed him in office.

Although he added that it's "his intention" to serve an entire sixth term if re-elected this year, his comments are not likely to persuade skeptics (including me) who believe that he would resign early to give Reynolds a chance to run as an incumbent governor in 2018. I explain why after the jump, following a video clip and partial transcript of Branstad's remarks.  

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IA-03: David Young has the Congressional insider vote locked up

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 10:45:00 AM CST

Ever since David Young first revealed his plans to run for the U.S. Senate, I've had trouble understanding how a professional Congressional staffer could win a Republican primary in Iowa. By all accounts Young is a bright, capable, hard-working Iowa native, but who is supposed to be his constituency? Candidates who have spent years building networks among conservative activists here will have a natural advantage over Young, who worked in Washington for 17 years before moving back to Iowa in 2013.

After Representative Tom Latham announced his retirement, Young switched from the U.S. Senate to the third district Congressional race, but that doesn't change the fundamental weakness of his candidacy. He may be the contender best-prepared to work in Congress, but I doubt that's what primary voters are looking for. When Young joined the Senate field, Robert Cramer praised him as "a 'man of integrity,' trustworthy and an 'across-the-board conservative.'" But even though Cramer has known Young for decades and thinks highly of him, he's not backing him in IA-03. On the contrary, Cramer himself is seeking the GOP nomination for Latham's seat.

This week Young's campaign announced its most prominent endorsements so far: former U.S. Representatives Tom Tauke and Jim Ross Lightfoot. I've posted the press release after the jump. Tauke represented northeast Iowa and hasn't served in Congress since losing the 1990 U.S. Senate race to Tom Harkin. Lightfoot represented parts of southwest Iowa that are in the current IA-03, but he hasn't been in Congress since losing to Harkin in 1996. He was last seen in this state blowing a big lead over Tom Vilsack in the 1998 gubernatorial race. Following that debacle, Lightfoot "became a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., [and] is now owner of Texas-based Lightfoot Strategies, a government relations consulting company." Hard to see him having any pull with the Iowa Republican base today.

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