NRCC credibility on the line in Iowa's second and third districts

Washington Republicans have been talking up their chances of retaking the House of Representatives for months, and the National Republican Congressional Committee claims many recruiting successes in competitive House districts. However, Republican primary voters haven’t always sided with candidates favored by the Washington power-brokers. Last month a tea party candidate defeated “top national GOP recruit” Vaughn Ward in Idaho’s first district. In Kentucky’s third district, the NRCC’s candidate finished third with 17 percent in the primary; the winner had over 50 percent. In Pennsylvania’s fourth district, the NRCC-backed candidate was out-raised and eventually beaten 2-1 in the Republican primary. In Alabama’s fifth district, the NRCC backed party-switching Representative Parker Griffith, who proceeded to get crushed in his new party’s primary.

In Iowa, the NRCC has tipped its hat to two Republicans in competitive primaries. In the third district, Jim Gibbons was named an “on the radar” candidate in February and bumped up to “contender” status in April. In the second district, the NRCC put Gettemy “on the radar” about six weeks after he declared his candidacy.

Both Gibbons and Gettemy are newcomers to campaigning, and both are facing at least one more experienced politician in their primaries. Gibbons’ main rival, State Senator Brad Zaun, has won several elections in Urbandale and Iowa Senate district 32. All three of Gettemy’s opponents have run for office before, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Christopher Reed both won Republican primaries in 2008.

If Gibbons and Gettemy fail to top the voting in their respective primaries, the NRCC’s ability to identify candidates with strong potential will again be called into question. The “young gun,” “contender” and “on the radar” lists are important signals to NRCC donors about where their money could be most helpful. People who wrote checks to Gibbons or Gettemy without knowing anything about the local landscape may be upset if their money went to a losing candidate.

Iowa Republicans who recruited Gibbons and Gettemy and talked them up to GOP leaders in Washington also have something to lose if today’s primaries don’t go their way. Key members of the Iowa Republican business elite have supported Gibbons, and Gettemy had the backing of prominent Cedar Rapids area Republicans. Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, who heads the Iowa Christian Alliance, is also said to be close to Gettemy, though Scheffler has made no formal endorsement in this year’s primaries.

Both the IA-03 and IA-02 primary battles may end up being settled at GOP district conventions, so Gibbons and Gettemy could conceivably win the nominations if they don’t finish in first place today, as long as no other Republican receives at least 35 percent of the vote. However, they may have an uphill battle persuading district convention delegates.

WEDNESDAY AM UPDATE: Add IA-02 and IA-03 to the list of districts where the NRCC sure doesn’t know how to pick ’em.

Zaun won 42 percent of the vote in the seven-way IA-03 primary, while Gibbons managed just 28 percent. Tea Party favorite Dave Funk didn’t raise enough money for a significant paid media campaign, but he finished not far behind Gibbons with 22 percent. Gibbons did carry several of the smaller counties in IA-03, but Zaun dominated Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs. Zaun’s ground game defeated Gibbons’ superior “air power.”

Miller-Meeks won the IA-02 primary in dominating fashion with 51 percent of the vote. She led in all of the district’s 11 counties. Gettemy finished dead last with 13 percent of the vote. Even in his home county (Linn), he came in third. Gettemy won fewer votes across the district than Christopher Reed, who raised very little money and is best known for for calling Senator Harkin “the Tokyo Rose of Al-Qaeda and Middle East terrorism” during the 2008 campaign. All of Gettemy’s tv ads and connections to Cedar Rapids movers and shakers delivered fewer votes than Reed managed with his band of way-out-there wingnut endorsers.  

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Rathje is first Loebsack opponent to go up on tv

With the June 8 primary just four weeks away, Steve Rathje of Cedar Rapids is the first of the four Republican candidates in Iowa’s second Congressional district to start running television ads.

Rough transcript by me:

Rathje speaks to the camera: Congress and the president are no doubt lost as to how they’re going to compete with China. Hello folks, I’m Steve Rathje, and for more than 20 years, I’ve been working with companies all across the U.S. in an effort to eliminate waste, cut spending, and bring jobs back home to America.

It’s time to quit sending our jobs overseas and expect foreign countries to buy our debt due to our out-of-control spending. I approved this message because it’s time to compete, not retreat.

