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Iowa reaction to Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 03, 2015 at 12:45:47 PM CST

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to members of Congress this morning, covering the expected ground about U.S.-Israeli relations and the danger posed by negotiating with Iran. Yesterday President Barack Obama defended his administration's policies and suggested that events had disproved Netanyahu's warnings about the 2013 agreement designed to halt Iran's nuclear program. Obama isn't planning to meet with Netanyahu during this Washington trip because of the Israeli election happening later this month.

At least 50 Congressional Democrats skipped today's speech, mainly because Republicans had invited Netanyahu to speak without working through White House channels. Furthermore, many people feel it's inappropriate for the U.S. Congress to appear to support one political party leader two weeks before an Israeli election. Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference yesterday, Netanyahu disingenuously said, "The last thing anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue." Which of course has been the entirely predictable outcome of this episode. For that reason, this Jewish blogger is among the roughly half of Americans who disapprove of Republican leaders inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress.

All of the Iowa Republicans in Congress attended today's speech. I've enclosed some of their comments below and will update this post as needed. UPDATE: Representative Steve King (IA-04) put his reaction on YouTube.

Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) watched the speech from his office. I enclose below his statement, explaining his views on U.S.-Israeli relations and his reasons for staying away from the "spectacle." I support his position 100 percent. The Republican Party of Iowa accused Loebsack of insulting "America's ally" by not hearing the prime minister's thoughts. But Loebsack did listen to what Netanyahu had to say--from an appropriate distance. Incidentally, House Minority Nancy Pelosi commented that while listening to Netanyahu this morning, she was "saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States."

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Five takeaways from Jeb Bush's first money drop on Iowa Republicans

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 16, 2015 at 09:24:16 AM CST

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made a strong statement on Friday when his political action committee announced $122,800 in donations to Republican parties and candidates in early presidential nominating states. The Right to Rise PAC gave $10,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa and $5,200 each to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative David Young (IA-03).

The money Bush gave (and didn't give) in Iowa speaks volumes.

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Weekend open thread: Love and marriage equality edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Feb 15, 2015 at 15:21:03 PM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I'm not big on "Hallmark holidays," but if Valentine's Day (or "co-opting Valentine's Day") is your thing, I hope you enjoyed February 14. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I wanted to catch up on news from a couple of weeks ago, which may continue to reverberate during the Republican Iowa caucus campaign. The owners of Görtz Haus agreed to settle with a gay couple who had wanted to get married at their venue in Grimes. Betty and Richard Odgaard are Mennonites who don't believe in same-sex marriage. Since the law doesn't allow them to discriminate against LGBT couples, they have decided not to hold any weddings at their place of business. They also dropped their own doomed-to-fail lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Clips with background on the episode and reaction to its resolution are after the jump.

Social conservatives are outraged over what they see as an assault on religious freedom. Both talk radio host Steve Deace and Bob Vander Plaats' organization The FAMiLY Leader have indicated that the Görtz Haus controversy will be a salient issue in the coming presidential campaign.

What these folks can't acknowledge is that no one is forcing the Odgaards or anyone else to approve of or "celebrate" gay weddings. Many of us have ethical or religious objections to some marriages; for instance, if the couple began dating while married to other people, or if one person appears to be marrying solely for money, or if there is a large age gap between the spouses. Plenty of Jews and Christians would disapprove of my own interfaith marriage. No one is demanding that the whole world applaud every marriage, only that the religious beliefs of some don't interfere with the civil rights of others.

Additionally, it's important to note that no house of worship in Iowa has ever been forced to hold same-sex weddings. If the Odgaards ran a church, they would be fully within their rights to refuse to serve LGBT couples. Görtz Haus is a for-profit business, subject to the same civil rights statutes as other public venues.  

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Iowa House Republicans accept marriage equality but can't admit it yet

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 12, 2015 at 15:10:25 PM CST

Four years ago, Republicans rushed to pass a state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman within weeks of regaining control of the Iowa House. Every member of the GOP caucus was on the same page.

Two years ago, the marriage amendment failed to come up for a vote in the Iowa House, but a majority of Republican lawmakers still co-sponsored the legislation.

Now, signs point to Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore letting the marriage amendment die quietly, as he did in 2013. Fewer than a quarter of the 57 House Republicans signed on to the latest effort to turn back the clock on marriage rights. At the same time, only one GOP lawmaker is "loud and proud" about supporting the right of all Iowans to marry the person they love.

Follow me after the jump for a breakdown of where Iowa House Republicans stand on the "traditional marriage" amendment, and speculation on why so many of them aren't trying to pass it anymore, even though they ostensibly don't support LGBT marriage rights.  

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Rand Paul's Iowa visit highlights, plus: should Rod Blum endorse?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 09, 2015 at 11:46:47 AM CST

U.S. Senator Rand Paul came to central Iowa this weekend. He drew more than 200 people to an event in Des Moines on Friday night, packed a restaurant in Marshalltown on Saturday morning, and took in the Iowa State men's basketball game that afternoon. It was Paul's first visit to our state since October, when he campaigned in eastern Iowa with Congressional candidate Rod Blum and Senate candidate Joni Ernst. Clips with more news from Paul's appearances are after the jump, along with excerpts from Shane Goldmacher's recent article for the National Journal, which depicted former Iowa GOP chair A.J. Spiker as an "albatross" for Paul's caucus campaign.

