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Kent Sorenson pleads guilty over hidden payments scheme (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 27, 2014 at 13:39:46 PM CDT

The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that former State Senator Kent Sorenson has pleaded guilty to two charges related to hidden payments in exchange for supporting Ron Paul for president. When he abandoned his position as Michele Bachmann's Iowa campaign chair to endorse Paul less than a week before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, rumors immediately circulated about alleged payments for his support. Sorenson repeatedly denied those rumors. However, he has now admitted that he received $73,000 in concealed payments after endorsing Paul. As part of his plea agreement, he also admitted lying to journalists and giving false testimony to an independent counsel appointed to investigate various charges. Sorenson resigned his Iowa Senate seat last October, the same day that independent counsel filed a devastating report. Federal authorities have been investigating the case since last year.

After the jump I've enclosed the full Department of Justice press release, with more details about the plea deal. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled. As far as I can tell, these charges are unrelated to any payments Sorenson allegedly received from the Bachmann campaign earlier in 2011. A former Bachmann campaign staffer made those claims in complaints he filed with the Federal Election Commission and with the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee. Another former Bachmann staffer signed an affidavit containing details on Sorenson's compensation for work supporting that campaign.

One mystery I hope someone will solve someday is whether Sorenson's attorney, Ted Sporer, lied on behalf of his client, or whether Sorenson lied to Sporer along with everyone else. Even on the day he resigned from the state legislature, Sorenson maintained he was an innocent victim of a "straight-up political witch hunt." A separate lawsuit that had alleged Sorenson stole a valuable e-mail list from a Bachmann staffer's computer was eventually settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Sorenson.

UPDATE: Russ Choma has more details at Open Secrets, including the full plea agreement. Highly recommend clicking through to read that whole post. I've enclosed excerpts below.

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Three reasons Rick Perry's indictment will help him with Iowa Republicans

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 19, 2014 at 10:54:25 AM CDT

Being charged with a crime is rarely good news for any public figure, but it looks like Texas Governor Rick Perry will be the exception that proves the rule.

Not only will his presidential aspirations survive the criminal case launched against him last last week, the governor's prosecution will improve his standing among Iowa Republicans, for three reasons.

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New Iowa caucus links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 08:03:26 AM CDT

More than a half-dozen potential presidential candidates have visited Iowa since Bleeding Heartland's last news roundup on the field. Any comments about the 2016 Iowa caucus campaign are welcome in this thread. Lots of links are after the jump.

Lest anyone think that ordinary people are unable to influence public discourse, consider this: Rand Paul's latest Iowa visit will likely be remembered for how he ran away from the DREAMers who confronted Representative Steve King.

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The Lord of the Ringkissers: Return of The Family Leadership Summit

by: natewithglasses

Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 18:14:55 PM CDT

(Always appreciate first-person accounts like this. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Today was the 3rd The Family Leadership Summit hosted by The Family Leader. This event has become a kingmaking event for Bob Vander Plaats and The Family Leader with national and state Republican officials coming to kiss their rings. This event has been talked about as replacing the Ames Straw Poll. For the second year in a row - I decided to make the trek to see what this is all about with allied organization - Progress Iowa.

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Helping parties verify eligible caucus-goers wouldn't make the Iowa caucuses a primary

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 31, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

For years, prominent Iowa Republicans have hyped unfounded fears about "voter fraud." So it's ironic that yesterday, the state GOP attacked Brad Anderson's proposal to help ensure that only eligible voters can take part in the Iowa caucuses.

Anderson is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. After the jump I've posted his "caucus integrity" plan, including this idea: "Parties should be encouraged to utilize electronic poll book technology that would provide up-to-date lists and allow Iowans to check-in electronically. I believe the next Secretary of State should work with each of the parties to develop and support an affordable, efficient and effective electronic poll book that would allow caucus participants to easily check-in and allow volunteers to immediately confirm eligibility."

I've also enclosed below an Iowa GOP press release. New Republican state party chair Jeff Kaufmann asserted, "Anderson's plan is a problem in search of a solution. We must maintain the separation of politics and state." Charlie Smithson, legal counsel for Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz since 2012, offered his opinion: "If government becomes involved with the caucus process, other states will argue that the caucuses have become the functional equivalent of a primary," hurting Iowa's efforts to remain first in the presidential nominating process.