Male voice-over: Real-world experience. Steve Rathje Congress.

This strikes me as a very solid introductory ad, highlighting Rathje’s experience as CEO of a company that “find[s] people in Iowa who could make goods quicker, faster, better and cheaper than the foreign competitors.”

According to The Iowa Republican, Rathje is paying about $5,900 to run this commercial on Fox News and KCRG in Cedar Rapids for the week. He probably can afford to stay up on tv until the June 8 primary. At the end of the first quarter, Rathje’s campaign had $55,586 cash on hand, trailing Mariannette Miller-Meeks ($72,702) and political newcomer Rob Gettemy ($120,815 including a $100,000 loan from the candidate). I’m surprised Rathje was able to raise nearly as much money as Miller-Meeks, the 2008 GOP nominee against Representative Dave Loebsack. Gettemy probably has more potential for out-of-district donations now that the National Republican Congressional Committee has put him “on the radar.”

Loebsack’s Republican challengers don’t differ much on the issues. If three of them can afford paid media for the final month of the campaign, that will raise the chances for the nomination to be decided at a district convention. The fourth Republican candidate, Chris Reed, has little money to spend before June 8. He needs to hope that his far-right endorsers and team of volunteers are able to deliver a surprising number of grassroots votes.

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Convention scenario could spell trouble for Iowa GOP

As many as seven Republican candidates may be competing for the chance to face seven-term Representative Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s third district this year. John Deeth noticed yesterday that Scott Batcher was the first to file for the Republican nomination in IA-03. Batcher’s campaign website highlights extensive experience in business, including 15 years as a healthcare consultant. He’s been running a low-profile campaign, but collected enough signatures “at high school basketball games and coffee shops” to attempt to qualify for the ballot.

Five declared Republican candidates have filed Federal Election Commission reports on fundraising for the IA-03 race, so I assume they will follow through and qualify for the ballot: Jim Gibbons, Brad Zaun, Dave Funk, Mark Rees and Pat Bertroche. A seventh Republican, Jason Welch, was rumored to be getting into this race too, but what turns up on Google searches as Welch’s official website hasn’t been working when I’ve clicked on it.

The second Congressional district Republican primary will be nearly as crowded, with four declared candidates likely to qualify for the ballot: Rob Gettemy, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Chris Reed and Steve Rathje. (So far only Rathje has filed nominating papers.)

If no candidate wins at least 35 percent of the vote in the June 8 primary, district conventions would select the Republican nominee in IA-02 and/or IA-03. In 2002, a fifth district convention selected Steve King as the Republican nominee for Congress after no one in the four-way primary cleared the 35 percent threshold.

Republican county conventions scheduled for this weekend will select delegates for the district conventions, which will be held later this spring. If no winner emerges from the June primary, the second or third district conventions would have to reconvene to select a Congressional nominee. That could happen during the state convention, to be held on June 26 in a location not yet determined. The convention usually takes place in Des Moines but has occasionally been held in Cedar Rapids. This year, Sioux City is also in the running as a venue. That would be a three to four hour drive from the counties in IA-03 and a four to seven hour drive from the counties in IA-02.

Western Iowa is the most Republican area of the state, but the bulk of the Iowa population still lives in the eastern counties. Former GOP State Central Committee member David Chung, who lives in Cedar Rapids, sounded the alarm on his Hawkeye GOP blog:

Even if hotels are short in Des Moines, holding the convention in Sioux CIty almost guarantees that a large number of delegates will need hotel rooms. I do not know whether there will be a major pre-convention event but if there is, it will be impossible for 1st and 2nd Republicans to attend without taking a whole day off from work.

Even worse, given the number of candidates for the 2nd and 3rd district congressional races there is the real possibility that the nominee will be chosen at a district convention. The state convention has been scheduled long enough after the primary to make resolving nominations at the convention possible. I cannot stress how bad a decision it would be to decide the 2nd CD race in Sioux City! The turnout from our district will be greatly suppressed if Siouxland is the choice.

Krusty Konservative also warned yesterday that many Republican delegates will not bother to attend a state convention in Sioux City.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks had a hard time uniting second district Republicans even after winning the 2008 primary. Be prepared for lasting hard feelings if a small group of party activists ends up choosing the GOP nominee in IA-02 or IA-03 this year. King wasn’t hurt by his path to the nomination in 2002, but he was fortunate to be running in heavily Republican IA-05. In contrast, Boswell’s district leans slightly Democratic (D+1) and Dave Loebsack’s district leans strongly Democratic (D+7).