Before I get to the Rand Paul news, some quick thoughts about Representative Blum, who joined Paul for his Marshalltown event. Blum didn't endorse a candidate before the 2012 Iowa caucuses and told The Iowa Republican's Kevin Hall that he doesn't "plan to endorse anyone" before the upcoming caucuses, adding,

"I might at the very end. We need a strong leader. We need genuine, authentic leadership and I may rise or fall in my election in two years based on who this presidential candidate is."

I will be surprised if Blum doesn't officially back Paul sometime before the caucuses. The "Liberty" movement got behind him early in the GOP primary to represent IA-01. At that time, many Iowa politics watchers expected the nomination to go to a candidate with better establishment connections, such as Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen or State Representative Walt Rogers. Paulsen eventually chickened out of the race, and Rogers bailed out a few months before the primary after overspending on campaign staff. Arguably, Blum owes Liberty activists for helping him scare off the strongest Republican competition. Without them, he might be a two-time failed GOP primary candidate, rather than a first-term member of Congress.

The case against Blum endorsing Paul before the caucuses is that doing so might anger GOP supporters of other presidential candidates. Even if Paul remains in the top tier by this time next year, 70 percent to 80 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers will likely prefer someone else. Blum will need all hands on deck to be re-elected in Iowa's first district, which is now one of the most Democratic-leaning U.S. House seats held by a Republican (partisan voting index D+5). It will be a top target for House Democrats in 2016.

Still, I think Blum would be better off endorsing than staying neutral. Most Republicans in the IA-01 counties will vote for him in the general election either way. By getting behind Paul when it counts, Blum would give Liberty activists more reasons to go the extra mile supporting his campaign later in the year, regardless of whether Paul becomes the presidential nominee or (as I suspect) seeks another term as U.S. senator from Kentucky. Besides, if Blum really believes that Paul's outreach to youth and minorities has the potential to grow the GOP, he should invest some of his political capital in that project.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers?  

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Why the vaccination issue is a minefield for Republican presidential candidates

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 03, 2015 at 07:05:00 AM CST

The recent measles outbreak has sparked more media discussion of the trend away from routine vaccination. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tried to walk a fine line when asked about the issue yesterday, saying parents should have "some measure of choice" over immunizing their kids. I enclose his comments and his staff's later attempts to clarify below.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who is also a medical doctor, told a popular right-wing radio host yesterday, "I'm not anti-vaccine at all but...most of them ought to be voluntary. [...] I think there are times in which there can be some rules but for the most part it ought to be voluntary." He took a shot at former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has said it was a mistake for his administration to try to require the human papillomavirus vaccine for pre-teen girls in Texas.

As these and other Republican presidential candidates tour Iowa this year, I guarantee that they will face many more questions about the vaccine issue. In my non-blogging life, I have encountered hundreds of Iowa parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. They are a diverse group and can't be stereotyped as "crunchy hippie" lefties or religious conservatives. Some don't trust the government to regulate toxins in products pushed by pharmaceutical companies. Others may not believe vaccines cause autism but fear different adverse reactions. Or, they think "natural immunity" acquired through getting a disease is stronger. Many conservative evangelicals and Catholics shun vaccines because of concerns about the use of fetal tissue in their manufacture (see also here). Although the most influential homeschooling group, the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, does not take a position for or against immunizations, my impression is that anti-vaccine views are more prevalent among homeschoolers than among parents who send their children to public or parochial schools. Homeschoolers were a critical base of support for Mike Huckabee's 2008 Iowa caucus campaign and were courted by multiple presidential candidates before the 2012 caucuses.

Some libertarian-leaning conservatives may not worry about the safety or ethics of vaccines, and may even have their own children immunized, but on principle don't think the government should tell parents anything about how to raise kids. That group looks like a natural Rand Paul constituency, but they may be open to other candidates who cater to their views.

Regardless of how far the measles outbreak spreads, this issue will remain a minefield for GOP candidates.

Side note: In central Iowa, more and more pediatric practices are rejecting families whose parents want to deviate from the accepted vaccine schedule. In my opinion, that is a huge mistake. There is no one perfect immunization schedule. Medical associations in different countries recommend that babies and toddlers get shots for various diseases at different times. Based on my conversations, many of these parents would agree to most or all of the vaccines eventually; they just feel uncomfortable with so many shots clustered close together. Instead of accommodating those concerns with a delayed schedule, pediatricians are driving families away. So worried parents either stop taking their kids to regular wellness checks, or seek medical care only from chiropractors or alternative health providers.

UPDATE: Added below further comments from Rand Paul on why vaccines should be voluntary.

Likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton weighed in on Twitter: "The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let's protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest"

A Bleeding Heartland reader reminded me about this report from last year, indicating that "In West Des Moines, 37 percent of home-schooled children are not fully vaccinated."  

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Weekend open thread: Des Moines Register Iowa caucus poll edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 31, 2015 at 21:26:55 PM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Bonus points if someone can suggest a good reason for Senator Joni Ernst voting against renewable energy tax credits this week. Her staff should have informed her that those tax credits are important for Iowa's wind turbine manufacturers. Then she could have followed Senator Chuck Grassley's lead. Or maybe that information wouldn't have mattered, since Ernst owes a lot to the Koch brothers, who strongly oppose federal incentives for renewable energy.