That's a real stretch. Anderson's plan says straight away, "The caucuses are, and must remain strictly a party function run independently by the Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party." He hasn't proposed involving county auditors or the Secretary of State's office in setting caucus rules, or in tabulating or announcing Iowa caucus results. He's talking about working with the parties ahead of time, so that on caucus night, they have tools to verify that only eligible voters residing in the precinct take part. Republicans could still hold their straw polls early in the evening, electing county delegates later, while Democrats maintain their system of dividing into preference groups, with a 15 percent threshold for viability in every precinct. Using a poll book for check-in wouldn't change the fact that the Iowa Democratic Party announces only how many county convention delegates each candidate won, not raw numbers of caucus-goers who supported them.

If the Iowa caucuses ever produce another very close result, like the Republican outcome in 2012, any reports (credible or not) about ineligible voters taking part would boost the case for ditching Iowa as first in the nation. After the record-breaking Democratic caucus turnout in 2008, some people claimed that Barack Obama's campaign had brought large numbers of supporters in from out of state. Although facts didn't support those allegations, it would be easier to refute them if the parties had a better system for checking in caucus-goers.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Having worked in elections administration and volunteered at many Iowa caucuses, John Deeth explains how Anderson's ideas could improve the check-in process on caucus night.

P.S.- I think Kaufmann meant to say that Anderson's plan is a "solution in search of a problem." Which is ironic, since he and Smithson have both lent their support to Matt Schultz's photo ID crusade, the ultimate solution in search of a non-existent Iowa voter impersonation problem.  

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Lots of links on potential 2016 Iowa caucus candidates

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 14:16:13 PM CDT

It's been a while since Bleeding Heartland dedicated a thread to the potential 2016 presidential candidates. Please share any comments related to the next Iowa caucus campaign in this thread. Lots of links on various Democratic and Republican contenders are after the jump.
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Will Steve Bierfeldt ever work in Iowa Republican politics again?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 11:10:00 AM CDT

The Republican Party of Iowa's former executive director Steve Bierfeldt is not helping new leaders gain access to "the party's social media accounts, email lists, voter rolls email accounts, donor lists and even online access to the bank account." On July 4, the Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs highlighted the lack of new posts on the Iowa GOP's official website and Facebook and Twitter accounts. I had noticed the party's lack of activity on social media but did not imagine new leaders were literally locked out. At this writing, the Iowa GOP twitter account is back in service, but the most recent Facebook post is still dated June 13.

The party's new executive director, Chad Olsen, repeatedly asked Bierfeldt for help with passwords in e-mails quoted by Jacobs. This morning, the conservative blog Caffeinated Thoughts quoted Olsen as saying, "We are making progress on our own, directly with individual companies, which can be a slow and deliberate process.  The previous executive director (Steve Bierfeldt) still has not provided any additional information...."

Bierfeldt joined the Iowa GOP's staff shortly after Ron Paul loyalists gained most party leadership positions in 2012. He agreed in May of this year to resign effective June 14, when the Iowa GOP's new State Central Committee would take control. One of Iowa's representatives on the Republican National Committee, Tamara Scott, hinted during a contentious State Central Committee meeting on June 28 that ousted state party chair Danny Carroll was working on a "peaceable and professional" exit strategy for Bierfeldt, "something you want when your E.D. has your passwords, your files and your database and is the architect of your upcoming state convention." Bierfeldt apparently told Olsen last week that "he'd been told to delete all of the Iowa GOP files on his computer, so he no longer had the spreadsheet with all the passwords."

I've been downsized, so I empathize with feeling frustrated after losing a good job. But to sabotage your successor's work is incredibly immature and unprofessional. Bierfeldt should not be able to get another political or campaign job after this episode. Nevertheless, my money's on someone bringing him on board with the Rand Paul presidential campaign, or perhaps some PAC affiliated with Paul or the "Liberty" movement.

UPDATE: Added more details below. The longer this drags on, the worse Bierfeldt looks.

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Comparing the Iowa Democratic and Republican early GOTV

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

Officially, early voting begins in Iowa 40 days before the general election (September 25 this year). The Iowa Democratic Party has been sending field organizers and volunteers out to do voter contacts for weeks, and didn't even take a break for the holiday weekend.

Concern over the Democrats' head start on GOTV was one factor behind the recent change in Iowa GOP leadership. New state party chair Jeff Kaufmann has promised to build a strong field organization in time for the midterm election. Fortunately for him, a dark money group associated with the Koch brothers is already ramping up its voter contacts in Iowa.

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IA-03: Brad Zaun head fakes on possible independent candidacy

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jul 05, 2014 at 19:25:00 PM CDT

State Senator Brad Zaun got Iowa political junkies chattering this holiday weekend with a July 4 Facebook update:

As we celebrate Independence Day there is [sic] several of my friends that [sic] are encouraging me to switch to an Independent. What do you think? Very frustrated as Republicans lost their way!

