IA-02 GOP nominee Christopher Peters joins #NeverTrump camp

Dr. Christopher Peters, the Republican nominee in Iowa’s second Congressional district, announced today that he will not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. In a prepared statement, Peters said his "views don’t fully align with either party’s platform" and asserted that neither major-party nominee has exhibited the "character and judgment necessary to be president." He rejected the "lesser of two evils" approach to voting, which in his view won’t "bring us closer to fixing" a "deeply flawed" political system.

Since launching his campaign in March, Peters has often promised to be an "independent voice" for Iowans, in contrast to five-term Representative Dave Loebsack, who "votes with the Democrats more than 90 percent of the time." Up to now, he had avoided taking a clear stand on Trump’s candidacy. For example, speaking to Kevin Barry of KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids in May, Peters said, "The top of the ticket I can’t control, so I’m not going to worry about it. It’s kind of like taking the Serenity Prayer at a certain point. My focus is the second district, specifically Iowa, more broadly the country as a whole. […] I don’t think Mr. Trump cares whether I endorse him or not, because he’s rich, and I’m not that rich. So I think he’ll do just fine. […] I don’t think it affects this race too much, or in any way I can control."

When Barry pressed Peters on whether he is behind Trump, Peters replied, "He’s got till November to earn my vote. We don’t know who all the candidates are going to be yet, and we don’t know all their policy positions. Again, if I’m an independent voice, and that’s who I am, I’ll vote [for] whoever I want to vote for in November, and I haven’t made that decision yet."

Peters did not attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, nor has he appeared at any Trump campaign rally in Iowa. He spoke at U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride fundraiser in late August, but left that event before Trump’s featured speech and photo op with Iowa GOP leaders. A Libertarian candidate for Iowa Senate in 2010, Peters went to Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s rally in Des Moines over Labor Day weekend but didn’t endorse Johnson then or now.

In today’s statement, Peters said "Trump’s behavior and temperament are only a part of the problem. He has repeatedly demonstrated a poor grasp of constitutionalism, civil rights, the rule of law, the role of diplomacy versus military interventionism, and even fundamental economics. I should have spoken out against him much earlier, and regret that I failed to do so." Scroll down to read the full commentary.

Peters and Loebsack are will attend their first candidate forum today at the Coralville Public Library, beginning at 2 pm. IA-02 leans Democratic, with a partisan voting index of D+4. The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the district’s 24 counties contain 171,027 active registered Democrats, 146,108 Republicans, and 172,729 no-party voters.

Although dozens of GOP members of Congress have joined the #NeverTrump ranks, Peters is the only federal candidate in Iowa willing to repudiate the party’s nominee. To my knowledge, only two other Iowa Republicans on the ballot this year have said publicly they will not vote for Trump: Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara and State Representative Ken Rizer. State Senator Jack Whitver, who is up for re-election in 2018, has called on Trump to step aside without saying whether he would vote for Trump, assuming he remains the nominee. State Senator David Johnson, whose term also runs through 2018, left the Republican Party in June to express his opposition to Trump.

Final note: While numerous Republicans cited their concern for daughters or granddaughters when denouncing the explosive Trump videotape from 2005, I applaud Peters for condemning Trump’s "character deficiencies" as a father of three teenage sons: "if I ever learned that any of them grew up to be men who conduct themselves like Trump, I would be deeply disappointed."

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Thoughts on Gary Johnson's Des Moines rally and Iowa prospects

Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson made his first Iowa campaign stop this year over the holiday weekend. His September 3 rally in Des Moines attracted hundreds of people, making it possibly the largest Libertarian event in Iowa history. You can watch his full speech at C-SPAN or Caffeinated Thoughts.

Johnson will qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and is consistently polling far better than the Green Party’s Jill Stein, the only other minor-party candidate routinely included in public opinion surveys. I continue to hear the Libertarian’s radio ads on various Des Moines-based stations and have seen pro-Johnson television commercials by the Purple PAC on some cable networks.

The four most recent Iowa polls measured Johnson’s support at 8 percent (Emerson College), 12 percent (Quinnipiac), 6 percent (Suffolk), and 12 percent (Marist). Polls have historically overstated support for third-party candidates. Nevertheless, if the competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump remains very close here, even a 2-3 percent showing for Johnson could determine who wins Iowa’s six electoral votes.

Though I wasn’t able to attend Saturday’s rally, listening to Johnson’s stump speech reinforced my view that he is on track to outperform all previous Libertarian presidential candidates in Iowa by a considerable margin.