The Des Moines Register just published the latest Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa poll, which was in the field a few days after Representative Steve King's Iowa Freedom Summit generated substantial political news coverage. Selzer & Co. surveyed 402 "likely Republican caucus-goers" between January 26 and 29, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. No candidate has a statistically significant lead; the "top tier" are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney (who hadn't announced yet that he wasn't running), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (who won the 2008 Iowa GOP caucuses), Dr. Ben Carson, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. You can read the highlights on the Register's website; after the jump I've embedded the polling memo. For my money, this is the most interesting part of Jennifer Jacobs' story:

Sixty percent say it's more important to vote for the person who aligns with their values, even if that candidate isn't electable, compared with 36 percent who say winning the White House for Republicans is more important.

A majority - 51 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers - would prefer an anti-establishment candidate without a lot of ties to Washington or Wall Street who would change the way things are done and challenge conventional thinking. That compares to 43 percent who think the better leader would be a mainstream establishment candidate with executive experience who understands business and how to execute ideas, the new poll shows.

For respondents who say they want an establishment candidate, Romney is their first choice. With Romney out of the picture, Walker leads. Huckabee is next, then Bush.

Among those who want an anti-establishment candidate, Paul is the favorite, followed by Walker and Carson.

The 401 "Democratic likely caucus-goers" surveyed by Selzer & Co. overwhelmingly lean toward former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She's the first choice of 56 percent and the second choice of 15 percent of respondents. Senator Elizabeth Warren polled 16 percent as a first choice and 23 percent as a second choice. Vice President Joe Biden polled 9 percent as a first choice and 26 percent as a second choice. All other potential candidates were in single digits.

FEBRUARY 1 UPDATE: Ben Schreckinger is out with a Politico story headlined, "Iowa Dems high and dry as Hillary decides." I've added excerpts after the jump. The story is full of angtsy quotes about how there's not as much activity on the Democratic side as there was before the 2004 and 2008 caucuses, and how Republicans will benefit from more organizing by presidential hopefuls. It's true, Iowa Republicans have had way more candidate visits, including events to raise money for county parties or down-ballot candidates. Guess what? It's going to stay that way for all of 2015. Our party has a prohibitive front-runner, and she is well-liked by the vast majority of likely Democratic caucus-goers. We're not going to have multiple presidential candidates spending millions of dollars on dozens of field offices around the state. So stop whining about it to national reporters and start figuring out how to build a grassroots network without an Iowa caucus as competitive as 2004 or 2008.

I also added below a statement from the Iowa GOP, contrasting the "vibrant" and "diverse" Republican presidential field with the Democratic landscape ahead of the 2016 caucuses.

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Iowa caucus discussion thread: Romney reality check edition

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 30, 2015 at 11:46:12 AM CST

Speaking in "his best precinct, the top-level donor conference call," Mitt Romney announced this morning that he will not run for president a third time. Though the odds against a successful bid for the presidency would seem obvious to any casual politics watcher, Romney appears to have genuinely believed that he could win in 2016 with a sharper message. But many of his top donors, bundlers, and early-state volunteers were reluctant to board the Romney train one more time. In what may have been the last straw, yesterday news broke that David Kochel will soon move to Miami to work as "senior strategist" for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's new political action committee. Kochel was Romney's top Iowa consultant during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles but is expected to become Bush's national campaign manager once Jeb makes his presidential race official.

Kochel told Jonathan Martin of the New York Times that a lot of Iowans "will be interested in signing up" with Jeb Bush, adding that "You compete everywhere because that's how you win delegates." Some people had speculated that Bush might bypass the Iowa caucuses, seen to favor socially conservative candidates. He skipped Representative Steve King's cattle call "Iowa Freedom Summit" last weekend in Des Moines, where several of the speakers took shots at him.

In general, Bush has spent the last month on major donor contacts and strategizing rather than public appearances. Bank on him to raise far more money than anyone else in the large presidential field during the first half of this year. He could raise as much as the rest of the field combined.

With Romney out, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looks like the only person who can compete with Jeb for the "establishment Republican" niche. He reminded the audience at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he's visited this state eleven times since 2010. You can listen to that speech at Radio Iowa.

Iowa Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter spearheaded a "draft Christie" before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. So far this cycle, he is staking out a more neutral position. Last week Rastetter's public relations team announced plans to hold an Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines on March 7. About two dozen possible presidential candidates from both parties have been invited to participate; the full list is in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Governor Terry Branstad told Radio Iowa this week that Jeb Bush is "very interested" in attending the forum.  

While most of the speakers at King's overly long Freedom Summit came to town solely for that occasion, 2012 Iowa caucuses winner Rick Santorum toured the state for several days afterward. He is still pushing a message I think Republicans should hear about how the GOP could better connect with working-class Americans. Radio Iowa posted the full audio here. According to Iowa Starting Line, Santorum didn't draw a lot of applause at the Freedom Summit but was well-received at his small events this past week. Nevertheless, I expect most of his 2012 supporters to flow to other candidates this year, especially Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz.

I still like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's chances to win the Iowa caucuses. By all accounts he made a good impression on the Freedom Summit crowd. So did Ben Carson, but I don't see Carson putting together a professional campaign operation. Radio Iowa posted the full audio and highlights from the Walker speech here. Click here to listen to Ted Cruz, another crowd favorite.

In contrast, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin bombed at the Freedom Summit, done in by a malfunctioning teleprompter. With her public speaking experience, she should have been able to wing it. I had to laugh when I saw Sam Clovis bash her to the Sioux City Journal's reading audience. He's probably still bitter that Palin endorsed Joni Ernst for Senate last spring when Clovis was campaigning as the true conservative in the GOP field.