Zaun's frustration is understandable, because he won a plurality of votes in the June 3 Republican primary, only to see the GOP convention delegates hand the nomination to the guy who finished fifth.

Still, I don't believe for one minute that he will file to run for Congress as an independent, nor do I believe that he will leave the Iowa Senate GOP caucus to become the state legislature's only independent lawmaker.

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Weekend open thread: Midsummer edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 29, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The big political news was the Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee passing a no-confidence motion in top leaders and electing former Iowa House Speaker Jeff Kaufmann as new party chair, with Cody Hoefert as co-chair. Radio Iowa has the audio of Kaufmann's speech to the committee, a spirited and a bit defensive case for changing leaders at this time. Too bad the party now has a team at the top whom major donors will support. The Iowa Republican live-blogged the State Central Committee meeting. Shane Vander Hart has video of remarks by several committee members. UPDATE: Added more commentary on the Republican Party leadership change below. Apparently Chad Olsen is returning as Iowa GOP executive director, which is good news for Republicans, since he knows a lot more about GOTV than the outgoing staff.

With the July 4 long weekend coming up, many people will be planning celebrations outdoors. Unfortunately, heavy rain has caused flooding affecting many Iowa parks, roads and trails in low-lying areas. With any luck we'll get a few dry days before next weekend.

Excess nutrients (primarily runoff from conventional agriculture) can cause algal blooms in waterways. Ponds and lakes affected by the overgrowth of algae are unfortunately not safe even for pets, let alone humans.

Most fireworks remain illegal to buy or sell in Iowa, despite efforts by some statehouse Republicans to pass a bill this year, which would have legalized them for the first time since the 1930s. There wasn't broad-based support for the bill. Playing with sparklers, which are legal, as well as fireworks purchased from neighboring states, contributes to a surge in eye injuries around July 4.

For those planning to march in parades on behalf of local candidates or political groups, enjoy your outreach and try to keep your message positive.

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Jeff Kaufmann and Cody Hoefert likely to be next Iowa GOP leaders

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 24, 2014 at 09:35:00 AM CDT

Former Iowa House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Kaufmann appears likely to be chosen as the next state chair of the Republican Party of Iowa this weekend. Kaufmann has been rumored to be angling for that position ever since he was elected to the party's new State Central Committee this spring. He made his plans official in an e-mail sent to fellow State Central Committee members yesterday. Excerpts are after the jump. Kaufmann served four terms in the Iowa House before retiring in 2012. His son, Bobby Kaufmann, currently represents the same district.

Lyon County Republican Chair Cody Hoefert announced yesterday that he is running for state party co-chair. Excerpts from his e-mail are at the end of this post.

Immediately after their terms began on June 14, the majority of new State Central Committee members signed a letter calling for a meeting on June 28 to elect a new chair and co-chair. Danny Carroll and Gopal Krishna have served in those positions since late March.

Some party activists are upset that the new State Central Committee isn't giving Carroll a chance to show he can lead. A former state lawmaker and close ally of Bob Vander Plaats, Carroll is popular with social conservatives. At least two GOP county central committees (Jasper and Warren Counties) have passed non-binding votes of no confidence in the State Central Committee's plan to vote on new leaders. I recommend watching or listening to the video of Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler's remarks to Jasper County Republican Central Committee members, followed by comments from the audience and the no-confidence vote. Scheffler repeatedly brought up the need for the state party to improve its fundraising, and argued that past chair A.J. Spiker created this problem by resigning in March rather than making his resignation effective on June 14, when the new State Central Committee was seated. He also suggested that Carroll should have agreed to resign his position, an assertion that angered some Jasper County activists.

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Bleeding Heartland 2014 primary election prediction contest results

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 20:07:14 PM CDT

Now that Republicans have selected a nominee in the third Congressional district, it's time to examine results from Bleeding Heartland's primary election prediction contest. You can view all the entries in this comment thread.  
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IA-03: David Young is truly a magician (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 21, 2014 at 19:10:00 PM CDT

David Young's television commercials featured the candidate performing magic tricks, and he certainly pulled a rabbit out of his hat today. Today some 500 delegates selected Young as the Republican nominee in Iowa's third Congressional district. Not many people saw that coming (aside from Julie Stauch). Young ran a solid and well-funded campaign but finished fifth in a six-man field on June 3.

