First look at fundraising for the Iowa secretary of state race

In most midterm elections, the Iowa secretary of state race is a low-profile affair. Most Iowans know little about the job or the incumbent, since the secretary of state does not frequently make news.

This year may be different, as Secretary of State Paul Pate’s signature accomplishment–a law creating new barriers for eligible voters–generated tremendous controversy during and after the 2017 legislative session. Let America Vote, an organization former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander created to fight voter suppression laws across the country, has had a staffer on the ground in Des Moines for months. Kander wrote in a guest column for the Quad-City Times in October, “Secretary Pate and Republicans in the Iowa legislature injected intense partisanship into the administration of elections. […] Their actions were wrong, which is why Let America Vote is opening an office in Iowa to make them answer for their bad choices.”

Two Democrats are competing for the chance to face Pate in November: Jim Mowrer and Deidre DeJear. Pate won by just 20,073 votes out of more than a million cast in the 2014 Republican landslide. Signs now point to strong Democratic mobilization in Iowa and nationally. So while Iowans tend to re-elect their incumbents, the electorate for this midterm could be less favorably structured for Pate than the 2014 voter universe, where Republicans had substantially higher turnout than Democrats.

Assuming both major-party nominees have the resources to get their messages out, the secretary of state race should be a close one. New disclosures on candidates’ 2017 fundraising and expenditures provide the first snapshot of each contender’s ability to run a statewide campaign.

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Russian hackers targeted Iowa's election system

Iowa was among 21 states where hackers linked to the Russian government tried to obtain access to the election system during the 2016 campaign, Department of Homeland Security officials informed the Iowa Secretary of State’s office on September 22. The agency had previously declined to specify the targeted states.

Official communications from Secretary of State Paul Pate and Deputy Secretary of State Carol Olson did not mention any foreign connection and emphasized the positive, saying “bad actors” didn’t succeed in compromising the election system, and Iowa’s voter registration database remains secure.

Multiple news reports confirmed that intelligence officials had identified these 21 states in their investigation of scanning by “Russian government-linked cyber actors” last year. “Only Illinois reported that hackers had succeeded in breaching its voter systems,” according to an Associated Press story by Geoff Mulvihill and Jake Pearson. Arizona officials took that state’s registration database offline during the summer of 2016 while evaluating an attempted intrusion, believed to come from Russia. Cyber-attacks may have been connected to election-day malfunctions of e-pollbooks in a heavily Democratic county of North Carolina.

I enclose below written statements from Pate, Olson, and Jim Mowrer, one of two Democrats running for secretary of state. Mowrer asserted Pate “failed to take this threat seriously” and “has misled Iowans by claiming that no attempts were made to access Iowa’s election systems.” The other Democratic candidate, Deidre DeJear, linked to a Rachel Maddow segment about the news on her social media feeds, commenting, “This is not good, folks. There is no good reason why our current Secretary of State should neglect communicating important matters, regarding the security of our vote.”

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"We can do better": Deidre DeJear's case for secretary of state

Iowa Democrats are set to have their first competitive primary for secretary of state since 1998. Deidre DeJear launched her campaign last month on the 52nd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, to symbolize her commitment to increasing voter participation.

DeJear spoke to Bleeding Heartland at length about her candidacy, and I’ve posted highlights from that interview after the jump, along with the audio and full transcript of her remarks to a Democratic audience in Grinnell. You can follow her campaign on the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

DeJear’s approach to the race is markedly different from that of Jim Mowrer, the other Democrat in the field. Mowrer came out swinging against Secretary of State Paul Pate, vowing “to say no to making it harder and more expensive to vote” and highlighting the failure to count nearly 6,000 votes in Dallas County last November. In contrast, DeJear says little about Pate in her campaign materials and stump speech. She didn’t bring up the Dallas County debacle in our interview either.

Pate is very unpopular among Democratic activists since pushing for new restrictions on voting that will create barriers for certain populations. Nor is the secretary of state well-liked by county auditors, some of whom have already endorsed Mowrer. I suspect many 2018 primary voters will be drawn to a candidate willing to take the fight to Pate, relentlessly.

On the other hand, DeJear’s more aspirational, positive message should resonate with Democrats who prefer candidates to talk about what they are for, not what they’re against. I look forward to following this race.