The Republican Party of Iowa is accepting straw poll venue bids until Thursday, February 12. A recent press release said "Venue proposals should be able to accommodate large crowds and have ample parking." The major fundraiser coming this August has traditionally been held in Ames, but I'm hearing there will be a strong push for Farm Progress Show in Boone. The State Fairgrounds in Des Moines are another leading contender for the event.

In news from the Democratic side, Mike Allen reported for Politico that former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July." A lot of Iowa Democrats are upset that Clinton has in effect frozen the field of play. They won't be happy if she leaves everyone hanging until mid-summer. By this point in 2007, several Democratic presidential candidates already were opening field offices in key Iowa cities.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley made his first Iowa hire recently. Jake Oeth, who served as political director for Bruce Braley's U.S. Senate campaign, is now doing outreach for O'Malley as a consultant to the O'Say Can You See PAC. According to Pat Rynard at Iowa Starting Line, O'Malley had been recruiting Oeth for some time. The former Maryland governor has Iowa connections going all the way back to Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign and paid his dues last year with several Iowa visits, including the keynote speech for the state Democratic Party convention and fundraisers for Democratic candidates. Although some consider the former Maryland governor a possible rival to Clinton, I see him more as a back-up candidate if some unexpected development prevents Clinton from running.

MoveOn.org Political Action opened a Des Moines office for the Run Warren Run effort two weeks ago. I've posted the announcement after the jump; it mentions the first Iowa staff hires. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, I think the "draft Warren" effort is mostly a waste of progressive energy and resources. Not that I'm against house parties for liberals, but they could be organizing around a more practical political cause. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit Warren won't change the fact that she is not running for president. Pat Rynard attended the Run Warren Run office kickoff party on January 29 and posted his thoughts on the campaign's "murky mission."

I haven't heard much lately about U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who formed an exploratory committee late last year to consider a presidential bid. I never bought into him as a serious rival to Clinton, and he didn't respond adeptly to the first real scrutiny of his PAC's activities. I'm keeping an open mind about the Democratic race until the field is set, but if Webb turns out to be the only alternative candidate, I will be caucusing for Hillary.

Any comments about the Iowa caucuses are welcome in this thread.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Freedom Summit edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 24, 2015 at 11:40:00 AM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Many prospective presidential candidates are speaking at the Iowa Freedom Summit today. I'll update this post later with clips and highlights.

An MSNBC story on Representative Steve King (IA-04) made a splash yesterday with this revelation:

King is not above gloating. His staff kept a running list of some 12-16 prominent Republicans who've leveled personal criticisms against him. The congressman said he went over it himself the other day, just for old time's sake.

"Their agenda [on immigration] has been marginalized," a smiling King told msnbc. "Mine's been strengthened."

True, but that's to the long-term detriment of the country and the Republican Party.

Who do you think is on King's enemies list? Probably not many Iowans, aside from Doug Gross.

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Iowa caucus discussion thread: Romney delusions edition

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 21:35:23 PM CST

It's been a while since we had a new thread for discussing the next Iowa caucus campaign. Most of the action lately has been on the Republican side, but any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread. Here are some links to get the conversation started.

Mitt Romney confirmed last week that he may launch a third campaign for the presidency, even though he had previously ruled out another bid on many occasions. He leads some early polls of Republicans, but with 20 percent support or less--not impressive for someone with his level of name recognition. I can't imagine why Republicans would ever nominate him again, or how anyone in his inner circle can believe he has a chance. Maggie Haberman and James Hohmann shed some light on that subject in "The selling of Mitt 3.0," which you should read in full. After the jump I've enclosed a few excerpts from that piece and from John Dickerson's report for Slate. Apparently some people believe that with better messaging and no incumbent president to face, Romney has a decent shot. Sounds delusional to me. Romney still has all the baggage from his last campaign. His dire predictions about the economy have proven false. Surely many of his donors and grassroots supporters will be looking for a new candidate, such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush or even former Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Maybe The Onion was right after all in this 2012 report: "Mitt Romney Terrified What Will Happen If He Ever Stops Running for President."

Also on the establishment wing of the GOP, Jeb Bush has stepped down from various corporate and non-profit boards and started raising money for his new leadership PAC. Bush will have a well-funded campaign and is more electable than many of the other potential candidates, but I don't see him as a strong contender for the Iowa caucuses. The four issues Eric Pianin identified here (Common Core, immigration, taxes, and Obamacare) will all be deal-breakers for the conservative activists who tend to show up on caucus night.  

Seeking to cash in early on anti-Jeb sentiment, some conservatives have formed a PAC and created an "EndJeb2016" website. Sounds like a fundraising and list-building scheme to me (a la Ready for Hillary), as opposed to an effort to run a real campaign against Bush in the GOP primaries.

Romney's 2012 running mate Paul Ryan, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said this week that he will not seek the presidency in 2016. He would be a fool to try when the field is already crowded, and he can afford to wait another four or eight years.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee quit hosting his weekly show on Fox News, saying he can't rule out another presidential bid and will make a final decision this spring. Huckabee has a huge grassroots following in Iowa, and his entry to the race would greatly complicate matters for the likes of former Senator Rick Santorum or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Santorum is promising to run "a very, very different candidacy than the last time around," but for quite some time, many of his Iowa supporters have been looking at fresher faces like Ted Cruz or Ben Carson. Craig Robinson described Huckabee as the "first love" of Iowa social conservatives. Jamie Johnson, who worked on Santorum's 2012 campaign here, told David Weigel last week,

"I can tell you, I took Rick Santorum across the state three years ago," Johnson says. "People loved Huckabee. They liked Santorum. There was never a heart connection between them and Santorum the way there'd been for Huckabee."