Kevin Hall live-blogged the special district convention through all five ballots today. Short version: Young won by having less baggage and fewer enemies than the candidate who was eliminated on each ballot. Robert Cramer finished second to last on the second ballot (even though he finished a close second in the June 3 primary) and declined to endorse another contender after dropping out. Matt Schultz was the bottom candidate on the next ballot and endorsed Young afterward. Monte Shaw, widely viewed as the establishment's favorite and in particular as Governor Terry Branstad's unofficial favorite, was eliminated after the fourth ballot, leaving just Brad Zaun and Young.

I expected Shaw to win at convention through the same kind of path Young traveled today, benefiting as rivals with more baggage finished last on successive ballots. After his victory this afternoon, Young promised delegates that he would "make [Democratic IA-03 nominee] Staci Appel disappear" in November. Young will have a ton of money at his disposal, thanks to connections built during nearly two decades as a Congressional staffer. From 2006 until last summer, he served as chief of staff to Senator Chuck Grassley.

UPDATE: Radio Iowa has the audio of Young's victory speech to delegates. After the jump I've posted the Appel campaign's comment on the GOP convention, as well as a comment from Grassley on his protege's Congressional campaign. Officially, Grassley stayed neutral in the Republican primary, but several of his consultants worked for Young.

SECOND UPDATE: Added more observations below from Craig Robinson, who spent the day at the nominating convention.

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Ronda Bern will face John Forbes in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:28:00 AM CDT

Republicans held a special convention in Iowa House district 40 yesterday to nominate a candidate against first-term State Representative John Forbes. Remarkably, no Republican filed to run in this district before the March filing deadline. Two candidates attempted to win the nomination through write-in votes on the June 3 primary, but neither reached the required threshold.

Kevin Hall reported for The Iowa Republican that establishment candidate Ronda Bern won the nominating convention by 4.5 to 3.5 over college student Jeremy Freeman. (GOP Polk County Central Committee members from the various precincts in the House district cast weighted votes based on how many Republican votes came from each precinct in the last general election.) I'm surprised Bern didn't defeat Freeman more decisively. The nominating convention could have gone the other way if Freeman had a few more friends on the central committee.  

Click here for background on Bern. After the jump I've posted a map of House district 40 and the latest voter registration numbers. This will likely be a targeted seat in the general election. Republicans currently hold a 53 to 47 Iowa House majority.

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IA-03: Zaun, Schultz supporters going after Shaw (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 10:08:00 AM CDT

More signs suggest that other candidates and their supporters see Monte Shaw as their primary threat at Saturday's special convention to choose a Republican nominee in IA-03. Craig Robinson wrote about the multi-pronged attacks on Shaw at The Iowa Republican blog. Shaw has served as Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director since 2005, and the Liberty Iowa PAC has highlighted donations that trade association's PAC made to Democratic candidates during the years. The Liberty PAC represents a group of former Ron Paul supporters. They have endorsed State Senator Brad Zaun in the IA-03 primary, although ironically, Zaun backed Michele Bachmann (not Paul) in the 2012 Iowa caucus campaign.

Anonymous e-mails circulated to Republican district convention delegates prompted the Shaw campaign to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission last week.

I had viewed Shaw and Robert Cramer as the most viable candidates going into convention. Apparently Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and I finally agreed on something. According to Robinson, Schultz's campaign has sent GOP delegates direct mail "comparing Schultz to Shaw and Cramer on the issues of government spending and taxes." Meanwhile, an arm of the American Future Fund has been sending out positive mail about Schultz, while the Tea Party Express attacked Shaw for Iowa Renewable Fuels Association PAC contributions to Democrats including "Staci Appel, Chet Culver, Mike Gronstal, Chris Hall, and Pat Murphy."

I'll believe an informal survey showing David Young in a strong position when other campaigns start attacking Young. So far, he does not appear to be viewed as a threat. One could argue that's a great place to be in a contest likely to force multiple ballots, but I still don't see delegates nominating a career Congressional staffer over rivals who have spent most of their adult lives in Iowa.

UPDATE: Added more details on the convention procedure below and a new argument against Schultz I hadn't heard before.

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IA-03: David Young gets talking point to take to convention

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 17, 2014 at 08:55:00 AM CDT

With only a few days left before special convention delegates choose a Republican nominee in Iowa's third Congressional district, David Young got a boost from a "poll" by the conservative blog Caffeinated Thoughts. The blog set up a closed, online survey last week and circulated the link to delegates via e-mail.

There's no way to know whether the 118 people who filled out the survey are representative of some 500 district convention delegates or alternates who will gather in Urbandale on June 21. If they are, it's good news for Young, who finished fifth in the June 3 voting. Asked which candidate they support, 27 percent of delegates named Young, equal to the percentage backing State Senator Brad Zaun, who won a plurality of votes in the primary. Some 19 percent of delegates who responded named Robert Cramer, 14 percent Monte Shaw (widely seen as Governor Terry Branstad's favored candidate), and just 8 percent named Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. The results were even better for Young on the "second choice" question: 34 percent of respondents named him, way ahead of 17 percent for Zaun, 14 percent for Schultz and Cramer, and 10 percent for Shaw.