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First look at Jim Mowrer's campaign for Iowa secretary of state

Vowing to fight for every vote to be counted and to “say no to making it harder and more expensive to vote,” Jim Mowrer launched his campaign for secretary of state on August 3. He is well-known to many Democrats as Representative Steve King’s 2014 opponent in the fourth Congressional district and Representative David Young’s challenger in the third district last year. Follow me after the jump for more on Mowrer’s case for his candidacy and against Secretary of State Paul Pate, including highlights from an interview with Bleeding Heartland.

Mowrer will have at least one competitor in the Democratic primary. Deidre DeJear launched her campaign on August 6. She’s on the web, Facebook, and Twitter. I recently spoke to DeJear about her background and goals and have a post in progress on her secretary of state campaign. Iowa Starting Line profiled her here.

State Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City has not ruled out the secretary of state race either, he told me in late July.

I’ve reached out to several county auditors who had floated the idea of challenging Pate in 2018. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald told me he is no longer considering a run for higher office. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announced on Facebook on August 3 that Mowrer “has my full backing.” UPDATE: Two more county auditors endorsed Mowrer on August 7. Scroll to the end of this post for details.

Nathan Blake, who had been thinking about this race, confirmed two weeks ago that he has decided against it.

Because I believe the most dangerous thing about the Trump Republican Party is its disdain for democracy and its corresponding voter suppression efforts, I had been planning to run for Secretary of State in 2018. However, in May Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller asked me to take on a new role as a Deputy Attorney General. I believe I can do the most good over the next few years working for AG Miller to stand up for the rule of law, keep Iowans safe, and protect consumers. While I won’t be running for anything this cycle, I’ll continue to fight for voting rights and other progressive policies and I’ll evaluate opportunities to serve in elected office in the future.

Bill Brauch likewise considered running for secretary of state but will not be a candidate for any office next year. Instead, he told me, he will continue volunteering as the Iowa Democratic Party’s Third District Chair.

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Paul Pate angered by county auditors' criticism of voter ID bill

Stung by criticism of his proposal to enact new voter ID and signature verification requirements, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate accused some county auditors of pursuing a “partisan” agenda, as well as lobbing “blatant distortions,” “smears,” and “cheap shots.” Pate made the accusations during a legislative briefing for the Iowa State Association of County Auditors on March 9. Earlier that day, House Republicans had approved a version of Pate’s bill, ignoring feedback from many who warned the legislation would disenfranchise eligible voters.

At least four Democratic county auditors are considering running for secretary of state next year, largely because Pate has pushed for voter ID, Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register yesterday. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert, Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker, and Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz will likely confer and “agree in advance on putting forward a single candidate,” they told Noble. Nathan Blake may also seek the Democratic nomination for secretary of state.

Pate didn’t call out any county auditors by name during his March 9 speech, but he sounded particularly enraged by Weipert, who has been a leading critic of the voter ID bill and testified against the proposal at a public hearing.

The Secretary of State’s Office made a recording of Pate’s remarks (which I requested on March 14) available to me only this morning. You can download the file through Dropbox. I enclose below my partial transcript. UPDATE: Embedded the video below, since the Dropbox link wasn’t working for some.

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Iowa House censored video of public hearing on voter ID bill

The topic at hand was supposed to be Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announcing that he may run for Iowa secretary of state in 2018. In a March 19 press release, Weipert said, “I’ve been meeting with auditors of both parties across the state, and there’s wide agreement we need new leadership in the Secretary of State’s Office. […] We should be helping people vote, not making it harder.” Auditors are the top election administrators in Iowa’s 99 counties. Weipert has been an outspoken critic of Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposal to enact new voter ID and signature verification requirements. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved a version of Pate’s bill earlier this month.

Weipert has argued voter ID would disenfranchise some voters and create long lines at polling places. While working on a post about his possible challenge to Pate, I intended to include footage from the Johnson County auditor’s remarks at the March 6 public hearing on House File 516. I’d watched the whole hearing online. However, I couldn’t find Weipert anywhere in the video the Iowa House of Representatives posted on YouTube and on the legislature’s website.

Upon closer examination, I realized the official record of that hearing omitted the testimony of sixteen people, including Weipert.

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