Jindal was just in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids to meet privately with pastors. I can't see him putting together a winning campaign in Iowa or anywhere else. Why should people support him when he's not even popular in his (conservative) home state?

Ben Carson was caught plagiarizing part of his book America the Beautiful. He is working to "rectify the situation." My guess is that few Iowa Republicans will care about this ethical lapse.

My pick to win the Iowa caucuses, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, has selected a likely campaign manager and will soon launch some kind of PAC.  GOP activists here will appreciate that Walker took on public sector unions, refused to expand Medicaid, and doesn't support comprehensive immigration reform. But they won't react well if they learn that he put the brakes on efforts to pass a "right to work" law.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Senator Rand Paul hired a presidential campaign manager this week. I still think he will bail out of the race in time to run for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2016. Kentucky law doesn't allow him to be on the ballot for two offices in the same primary election.

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Iowa GOP will continue straw poll fundraiser

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 10, 2015 at 21:21:25 PM CST

The Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee voted unanimously today to hold a "straw poll" fundraiser next August, as has occurred every year before the Iowa caucuses since 1979. The date and location will be announced later; the three most likely venues are the Iowa State University campus in Ames, the Farm Progress Show in Boone, and the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

I've enclosed the official Iowa GOP statement after the jump. Note that it identifies former Republican presidential nominees George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and Mitt Romney as past winners of the straw poll, but does not mention Michele Bachmann, who won the 2011 straw poll and went on to finish fifth on caucus night. O. Kay Henderson posted the audio from the committee deliberations and vote. State party chair Jeff Kaufmann emphasized that Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is strongly supportive of Iowa's first in the nation status, and said the straw poll will not jeopardize that role.

Shortly after the 2012 presidential election, Governor Terry Branstad declared that "the straw poll has outlived its usefulness." That's easy for him to say when he is able to raise millions of dollars through other events. There's no way the Iowa GOP would fail to hold some kind of statewide fundraiser featuring as many presidential candidates as possible. Continuing the straw poll element will increase the national media's interest in the event.

Speaking to State Central Committee members after today's vote, Kaufmann thanked Branstad, Senator Chuck Grassley, and Representative Steve King for their feedback on the straw poll. He added that Branstad had offered to help the party secure presidential candidates' participation if the straw poll continues. Some analysts have speculated that certain candidates would skip the fundraiser, either because the event is seen to skew toward social conservative activists, or simply to save money. (Texas Governor Rick Perry joined the presidential race shortly after the Ames straw poll.) Kaufmann said today that if some candidates decide not to participate, "I can guarantee that RPI will maintain its strict neutrality policy whether or not that candidate attended the Straw Poll or not."

During today's meeting, several State Central Committee members praised the straw poll's role in giving every presidential candidate, not just well-funded ones, an opportunity to address activists from all over Iowa. A few also favorably cited the straw poll's function in "winnowing the field." Sam Brownback ended his presidential campaign soon after the 2007 straw poll, and Tim Pawlenty did the same soon after finishing a distant third at the 2011 event. I suspect that this year, presidential candidates will not invest as much money in winning the straw poll, nor will they over-react to a less than stellar showing. Bachmann started fading almost immediately after winning the 2011 straw poll. By the time the Iowa caucuses rolled around, Republicans had cycled through three more front-runners (Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich), before Rick Santorum surged to finish in a near-tie with Romney and Ron Paul. According to some reports, Pawlenty regretted dropping out of that race so early.

Any comments about the next Republican presidential campaign are welcome in this thread.

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Weekend open thread: Passages

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jan 04, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CST

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

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo passed away on New Year's Day. He was a hero to many liberal Democrats during the 1980s, thanks to the policies he promoted in New York and especially his legendary keynote address to the 1984 Democratic National Convention. I've posted the video after the jump, along with some excerpts from the full text and from obituaries. It has been ranked the 11th best American political speech of the 20th century.

I was unable to watch Cuomo's keynote live, because I spent July 1984 at summer camp. But listening to it this week brought back many emotions. Liberals felt discouraged and embattled during the Reagan years. Cuomo gave voice to those frustrations. He focused on economic inequality in particular: "There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit in your shining city. In fact, Mr. President [...] you ought to know that this nation is more a tale of two cities than it is just a shining city on a hill." Cuomo's words speak to me more than anything I've ever heard from Barack Obama, including the "Yes We Can" speech and his vaunted 2004 DNC address.  

By the way, this line from Cuomo's speech is as true now as it was 30 years ago: "Now we're proud of this diversity as Democrats. We're grateful for it. We don't have to manufacture it the way the Republicans will next month in Dallas, by propping up mannequin delegates on the convention floor."

Only on reading Cuomo's obituaries did I learn that in September 1984, he spoke at Notre Dame University and explained why a devout Catholic could support a woman's legal right to an abortion. The full transcript from that speech is here. I've posted excerpts below.

Former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Art Neu passed away on January 2. After Governor Bob Ray and Congressman Jim Leach, Neu was Iowa's most prominent moderate Republican of the 1970s and 1980s. I enclose below a few comments on his passing.

Having been raised by a "Rockefeller Republican," I remember when moderates were a real force within the Iowa GOP. Now there is not a single pro-choice Republican in our state's legislature, and only a handful of elected Iowa GOP officials accept marriage equality. In recent years, Neu made headlines primarily when breaking ranks with the conservatives who now dominate his party. He opposed the campaign to recall three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 and endorsed Christie Vilsack for Congress over GOP incumbent Steve King. Neu caucused for Mitt Romney in January 2012 but said he would vote for Barack Obama in the general election, in part because of the abortion issue.  