P.S.- I took my kids to see a game at the Iowa girls’ state basketball tournament on Wednesday. A bunch of teams in the Des Moines metro area made the 4A quarterfinals. I noticed that NRCC “on the radar” candidate Jim Gibbons had an ad scrolling occasionally (nothing special, just “Jim Gibbons for Congress, www.gibbonsforcongress.com”). Unfortunately for him, the teams from Republican-leaning Ankeny and Johnston were eliminated in the quarter-finals, so their fans who live in IA-03 won’t be back to see more of the Gibbons ads later this week. Des Moines East advanced to the semis, but I don’t think many GOP primary voters live on the east side of Des Moines. The other teams in the semis are Linn-Mar and Cedar Rapids Kennedy (IA-02) and Waukee (IA-04).

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Fourth Republican joins second district Congressional primary

Rob Gettemy, an entrepreneur from the Cedar Rapids suburbs, announced today that he is running for Congress in Iowa’s second district. His campaign website here, and he is @RobGettemy on Twitter. He will compete against Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Chris Reed and Steve Rathje in the Republican primary. His first press release as a Congressional candidate contains what passes for “vision” in today’s GOP:

In my gut, I believe our country has reached a tipping point. We must decide now what country we are. Are we the country of our founders? The country of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (not a guarantee of happiness). Are we a country that gives us a right to fail…which is necessary if we want an opportunity to succeed?

Or, are we a country that looks to Washington, DC, or Des Moines, Iowa to solve so many of our basic problems? When we pick this path, we give up our liberties. We become enslaved as we become dependent.

Lynda Waddington wrote a good piece on Gettemy at Iowa Independent. Excerpt:

Rob Gettemy, 44, attends Antioch Christian Church in Marion, as do several members of the Linn County Republican Executive Board. He and another member, Jim Mayhew of Vinton, launched a Christian t-shirt and ministry business in 2008 dubbed “1M4JC,” or “One Million For Jesus Christ.” He is an instructor at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at University of Iowa and serves on the board of directors for Aid to Women, a local anti-abortion pregnancy crisis center. […]

From a purely horse-race perspective, the entrance of Gettemy likely does the most harm to Reed. Not only does it pull the hometown base Reed hoped to energize, but it sends a definite signal that Reed, who had attempted to position himself as the only true social conservative in the race, was found to be lacking.

Due to Gettemy’s entrepreneurial and business background, it is also feasible that he could melt support that has been slowly building for Rathje, who has emerged as the predominant fiscal conservative.

Waddington mentions that several prominent Linn County Republicans belong to the church Gettemy attends, including “Linn County GOP Chairman Tim Palmer and Vice-Chairman Brent Schulte, a minister at Antioch, and Schulte’s wife, state Rep. Renee Schulte.” The kingmakers in the local GOP don’t appear to be sold on any of the three previously declared candidates, even though all have tried to position themselves as conservatives (see also here).

Miller-Meeks probably has the most name recognition, having been the 2008 nominee against Congressman Dave Loebsack. Rathje has raised the most money. Reed has the wingnuttiest endorsements so far.

I still find it remarkable that Republicans think they can win Iowa’s second district with a far-right candidate. IA-02 has a partisan lean of D+7, meaning that in the last two presidential elections, the district voted about seven points more Democratic than the country as a whole. Only two Republican-held House seats in the entire country have this strong a Democratic lean. One of those is a fluke; Joseph Cao was able to win in Louisiana’s second district because the Democratic incumbent had stashed $90,000 in his freezer. Delaware’s at-large seat (D+7) is held by pro-choice, pro-gun control former Governor Mike Castle. The obvious play for Republicans in IA-02 would be to nominate a moderate in the Jim Leach mold, who could focus on economic issues. Instead, the GOP primary keeps getting more crowded with social conservatives.

Miller-Meeks couldn’t crack 40 percent against Loebsack in 2008. In a Republican wave year, the GOP nominee should do somewhat better, but I doubt a down-the-line conservative can win a district dominated by Johnson and Linn counties. Feel free to argue with me in the comments if you’re so inclined.