Young's campaign was quick to spread the news in an e-mail blast I've enclosed below.

I had assumed Shaw held the advantage in a convention scenario, as he has longstanding ties with GOP activists, and to my mind, would be seen as a less-offensive alternative to some other candidates in the race. But if this survey is representative, Young has a chance of filling that "least offensive" niche. Maybe conservatives working together to block Shaw are succeeding in creating a bit of a backlash against the leading establishment candidate.

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Weekend open thread, with Iowa GOP state convention highlights

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 14, 2014 at 21:58:07 PM CDT

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

The Republican Party of Iowa held its state convention today in Des Moines. Links and highlights are after the jump.

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Coalition forming against Monte Shaw before IA-03 nominating convention?

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 13:59:13 PM CDT

Roughly 500 Republican delegates from the third Congressional district will meet at Des Moines Christian School in Urbandale on June 21 to select a nominee against Staci Appel. I consider Monte Shaw the best-placed candidate going into the convention, despite his fourth-place finish in the June 3 voting. Several signs point to the other campaigns developing a strategy to stop Shaw at the convention. Executing that strategy won't be easy.
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Republicans likely to nominate Ronda Bern in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 16:17:09 PM CDT

Last week Bleeding Heartland mentioned that two Republicans were actively seeking write-in votes in Iowa House district 40, the Iowa GOP's most spectacular recruiting failure in a statehouse district this year. Normally, major parties rectify such problems by nominating a candidate during the summer at a special district convention. However, little-known conservative activist Jeremy Freeman started aggressively door-knocking last month to obtain write-in votes (at first using a cowboy card that misspelled Governor Terry Branstad's name). Due to a little-known feature of Iowa election law and low turnout in Urbandale during the 2012 Republican primary, a write-in candidate could have taken the House district 40 nomination outright with 149 or more votes on June 3.

Local establishment Republicans swung into action behind Ronda Bern. An alert Bleeding Heartland reader shared with me a copy of her direct mail piece, which reached voters shortly before the primary. I got a kick out the fib on the front side: "In order to have a candidate on the ballot in November in HD 40, you must follow the write-in instructions on the back of this card." Not true, as we're going to find out during the next couple of months. I've posted the mailer after the jump, along with an excerpt from the May 23 press release announcing Bern's candidacy.

On election night, I saw on the Polk County Auditor's website that 254 write-in votes were recorded in House district 40, and thought perhaps Bern or Freeman made it over the line. But Bern received just 110 write-in votes, Freeman 103. The rest of the write-ins were for people who received either one or two votes apiece, according to the Polk County elections office. Since no one won the nomination through write-ins, Republicans can schedule a district convention anytime to nominate their candidate. All signs point to Bern. I couldn't find any record of her donating to Iowa House or Senate candidates in the past, but she and her husband maxed out to Matt Whitaker's unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign. In 2010, she gave $2,000 to Jim Gibbons' campaign in Iowa's third Congressional district.

House district 40 is likely to be a battleground race this fall. It's among a handful of Democratic-held Iowa House districts that Mitt Romney carried in the last presidential election. The latest figures from the Secretary of State's Office indicate that the district contains 6,385 active registered Democrats, 7,405 Republicans, and 6,037 no-party voters. Both parties ran television commercials here during the open-seat race in 2012, which Forbes won by 1,069 votes. Many local Republicans supported the Democrat, a local pharmacist, business owner, and longtime Urbandale City Council member. The latest financial reports show that in mid-May, Forbes' campaign had a little more than $19,000 cash on hand.

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IA-03 district convention speculation thread (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 04, 2014 at 08:10:00 AM CDT

For the first time since 2002, a special district convention will select an Iowa Congressional nominee. (Steve King snagged the nomination in IA-05 that year after none of the four Republican candidates reached the 35 percent threshold.) After the jump I've posted the unofficial results from yesterday's six-way primary in IA-03 and my thoughts on who takes the strongest case to convention delegates who will meet on June 21 at Creston High School. UPDATE: Creston will not be the location after all; Iowa GOP leaders are scrambling to find a new location and date. More details below.

Spin your own IA-03 scenarios in this thread. I'm curious to see how Democratic candidate Staci Appel responds to this unusual situation. Will she start building a narrative against one or more of the contenders, or hold her fire until after June 21?

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