IA-Sen: Robert Rees challenging Chuck Grassley in GOP primary

Catching up on news from the busy final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has a rival for the GOP nomination. Robert Rees launched his campaign on January 18, pledging to support term limits for members of Congress and the 10th Amendment, which reserves for the states powers not delegated to the federal government. Rees most recently worked as a conservative talk radio host but fell victim to a format change in October, when 98.3 FM in Des Moines switched to classic hip hop. Rees has a campaign website and is on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. He frequently uploads "campaign diaries" and other videos to his YouTube channel.

After the jump I’ve posted background on Rees, some of his answers to frequently asked questions about his challenge to Grassley, and his introductory video, in which he notes that Grassley has been in Washington, DC since a year before Rees was born. I’ve also enclosed excerpts from two articles linked on the Rees campaign website. Among other things, those pieces criticize Grassley for approving too many judges nominated by President Barack Obama—which is comical, since during Grassley’s first year as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate confirmed only eleven federal judges, "the fewest in a single year since 1960."

I can’t conceive of any scenario in which Grassley loses a Republican primary, but assuming Rees qualifies for the ballot, it will be interesting to see how many conservatives cast protest votes for him. For reference, Tom Hoefling got just under 17 percent of the vote in his 2014 GOP primary challenge to Governor Terry Branstad. Turnout is likely to be very low on June 7, since no other statewide offices are elected this year, and only one of Iowa’s four Congressional districts appears likely to have a competitive GOP primary (Representative David Young is expected to face at least one conservative challenger in IA-03).

Rees had nominating petitions out at some Republican precinct caucuses on February 1. To qualify for the primary ballot, he will need to submit to the Secretary of State’s office by March 18 at least 3,331 signatures (0.5% of the votes cast for Governor Terry Branstad in Iowa’s 2014 general election). In addition, those signatures must be collected in at least ten counties, and for each of those counties, the number of signatures on nominating petitions must equal at least 1 percent of the votes cast for Branstad in the 2014 general election.

A few conservatives made noise about a primary challenge to Grassley in 2009, when it appeared he might support some version of health care reform, but they never followed through. Iowa’s senior senator defused some anger on his right flank by warning that end-of-life counseling provisions in the proposed bill could let people "pull the plug on grandma," though he had voted for a previous law including such counseling. He later voted against the Affordable Care Act in committee and on the Senate floor, while seeking credit for some of its provisions.

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IA-04: Nick Ryan looking for a Republican to run against Steve King

Representative Steve King is among the leading Iowa Republicans basking in reflected glory from Ted Cruz’s big win in the caucuses. His endorsement in mid-November was a catalyst for Cruz’s rise in the Iowa polls. He ran interference when Cruz came under attack for his stands on the ethanol mandate and an amendment to a 2013 immigration bill. In the final hour before the Iowa caucuses convened, King tweeted, "[Dr. Ben] Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope." (Today King expressed regret for "any miscommunications" but pointed to a CNN story asserting that Carson was planning "a break from campaigning.")

Cruz’s win after trailing in the last ten polls before the caucuses cements King’s status as a hero to many Iowa Republicans. By the same token, King has disappointed some conservatives who supported him in the past.

In particular, King’s efforts on behalf of Cruz made an enemy out of Nick Ryan, who has led various super-PACs and dark money groups. Ryan is looking for a credible candidate to challenge King in a GOP primary to represent Iowa’s fourth Congressional district.

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Pollster Ann Selzer: I'm fine with being "demoted to 'silver standard'"

The Des Moines Register’s longtime pollster Ann Selzer identified the surge of first-time Democratic caucus-goers who would carry Barack Obama to victory in 2008. Her final poll before the 2012 Republican caucuses caught the strong upward momentum for Rick Santorum. Her last snapshot before this year’s caucuses for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics correctly saw a close race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with fewer first-time participants than eight years ago.

But Selzer’s view of the GOP campaign was unfortunately off the mark in several respects: putting Donald Trump ahead of Ted Cruz, underestimating turnout overall and particularly among evangelicals, and missing the late swing toward Marco Rubio that some political observers sensed by watching the campaign on the ground.

Yesterday Selzer commented to David Weigel of the Washington Post,

“In all the press I did in the last two days—and it was a LOT — I talked about the fluidity,” she wrote in an email. “Up to the last moment — including inside the caucus room — campaigns and supporters are working for change! Surprise! Big evangelical turnout — no doubt the biggest.” […]

“Trump was disliked by vast majority of caucus-goers who didn’t support him,” Selzer said. “Bernie’s extraordinary strength was with first-timers, who showed up in above-projected numbers. […]

“If I’m demoted to ‘silver standard,’ I’m fine with that,” she said. “I was never all that comfortable with the hype.”

Selzer can take some comfort in knowing that the last ten Iowa polls released before the caucuses all put Trump ahead of Cruz. The most recent poll to show Cruz leading was the Iowa State University/WHO-TV survey, which uses an unconventional screen for likely caucus-goers. But Iowa State/WHO understated support for Trump and Rubio. Given the tremendous difficulties involved in polling the Iowa caucuses, especially on the Democratic side, we should expect some misses, even from the top professionals in the field. As the presidential campaign progresses, here’s hoping political journalists will focus less on poll-driven horse race coverage.

UPDATE: Selzer did some "Tuesday morning quarterbacking" of her final poll in today’s Des Moines Register. I enclose excerpts below.

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Iowa GOP caucus-goers deliver big hit to Terry Branstad's clout

Donald Trump was the obvious Republican loser last night. Despite leading in the last ten Iowa polls released before the caucuses, Trump finished more than 6,000 votes and three percentage points behind Ted Cruz, widely perceived before yesterday to have peaked too soon. Record-breaking turnout was supposed to be a winning scenario for Trump, yet a plurality of caucus-goers cast ballots for Cruz as attendance surpassed the previous high-water mark by more than 50 percent.

For Iowa politics watchers, another big takeaway jumped out from the caucus results: Governor Terry Branstad’s advice doesn’t carry much weight with rank and file Republicans.

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How the Iowa caucuses work, part 6: Pros and cons of the caucus system

Wrapping up this year’s Iowa caucus series. Part 1 covered basic elements of the caucus system, part 2 explained why so many Iowans can’t or won’t attend their precinct caucus, part 3 discussed how Democratic caucus math can affect delegate counts, part 4 described how precinct captains help campaigns, and part 5 explained why the caucuses have been called a "pollster’s nightmare."

When I have criticized some aspects of the Iowa caucus system or called for reforms to allow more Iowans to participate, I have often heard from activists defending the status quo.

This posts lists some leading arguments in favor of the current caucus system, along with my rebuttals.

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How the Iowa caucuses work, part 5: A "pollster's nightmare"

Continuing a six-part series. Part 1 covered basic elements of the caucus system, part 2 explained why so many Iowans can’t or won’t attend their precinct caucus, part 3 discussed how Democratic caucus math can affect delegate counts, and part 4 described how precinct captains help campaigns.

Measuring the horse race ahead of the Iowa caucuses poses special challenges, particularly on the Democratic side. Those problems affect even the Des Moines Register’s longtime pollster Ann Selzer, whom FiveThirtyEight.com has given an A+ grade and called "the best pollster in politics."

Follow me after the jump to see why polling expert Mark Blumenthal has described the caucuses as a "pollster’s nightmare."

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