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50 "most wanted" Iowa Republican discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 21, 2014 at 20:45:00 PM CST

Following up on last week's look at "most wanted" Iowa Democrats, Jennifer Jacobs wrote a feature for today's Sunday Des Moines Register on "50 of Iowa's makers and shakers for the Republican presidential caucuses." Any comments about the list or GOP politics in general are welcome in this thread.

It seems like Jacobs couldn't decide whether she was making a list of the 50 most influential Iowa Republicans, or the people who will be most sought out by presidential candidates. A lot of names in the top ten will almost certainly not endorse any candidate before the Iowa caucuses (Governor Terry Branstad, Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann, Branstad's chief of staff Matt Hinch). For that reason, I expect some of the presidential campaigns to do far more courting of donors and activists who are lower down on Jacobs' list. Big money men (they are all men) who will be highly sought after include Kyle Krause, Pete Brownell, Bruce Rastetter, Gary Kirke, Jim Cownie, David Oman, and Robert Haus.

I was surprised Jacobs put David Kochel and Sara Craig Gongol so far down the list at numbers 36 and 39, respectively. Not only were they deeply involved in Romney's 2012 campaign in Iowa, millions of dollars passed through dark money groups those two ran during this year's U.S. Senate race. To my mind, they will be among the go-to Iowa Republicans for people who want to slime a less-preferred candidate before the caucuses, but don't want their fingerprints on the job. Kochel and Craig aren't shy about skating close to the edge when it comes to federal rules designed to ban coordination between campaigns and outside groups making independent media expenditures.

I was also surprised Jacobs left out talk radio host Steve Deace. Along with Sam Clovis and a few leaders of megachurches, he will be a loud voice in the Iowa GOP's social conservative wing, and I'm sure several presidential candidates will work hard to win his endorsement.

UPDATE: I thought it was strange that former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants made Jacobs' list--he hasn't been speaker since 2006, and he retired from the legislature in 2010. James Lynch pointed out that it's even more odd for Rants to be there, given that Jacobs did not mention current Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen or Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix. Paulsen endorsed Newt Gingrich shortly before the 2012 caucuses. Dix did not endorse any of the contenders.

SECOND UPDATE: Shane Vander Hart commented n the Jacobs list at Caffeinated Thoughts. I largely agree with his take, especially this part:

Being an effective campaign staffer doesn't (necessarily) equal influence. [...] There are some people who are on this list who are great at the work that they do.  Tim Albrecht is an effective communications/PR guy, Phil Valenziano, Grant Young, they are great, hardworking campaign staffers, but influencers?  That can be debated and it depends on how you define influence and/or who the target of the influence is.  
 
Vander Hart also pointed out that WHO radio host Jan Mickelson was left off the list, even though he has a large audience around the state: "Mickelson doesn't endorse, but he is a great conduit to grassroots Republicans and candidates need to shoot straight with him (ask Mitt Romney)."  
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New Iowa caucus discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 12:55:57 PM CST

It's been a few weeks since Bleeding Heartland posted a thread for discussing the Iowa caucuses. Any thoughts about presidential candidates in either party are welcome here.

As usual, the latest national polling shows no real competition for Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. Contrary to what you may have read in some strange post-election analysis, Clinton seems set to cruise in the Iowa caucuses too. Republicans appear to be trying out a new talking point against the Democratic front-runner: she allegedly makes "rock star demands" before speaking engagements. Peter Holley posted a funny comparison of Clinton's demands to those of "actual rock stars."

Everyone on the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee has signed a pledge not to publicly endorse any candidate during the next Iowa caucus campaign. The goal is to convince all candidates and the media that the game is not rigged, and everyone can compete here on a level playing field.

So far I haven't seen any indication that any Republican contender might skip the caucuses. Iowans have had tons of opportunities to see potential presidential candidates these last few months. The latest conservative sensation, Dr. Ben Carson, was just in Des Moines for the FAMiLY Leader's big fall fundraiser.

The more "moderate" or "establishment" contenders seem eager to compete in Iowa too. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came to the state twice shortly before the election, and pulled off a truly epic pander on "Black Friday" by vetoing a bill that would have banned gestation crates for pigs. Never mind that more than 90 percent of New Jersey residents back the bill, which passed both chambers of the legislature with huge majorities. Governor Terry Branstad was pleased, as were the Iowa Pork Producers and the Iowa Farm Bureau. In an editorial I've excerpted after the jump, one local newspaper concluded that "New Jersey is already in Christie's rearview mirror." I think other aspects of Christie's record will be a deal-breaker for Iowa conservatives, but maybe if the field is fractured he could sneak into the top three here.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul confirmed through a spokesman this week that he will run for re-election to the Senate in 2016. The staffer insisted that Paul could still run for president if he chooses to do so. Not under current Kentucky law, he can't. And since Democrats held their majority in the lower chamber of that state's legislature, the law is unlikely to be changed for Paul's convenience. Going to court to challenge the law is probably a dead end, since most states prohibit candidates from appearing on the ballot for two offices at once. Local journalist Sam Youngman goes through some possible scenarios here.

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Rest in peace, Dwayne Alons

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 30, 2014 at 19:40:00 PM CST

State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last night after a battle with kidney cancer, Iowa House Republicans announced today. First elected to the state legislature in 1998, Alons represented a staunchly Republican northwest Iowa district for eight terms and was unopposed in this year's election.

