Ray Zirkelbach becomes fourth Democrat to run for U.S. Senate--but why?


Former State Representative Ray Zirkelbach is officially exploring a candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2016, James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 7.

Although the field is getting crowded — former legislators Bob Krause of Fairfield and Tom Fiegen of Clarence, and State Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids have all entered the race — Zirkelbach, 37, believes he’ll be the Democratic Party’s best candidate to defeat [Senator Chuck] Grassley. His ideas will set him apart from the others, Zirkelbach said. […]

“It’s about progress,” he said.

First elected to the Iowa House in 2004, Zirkelbach served three terms before losing his 2010 re-election bid. He missed the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions, because his Iowa Army National Guard unit had been called up to serve in Iraq.

I have not seen a website or Facebook page for Zirkelbach’s U.S. Senate exploratory committee yet, but will update this post as needed. In lieu of an up to date official bio, I have posted the "member profile" that appeared on the Iowa House Democrats website during Zirkelbach’s third term. Zirkelbach’s Twitter account hasn’t been active since 2009; his personal Facebook feed is here.

I struggle to understand why Zirkelbach would run for Senate when we already have three progressive Democrats in the field, including one (Hogg) with a much stronger background of legislative accomplishments.

Meanwhile, to my knowledge, Democrats have no declared candidate against GOP State Representative Lee Hein in Iowa House district 96, where Zirkelbach lives (a map is at the end of this post). Hein defeated Zirkelbach in the 2010 wave election, and Democrats didn’t field a challenger against him in 2012 or 2014. Taking on the incoming House Agriculture Committee chair would be a long-shot race; House district 96 leans to the GOP with 4,386 active registered Democrats, 5,761 Republicans, and 8,483 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. But Zirkelbach would be much better positioned to defeat Hein than Grassley.

UPDATE: Pat Rynard spoke to Zirkelbach about his Senate bid. Added excerpts to that post below.

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Thoughts on the Iowa Democratic Party's final Jefferson-Jackson dinner

The Iowa Democratic Party held its final Jefferson-Jackson dinner Saturday night, drawing some 6,000 activists to hear three presidential candidates speak in Des Moines. Last night’s spectacle won’t loom as large over the Iowa caucus campaign as the JJ did in 2007, when it took place in November and the caucuses were scheduled for early January, rather than February. But some new tactics emerged during the speeches by presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton. My thoughts on the evening’s highlights are after the jump.

I am a sucker for hand-made political signs, so I also enclose below my favorite pictures from the crowds in the bleachers. I put "Feel the Bern" in lights up top because I’ve never seen electrified signs at the JJ before.

While I see the value in supporters waving signs (or glow sticks, as many did last night) at a big rally, the "sign wars" some campaigns stage before multi-candidate events have always struck me as pointless. How does it demonstrate "organizational strength" to send a few staffers to put up printed materials in windows or along a road? Why would anyone want their volunteers to stand around yelling for hours before the dinner, rather than saving their energy and voices to show that enthusiasm inside the hall? For those who disagree with me and love the show, Pat Rynard chronicled the morning and afternoon activities by all three campaigns at Iowa Starting Line.

As for why I called it the "final" JJ, the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual fall fundraiser will continue under a to-be-determined name honoring icons considered more inclusive. You can send your suggestion to the state party using this form through February 15, 2016.

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IA-Sen: Rob Hogg making Senate bid official

After two months of exploring a candidacy, Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg will make his bid for U.S. Senate official tomorrow, launching a three-day tour of twelve Iowa communities. His full announcement and tour schedule is after the jump. Hogg will kick off the campaign in Callender (Webster County), "a community 15 miles southwest of Fort Dodge."

“I will be making my announcement in Callender as a symbol of my support for small towns and rural Iowa,” Hogg said.  “I am also announcing in Callender because my grandmother was born in Callender in 1902 and family is important to me.”

Former State Senator Tom Fiegen and former State Representative Bob Krause are also seeking the Senate nomination and have appeared at numerous local Democratic events this year. Krause and Fiegen competed in the 2010 IA-Sen primary, finishing well behind Roxanne Conlin in that contest. This year, Fiegen is branding himself as a “Bernie Sanders Democrat,” posting far more frequently on social media about the Sanders presidential effort than about his own Senate bid. Whether Democratic activists who are “feeling the Bern” will translate into a large base of support for Fiegen after the Iowa caucuses remains to be seen.

Although both Krause and Fiegen promote progressive values and policies, I plan to support Hogg in the Democratic primary. He has been fighting good fights in the Iowa legislature since 2003, sometimes battling bad legislation that had strong backing in his own caucus.