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Iowa political fundraising roundup

Financial reports for the end of 2009 were due with the Federal Election Commission on January 31. Here are some highlights.

The Iowa Democratic Party announced yesterday that it raised about $2.47 million across all accounts in 2009, while the Republican Party of Iowa raised $1.46 million. IDP chair Michael Kiernan said the party had met its goal of securing “the resources needed to win this November.” Details:

IDP filed $1.23 million in the state report. RPI filed $450,137 in the same report.

Filed 19 January 2010. Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

http://iowa.gov/ethics/

IDP filed $148,574 in State Party Building Fund Report. RPI filed $177,365.

Filed 28 January 2010. Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

http://iowa.gov/ethics/

IDP filed $1.09 million filed in Federal Year-End Report. RPI filed $837,406.

Filed 31 January 2010. Federal Elections Commission.

http://fec.gov

The money reported in the federal year-end report can be used to support any candidates and campaigns. The money in the state fund can be used on statewide races or Iowa House and Senate races. The State Party Building Fund money can’t be used on candidates or campaigns, but only on expenses for the building where the party headquarters is located (such as equipment or maintenance).

The Iowa GOP responded that it entered 2010 with about $100,000 more cash on hand than Iowa Democrats, but I don’t know whether its cash is in restricted or unrestricted accounts. (UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party disputes this claim. Adding the amounts from all three reports filed, the IDP has $449,334.94 on hand, while “RPI has $265,281.06 on hand between all three reports filed.”)

As for the federal races, Senator Chuck Grassley raised about $810,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009, spent about $156,000 and ended the year with about $5 million cash on hand. That’s about ten times as much as Democrat Roxanne Conlin has on hand for her campaign. Democrats Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen reported approximately $3,500 and $400 on hand, respectively.

IowaPolitics.com posted numbers for the Congressional candidates here. I was most interested in the numbers from the second and third districts. In IA-02, two-term incumbent Dave Loebsack raised $94,479 in the fourth quarter, spent $36,572 and ended the year with $336,311 cash on hand.

Surprisingly, Steve Rathje led the money race on the Republican side, raising $59,130 in the fourth quarter, spending $12,648 and ending with $46,242 cash on hand. The 2008 GOP nominee, Mariannnette Miller-Meeks, raised $20,660 (including $4,000 she gave herself), spent $39 and had $20,620 on hand. IowaPolitics.com didn’t mention numbers for Chris Reed, but The Iowa Republican blog reported that Reed raised “a miniscule $2,833.75 in the last quarter of 2009,” ending the year with “just over $2000 cash on hand.”

In the third district, seven-term incumbent Leonard Boswell raised $169,377 in the fourth quarter, spent $50,643 and had $462,193 cash on hand. Most of his money came from political action committee contributions.

Jim Gibbons led the crowded Republican field, thanks to support from heavy-hitters like Bruce Rastetter as well as a number of political action committees. Gibbons raised $207,310, spent $2,240 and ended the year with $205,069 on hand and $2,686 in debts owed. Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican blog is ready to declare victory for Gibbons in the primary already, based on these numbers. However, Bleeding Heartland user mirage (a supporter of State Senator Brad Zaun) noted in the same thread, “About $51,000 of Gibbons funds will be restricted (meaning they can’t be used against Zaun in a primary), and about $130,000 came from outside the 3rd district.”

Speaking of Zaun, he raised $30,600, spent $93 and ended 2009 with $30,507 on hand. Presumably he has raised more money since January 1, because he made a television ad buy last week. But as Robinson noted triumphantly, “Even if [Dave] Funk or Zaun raised $1000 everyday between now and the primary, they still wouldn’t match what Gibbons currently has in his campaign account.”

Funk, the IA-03 candidate favored by the Tea Party crowd, raised $22,685 in the fourth quarter, spent $19,553 and ended the year with $16,507 on hand. According to mirage, much of Funk’s remaining money is restricted for use after the primary. I don’t think he’ll be needing that.

Mark Rees, who is running as a more moderate Republican, raised $3,100 and loaned his own campaign $52,647. He spent $3,247 and ended the year with $52,500 and $52,647 in debts owed to himself. I don’t know how much of a moderate GOP base is left in the Des Moines suburbs, but if conservatives divide their support among three or four candidates, Rees could slip through.

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