A longtime farmer and retired brigadier general with the Iowa Air National Guard, Alons chaired the Iowa House Veterans Affairs Committee during the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. This year the state legislature passed and Governor Terry Branstad signed into law several bills designed to benefit veterans and encourage them to settle in Iowa.

Among many conservatives in the Iowa House Republican caucus, Alons stood out for his steadfast belief in prioritizing social issues such as opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights. In June 2010, he entered unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats' name in nomination for lieutenant governor, saying he was "speaking for a grassroots effort that has been going on since the beginning of Bob's campaign." Alons was one of five Iowa House Republicans to file articles of impeachment in 2011 against Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage. He repeatedly co-sponsored and tried to pass "personhood" bills that would ban abortion in all circumstances. Earlier this month, Vander Plaats' organization The FAMiLY Leader gave Alons its first annual "Family Champion Award," saying in its official statement, "When it comes to championing pro-family values in Iowa, nobody has stood stronger, longer, and with such grace as Dwayne."

Since Alons was just elected to another term, a special election will be needed to choose a new representative in Iowa House district 4, covering most of Sioux County (a detailed map is at the end of this post). Governor Branstad will likely set a date for that election in the coming week, and the election will probably happen sometime in January. The only real competition will be at the GOP nominating convention, since the area Alons represented is the most heavily Republican of the 100 state House districts, with nearly ten times as many registered Republicans as Democrats.

After the jump I've posted a selection of tributes from Alons' colleagues. I will continue to update as needed.  

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20 Iowa House races to watch tonight

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Nov 04, 2014 at 19:12:11 PM CST

Thanks to Iowa's non-partisan redistricting process, we have an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts. In any given general election, depending on candidate recruitment, between one dozen and two dozen of the 100 Iowa House districts could be up for grabs. Democrats and Republicans spend big money on a much smaller number of districts; this year, only seven Iowa House races involved a large amount of television advertising. But the parties and candidates invest in direct mail and/or radio commercials in many more places than that.

Republicans go into election day favored to hold their Iowa House majority, which now stands at 53 seats to 47. Carolyn Fiddler has pegged seven "districts to watch" at her Statehouse Action blog, and in September, the Des Moines Register's Jason Noble discussed five districts he viewed as "key to Iowa House chamber control." I see the playing field as much larger.

Follow me after the jump to review 20 Iowa House seats that will determine control of the chamber for the next two years.

Caveat: most years, there's at least one shocking result in an Iowa House district neither party had their eye on. I'm thinking about Tami Weincek defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent in Waterloo in 2006, Kent Sorenson defeating a Democratic incumbent in Warren County in 2008, three Democratic state representatives who had run unopposed in 2008 losing in 2010, and Democrat Daniel Lundby taking out the seemingly safe Republican Nick Wagner in the Linn County suburbs in 2012. Wagner had run unopposed in the previous election.

So, while I don't expect any of the "favored" seats discussed below to change hands, I would not rule out a surprise or two. That would be excellent news for the stealth challenger's party.

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Here comes the Republican PC brigade

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 02, 2014 at 20:07:56 PM CST

Iowa Republicans are up in arms today on social media, outraged that retiring Senator Tom Harkin said this about Joni Ernst's campaign commercials (via Andrew Kaczynski):

"And there's sort of this sense that, 'Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice.'"

"Well I gotta to thinking about that. I don't care if she's as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she's wrong for the state of Iowa."

To hear Republicans tell it, that is the most offensive comment ever.

People who oppose equal pay and longer paid parental leave for working women, who would force women to continue unwanted pregnancies, who think women's employers should be able to veto insurance coverage of birth control, are in no position to play "PC police."

Harkin's meaning was clear: Ernst's advertising has promoted her as appealing, while mostly avoiding substantive issues. But no matter how nice she may be or may appear in her own marketing, she supports policies that are wrong for Iowa.

By the way, Harkin has a perfect voting record on women's rights issues and has always supported equal pay for women as well as reproductive rights and access to family planning. Republican hero Senator Chuck Grassley has opposed all of those policies at virtually every turn.

UPDATE: Inadvertently confirming that she wants this election to be about anything but substantive issues, Ernst went on Fox News Monday to distort what Harkin said:

"I was very offended that Senator Harkin would say that. I think it's unfortunate that he and many of their party believe that you can't be a real woman if you're conservative and you're female," she told Fox News. "Again, I am greatly offended about that."

Of course, Harkin neither said nor implied anything about a "real woman" not being conservative. He said Ernst supports policies that are wrong for Iowa. And as @SusaninIowa pointed out, it's telling that Ernst wasn't offended to have her voting record compared to Bachmann's.

There was no need for Harkin to apologize for his remarks on Monday.

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Republicans warning Iowa Facebook users: We'll know who "voted GOP"

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Nov 01, 2014 at 09:09:59 AM CDT

Political parties and outside groups are increasingly using tactics known as "vote-shaming" as a way to get unreliable voters to participate in the midterm election. Evidence suggests that "voter report cards" and similar techniques based on peer pressure can increase turnout.

Judd Legum reported for Think Progress yesterday that the Republican National Committee is taking this approach to a new and deeply dishonest level.

Screenshots of Facebook ads, promoted by the official Facebook page of the Republican National Committee feature an ominous message: "NOTICE: All Voting Is Public." The ad tell voters that "In a few months, Iowa will release the list of individual who voted in this election." Most troublingly, the ad includes an [aerial] view of a neighborhood with checkmarks indicating that "These People Voted GOP."