Whoever he may be, the eventual nominee will have an uphill battle against six-term incumbent Senator Chuck Grassley. Not only will the Senate Judiciary Committee chair likely be able to outspend his opponent, he has never lost an election and still has strong favorability numbers, according to most opinion polls. Speaking to Roll Call’s Tom Curry last week, Iowa’s senior senator speculated that Hogg would be the most difficult challenger for him to face: “I know him a little bit, not very much, but he will be a strong competitor.”

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Wing Ding edition

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

More than twenty Iowa Democratic county committees put on a great “Wing Ding” in Clear Lake Friday night. The Surf Ballroom was packed to capacity, thanks to appearances by four of the five Democratic presidential hopefuls. Despite a fairly long list of speakers including candidates for U.S. House and Senate and State Senator Amanda Ragan, who was receiving an award, the Wing Ding amazingly finished ahead of schedule. I enclose below my take on all the speeches.

For those following the saga of three former Ron Paul campaign operatives, recently indicted for their role in making illegal payments to then State Senator Kent Sorenson: Russ Choma covered the prosecutors’ latest court filing for Mother Jones. Prosecutors allege the operatives “were prepared to leak documents to harm Sorenson in 2012 if they couldn’t obtain his endorsement for Ron Paul.” An attorney for Jesse Benton acknowledged that in late 2011, his client “threatened to expose Mr. Sorenson, believing that Mr. Sorenson was trying to blackmail the 2012 RP Campaign, if Mr. Sorenson did not make up his mind on whether to commit to the Ron Paul Campaign.” But the lawyer said Benton did not follow through on what he described as “a knee-jerk, emotional reaction.” Of course, there would have been no reason to carry out the threat after Sorenson agreed to take the money in exchange for switching his allegiance to Paul.

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IA-Sen: Rob Hogg exploring challenge to Chuck Grassley

Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg announced today,

I have formed an exploratory committee to consider becoming a candidate for the United States Senate in 2016.  Like many Iowans, I believe we need Congress to work better for all of our citizens and our country’s future.  If we had a Congress that worked better, we could:

> Build a vibrant, full-employment economy that works for all Americans.

> Improve public health and public safety through prevention, prevention, and more prevention.

> Strengthen Social Security and Medicare and fulfill our commitments to seniors, veterans, and people living with disabilities.

> Confront the challenge of our century – climate change – through solutions that work for our economy, our health, and our environment.

Hogg didn’t set a timetable for deciding on a U.S. Senate bid but said he will travel around Iowa in the coming weeks. His full press release and official bio are after the jump. His exploratory committee is on the web here. He’s on Twitter @SenatorRobHogg and on Facebook here.

Hogg was just re-elected to his third four-year term in the Iowa Senate last November, so he would not have to give up his legislative seat in order to run for U.S. Senate in 2016. Most recently, he has chaired the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee; before that, he chaired the Judiciary Committee. He is among the most outspoken Iowa lawmakers on climate change and other environmental issues.

Two Democrats have already announced plans to run against Grassley: former State Representative Bob Krause and former State Senator Tom Fiegen. They recently discussed their key issues with Mike Glover of the Iowa Daily Democrat. Krause and Fiegen also competed in the 2010 Democratic primary, which Roxanne Conlin won with about 77 percent of the vote.

UPDATE: Added below further comments from Hogg, via Iowa Starting Line.

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Kiernan resigning as head of the Iowa Democratic Party

The Des Moines Register reported this morning that Michael Kiernan is stepping down as chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Kiernan is leaving because of personal reasons, [IDP Executive Director Norm] Sterzenbach said. He declined to go into details but noted that Democrats will hold a press conference at 2 p.m.

The Democratic State Central Committee will hold a special meeting Thursday night to vote on a new chairman.

I’ll update this post after Kiernan’s press conference today. UPDATE: Kiernan said he is resigning “because of personal health reasons. I am resigning so that I can focus on my family and my health. Believe me when I say that I would be here fighting to elect more Democrats every day if I could.” I posted the complete statement released by the Iowa Democratic Party after the jump. I’m sure all Bleeding Heartland readers join me in wishing Kiernan a speedy recovery.

Kiernan was selected to chair the Iowa Democratic Party in January 2009. Under his leadership the party has been out-raising the Republican Party of Iowa. He also helped recruit Roxanne Conlin to run against Senator Chuck Grassley. Speaking to her supporters after winning yesterday’s primary election,

Conlin told a story about January 2009.

“I was sitting there innocently with nothing on my mind but the concerns of my clients when an old dear friend insisted on an appointment,” Conlin said.

The old friend, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan, told her that he wanted to talk to her about something.

“The something that he wanted to talk to me about was my running against Grassley. I thought he’d lost his mind. I said, ‘You must be kidding me!”

As the crowd laughed, Conlin said: “So it turned out it was a good idea after all.”

That was months before Bob Krause or Tom Fiegen had announced plans to run against Grassley. It showed a lot of foresight for Kiernan to be seeking out a high-profile challenger for that race.  

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