Iowa Republicans downbeat about election prospects

As Simon Stevenson noted here last week, the Iowa Republican Party’s fundraising lags well behind what Iowa Democrats have raised for the upcoming elections.

Now the Des Moines Register reports that Tom Harkin has $3.4 million in the bank going into his re-election campaign. Prominent Republicans are taking a pass on this race, and Harkin’s only declared opponent

is Steve Rathje, a Cedar Rapids businessman. Rathje as of Sept. 30 had raised about $49,000 for his campaign and had $259 cash on hand.

Finally, Harkin gets to take it easy. He had to fight hard against Greg Ganske in 2002, although he ended up winning by a comfortable margin.

Meanwhile, Ray Hoffman stepped down as chairman of the Iowa Republican Party halfway through his term and has been replaced by Stewart Iverson, who used to be the top Republican in the Iowa Senate but was blamed by some for the erosion of the GOP’s majority in that body.

Hoffman has said he is stepping down to focus more time on his growing restaurant business in Sioux City, but I suspect that the GOP’s woeful election prospects weighed on his mind as well.

As the Des Moines Register reported on Sunday, Iowa Republicans are taking a pass on the big races this year. So far Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-03) does not even have a declared Republican opponent. This passage from that article was revealing:

Iowa Republicans’ apparent hesitation to mount strong challenges in these two races [against Harkin and Boswell] represents what top GOP activists and strategists say is a low point for the party that might not begin to rebound until after legislative and congressional districts are redrawn in 2012.

“We’ll be lucky with anything we get this year,” said Steve Roberts, a Republican National Committee member from Des Moines. “I don’t think there are a lot of people with high expectations this year. It’s a long road back for us this time.”

Danny Carroll, a former state legislator from Grinnell, considered running against Boswell, but told the Register,

Boswell has won against credible GOP candidates in more competitive political environments and 2008 does not look good.

“I’ve watched the pendulum swing for us,” said Carroll, who went from second in command of the Iowa House majority to one of his party’s highest-ranking casualties in 2006. “I think it’s a time of re-evaluation and reorganizing. I think we’re all just trying to figure it out for ourselves.”

Carroll’s decision was based in part on his belief that the district’s most Democrat-leaning counties, where Republican candidates have done well without winning in recent elections, had become less competitive.

Now, some people in the Democratic establishment are going to warn us that we better not support Ed Fallon in the primary against Boswell, because if we do, we might lose the seat.

But let’s be realistic. Boswell has no Republican opponent. If he wins a tough primary, it’s not going to matter.

If Fallon wins the primary, will some Republican come out of the woodwork to challenge him? If so, that candidate will be starting to build a fundraising and outreach effort six months after Fallon started working the district hard:

Craig Robinson, political director of the Republican Party of Iowa, said a Fallon victory might convince an established candidate to enter the race. He also cautioned against such a strategy, which would keep a Republican from getting organized until after the June 3 primary.

“If the Democrats are going to have a contested primary, my advice is to get out there now and start raising money and building a campaign organization,” said Robinson.

In any event, the Register’s article from Sunday makes clear that Iowa’s third Congressional district leans even more Democratic following the presidential caucuses:

For instance, more than 8,600 Polk County voters changed their registration to Democrat in January, the vast majority to participate in the Jan. 3 presidential caucuses, according to a preliminary monthly report by the Polk County auditor. The changes represented an increase in Democratic membership of 8.7 percent compared to December 2007.

By contrast, roughly 3,100 Polk County voters changed their registration to Republican, an increase of 4.2 percent.

In Jasper County, 707 voters changed their registration to Democrat, an increase of 7.5 percent, compared to 284 who changed to Republican, an increase of 4.3 percent.

Some of those new Democrats may change their registration back to independent or Republican, but count on many to remain in the Democratic fold. Fallon already had a strong base in Polk County, where he got about 40 percent of the vote in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, and Polk County contributes at least 75 percent of the votes in the third Congressional district.

Democratic turnout for the general election is usually higher in presidential election years as well, which further improves our prospects of holding the district.

Republicans’ pessimism is great news for Iowa Democrats, and makes this an ideal year for us to build on our state legislative majorities while getting a stronger progressive to represent central Iowans in Congress.

The one good piece of news for Iowa Republicans is that Congressman Tom Latham (IA-04)

has been named the top Republican on a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

Latham, of Ames, is the only member of the U.S. House from Iowa on the influential committee, which controls government spending.

Latham’s district was always going to be an uphill battle for Democrats, and this will make it that much tougher.

But overall, it doesn’t look like Iowa Republicans will have much to celebrate this November.

  • Could they even get on the ballot?

    I would think that if they don’t have a candidate on June 3rd they won’t get to be on the ballot at all.  Is there some way around this?

  • District Convention

    If there is no Republican candidate after the primary, the 3rd District Republican convention can reconvene for the purpose of nominating a candidate.

    The 5th District did that in 2002 and selected Steve King. (albeit in a different situation since non of the candidates received the requisite 35% in the primary)

    • thanks for the clarification

      Do you think there would be a lot of Republicans interested in jumping in against Fallon? Or would the 3rd district convention rally around a consensus candidate fairly easily, in your opinion?

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