Click through to view a screenshot of these Facebook ads. Five houses on the same street in what looks like a wealthy suburban area have check marks near a badge reading "THESE PEOPLE VOTED GOP." The one house marked with an "X" is labeled, "DIDN'T VOTE DON'T LET THIS BE YOU."

Anyone can purchase a voter file from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office that shows who has cast ballots in any recent election. But as Republicans know very well, that information does not reveal how any given individual voted. The Facebook ad is crafted carefully: text the RNC posted above its photo refers accurately to how "Iowa will release the list of individuals who voted in this election." But the misleading graphics in the photo ("THESE PEOPLE VOTED GOP") are more eye-catching.

It's not the biggest lie Iowa Republicans have been pushing this year for political gain, but how disgraceful to stoke fears that neighbors may know whether you voted for the "right" candidates. No wonder the Iowa GOP did not respond to Legum's request for comment.

I'm interested to know how many states the RNC is targeting with these Facebook ads.

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Three things that are not plagiarism

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 29, 2014 at 15:35:00 PM CDT

2014 is shaping up to be the year of idiotic plagiarism accusations in political campaigns. Here's a good example of real plagiarism: "Senator John Walsh of Montana took most of a 2007 final paper required for his master's degree from the United States Army War College from other sources without proper attribution."

In contrast, these common political actions are not plagiarism:

1. Having boilerplate language on a campaign website.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has alleged in a television commercial that IA-03 candidate Staci Appel was "caught plagiarizing 20 times." No, an early version of her campaign website included political statements about the minimum wage and other issues that were similar to other Democratic campaign websites. That is no different from dozens of Republican candidates parroting the same talking points about how the tax code should be "flatter, fairer, and simpler," or responding to a question about climate change with identical "I'm not a scientist" rhetoric.

2. Introducing similar or companion legislation.

Today the Republican Party of Iowa is pushing a bogus story about Bruce Braley "plagiarizing" a bill by Senator Harry Reid. Members of Congress introduce companion legislation to bills from the other chamber all the time. Republicans in dozens of state legislatures introduce bills that are taken verbatim from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drafts.

3. Sending out a newsletter composed largely by staff.

Today Andrew Kaczynski and Ilan Ben-Meir reported for Buzzfeed, "Passages of local paper pieces under [Joni] Ernst's name appear to have been copied word-for-word from templates sent as guidelines to Republican members of the Iowa Senate." What they describe is standard operating procedure for Iowa lawmakers in both parties. While some representatives and senators write their own weekly newsletters, many others rely on text prepared by legislative staff. Sometimes local newspapers will reproduce all or part of those newsletters. I don't consider that "plagiarism."

Some days it's hard to see how our political discourse could get any more stupid or dishonest.

P.S. Speaking of dishonest, look how Joni Ernst's hired gun Daid Kochel re-tweeted my comment about common practice in the Iowa legislature, just minutes after he pushed the Iowa GOP's bogus plagiarism claims about Braley's bill.

UPDATE: Political reporter Gavin Aronsen comments, "Not sure I agree on point 3, once it's printed in a newspaper. Editors should reject that if it's not words of stated author." Point taken. But I blame lazy editors desperate for copy for that mistake, not politicians. Newspapers should not run a bulletin under an elected official's byline if other lawmakers sent out virtually identical text.

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Iowa House Republican candidate James Butler has history of abuse, misconduct

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 22, 2014 at 07:35:07 AM CDT

Yesterday the Iowa Democratic Party published online several disturbing documents about James Butler, the Republican nominee in Iowa House district 26. Butler narrowly won a GOP primary and faces first-term Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth. The seat covers most of Warren County, including the cities of Indianola and Carlisle (a detailed map is after the jump). House district 26 is one of central Iowa's most politically balanced state legislative districts. As of October 2014, it contained 6,421 active registered Democrats, 6,802 Republicans, and 7,046 no-party voters.

Before the primary, I didn't hear much about Butler beyond the information in his official bio, which highlighted his career with the Des Moines Police Department. This summer, the Republican Butler defeated in the primary, Eric Durbin, flirted with running for House district 26 as an independent, and I saw some grumbling on social media about Butler's past. I dismissed that chatter as likely to be sour grapes coming from Durbin's supporters.

The official documents uploaded yesterday by the Iowa Democratic Party shocked me. First, a court order of protection that Butler's ex-girlfriend received in 2005 details physical abuse and threats by the police officer. Second, a lawsuit filed by apparently the same woman against Butler, which details further abuse, harassment, and threats, including violation of the no-contact order. Butler allegedly told the woman there was no point in calling law enforcement because he was a police officer. Third, Civil Service Commission and Polk County District Court documents related to Butler's brief suspension from the Des Moines police over an incident in 1997, when he was working as an off-duty police officer at a convenience store. The Civil Service Commission and later the district court judge validated Butler's suspension over severe misconduct.

As far as I'm concerned, that kind of record should be disqualifying in a candidate for political office. How is it possible the public is only now hearing about Butler's background, two weeks before the election and nearly a month after early voting began? The Des Moines Register ran a brief story about Butler's candidacy in March, based on his press release. Just this week, the paper ran a short profile of Butler as part of its "meet the candidate" series, again using information supplied by the candidate. Maybe I'm naive, but I would have thought the Register would be checking court records and public documents for mentions of state legislative candidates. I also would have expected Butler's GOP primary opponent to have brought some of this information to light.

UPDATE: I forgot to raise another question: why was Butler able to remain a police officer with this kind of record?

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