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Ten presidential candidates qualify for the Iowa ballot

The filing deadline to run in Iowa’s general election ended at 5 pm today, and the Secretary of State’s Office has updated the list of candidates who submitted nominating papers and petitions with enough signatures. The following ten presidential tickets will appear on Iowa ballots:

2016 presidential candidates in Iowa
Names Party affiliation
Donald J. Trump/Michael R. Pence Republican
Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine Democratic
Darrell L. Castle/Scott N. Bradley Constitution Party
Jill Stein/Ajamu Baraka Iowa Green Party
Dan R. Vacek/Mark G. Elworth Legal Marijuana Now
Gary Johnson/Bill Weld Libertarian
Lynn Kahn/Jay Stolba New Independent Party
Gloria La Riva/Dennis J. Banks Party for Socialism and Liberation
Rocky Roque De La Fuente/Michael Steinberg Nominated By Petition
Evan McMullin/Nathan Johnson Nominated By Petition

The last three public polls in Iowa put Johnson at 12 percent, 6 percent, and 12 percent in a four-way race against Clinton, Trump, and Stein. Although those surveys probably overstate Johnson’s support, the unusual unpopularity of this year’s major-party nominees gives the Libertarian a good chance to improve on all of his party’s previous showings in Iowa. Click here to view results for Libertarian presidential candidates going back to 1976. At a Polk County Democratic event last night, a number of activists were concerned that Johnson’s name was not yet on the Secretary of State’s candidate list, because Johnson is presumed to draw more support from traditionally Republican-leaning voters. Libertarian activists cut it close by submitting nominating papers today, but all’s well that ends well.

Others who filed on the last possible day included Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer who launched his presidential campaign only last week, and the candidates for the New Independent Party and Legal Marijuana Now, which seem like decent names for picking up protest votes.

Five candidates qualified to run for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat: Republican Charles E. Grassley, Democrat Patty Judge, Libertarian Charles Aldrich, Jim Hennager of the New Independent Party, and Michael Luick-Thrams, “Nominated By Petition.”

Only major-party candidates will appear on the ballot in three of Iowa’s four Congressional districts: Republican Rod Blum and Democrat Monica Vernon in IA-01, Republican Christopher Peters and Democrat Dave Loebsack in IA-02, Republican Steve King and Democrat Kim Weaver in IA-04.

The field will be more crowded in IA-03, with Republican David Young, Democrat Jim Mowrer, Libertarian Bryan Jack Holder, and two candidates to be listed as “Nominated By Petition”: Claudia Addy and Joe Grandanette.

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Iowa reaction to landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion

In what has been called the most important abortion rights case for many years, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a 2013 Texas law that had forced more than 20 abortion clinics to close. Writing for the 5-3 majority in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Justice Stephen Breyer determined, "Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution."

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Breyer’s opinion. A succinct concurrence by Ginsburg noted, "Many medical procedures, including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory-surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements. […] Given those realities, it is beyond rational belief that [Texas law] H.B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law “would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.”

As Alexa Ura explained at Texas Tribune, today’s decision will not automatically reopen the shuttered Texas clinics. But it could lead to similar laws being struck down in 23 other states, shown on maps in this post by Sarah Kliff and Sarah Frostenson.

Iowa law does not place such restrictions on abortion providers, nor have they been the focus of recent legislative efforts by anti-abortion state lawmakers. But today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision reminded me of the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling from June 2015, which used the same reasoning to reject a state ban on the use of telemedicine for abortion. Just as Iowa Supreme Court justices found no evidence suggesting that women’s health or safety would benefit from being in the same room as a doctor when taking a medication, Breyer’s opinion found nothing in the record supported the claim that the Texas regulations advanced the state’s "legitimate interest in protecting women’s health"; on the contrary, "neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes."

I sought comment today from Governor Terry Branstad and all members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation, as well as the challengers who had not already released statements on the ruling. I will continue to update this post as needed.

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Will 2016 be a record-setting year for Libertarians in Iowa?

The two most recent national polls of the presidential race showed unusually high levels of support for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey conducted between June 19 and 23, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was backed by 39 percent of respondents, to 38 percent for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, 10 percent for Johnson and 6 percent for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. An ABC/Washington Post poll in the field between June 20 and 23 found 47 percent of respondents for Clinton, 37 percent for Trump, 7 percent for Johnson, and 3 percent for Stein.

Even taking into account the reality that support for third-party candidates "usually diminishes over the course of the [U.S. presidential] campaign," and third-party candidates have often received less than half as much support on election day as they did in nationwide surveys from June, Johnson has potential to shatter previous records for Libertarians. A former Republican governor of New Mexico, Johnson received 1,275,821 popular votes as the Libertarian presidential nominee in 2012, just under 1 percent of the nationwide vote. The best showing for a Libertarian ticket in terms of vote share was 1.06 percent (921,128 votes) in 1980 for Ed Clark and his running mate David Koch, better known as one half of the Koch brothers.

I haven’t seen any Iowa polls yet that gave respondents the option of choosing Stein or Johnson as alternatives to Clinton and Trump, but now seems like a good time to examine Libertarian presidential performance in Iowa over the last four decades and Johnson’s chances to improve on his 2012 results.

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Iowa Congressional 1Q 2016 fundraising news roundup

You’d never guess Representative Steve King was facing a primary challenger backed by Iowans with deep pockets by looking at Federal Election Commission filings alone. King isn’t raising money like an incumbent who’s worried about getting re-elected, and his Republican opponent Rick Bertrand didn’t disclose any fundraising or spending.

Follow me after the jump for highlights from all the first quarter FEC reports from Iowa’s U.S. House candidates. One Democrat out-raised all four of our state’s incumbents, and another Democrat nearly did so.

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