A surprise popped up on the Secretary of State’s general election candidate list today. Dan Kelley, a three-term state representative from Newton, has filed to run as a third-party candidate in Iowa House district 29. He lost the June Democratic primary to Wes Breckenridge by nearly a two to one margin. That campaign turned nasty and personal, with supporters on both sides calling each other “bullies.” In what has no recent precedent in Iowa politics, two major labor unions endorsed a challenger to a Democratic incumbent. Kelley was the only state legislative incumbent in either party to lose his party’s nomination this year.
At this writing, Kelley has not responded to my inquiries, nor has he posted anything on Twitter or Facebook to explain why he decided to run as a third-party candidate. The candidate list provides a big clue: Kelley is named as the candidate for the “Stand Up To Bullies” party. UPDATE: Added comments from Kelley below.
House district 29 covers most of Jasper County in central Iowa (scroll down for a map). The seat leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly so. President Barack Obama won 56 percent of the vote here in 2012. Kelley defeated his Republican opponent that year with more than 62 percent of the vote. The district contains 7,645 active registered Democrats, 5,608 Republicans, and 6,864 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office.
Kelley wasn’t the most popular member of his caucus, and House Democratic leaders will surely back Breckenridge in the general election. But no one in the party will relish the thought of spending money on this district when there are so many competitive House races around the state. Moreover, even if the party establishment goes all in for Breckenridge, a split in the Democratic vote could give Republican Patrick Payton the opening he needs to take this seat for the GOP. (Republicans haven’t represented the Newton area for decades.) Democrats need a net gain of eight House seats to win control of the lower chamber.