I keep hearing chatter about a possible primary challenge to Governor Chet Culver in 2010. This scenario strikes me as extremely unlikely, but I want to encourage others to weigh in on this comment thread.
Running a statewide primary campaign is expensive. Who has the money for that? I can’t think of any self-funding candidate who would step up to challenge Culver. Anyone else have names in mind?
Organized labor has money and is unhappy with the governor, largely because he vetoed a collective-bargaining bill during the 2008 legislative session.
But most labor unions supported Mike Blouin in the 2006 primary, and their backing wasn’t enough to defeat Culver before he was an incumbent. Culver will go into the next campaign with huge institutional advantages he didn’t have as the secretary of state.
It would seem more logical for organized labor to continue the strategy they adopted this year: focus their political giving on statehouse candidates likely to support their agenda. If Culver continues to disappoint, simply don’t donate to his re-election campaign. That is cheaper than spending lots of money on a primary challenger.
I think there’s a decent chance the 56 Democrats who will be in the Iowa House in 2009 will be able to pass either “fair share” legislation (which would weaken Iowa’s right-to-work law) or a collective-bargaining bill like the one Culver vetoed. Getting those bills through the new Senate will be no problem. As I’ve written before, Culver supports fair share, and it wasn’t his fault it couldn’t get through the House in 2007. I also doubt Culver would veto a collective-bargaining bill a second time.
If labor unions decide to go all out against Culver, who could they find? I can’t think of many politicians with enough stature to pull this off. A few people have named sitting legislators in conversations with me, but I find it hard to believe any of them would take that risk. Look how the Democratic establishment reacted when Ed Fallon challeged the thoroughly mediocre Leonard Boswell in the third district Congressional primary.
Anyway, none of the current leadership in the House and Senate would be likely to win the support of other Democrats who have their own reasons for being disappointed with Culver. For instance, environmentalists who wish the governor would back agricultural zoning at the county level (also known as “local control” of CAFOs) have gotten zero help from statehouse leaders since Democrats regained the majority. Ditto for liberals who want to see the legislature adopt campaign finance reform (the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections act).
One person suggested to me that a primary challenger would not be able to defeat Culver, but could damage him enough to cost us the governor’s chair in 2010. I find this scenario unlikely as well. Let’s say organized labor backs someone like Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal for governor. I don’t think he will run against Culver, I’m just throwing out his name because he is well known and could raise a significant amount of money. He hasn’t put muscle behind local control or clean elections–on the contrary, he insulted a group of activists who came to the capitol in April 2007 to lobby for the VOICE act. I don’t see him getting enough traction in a primary campaign to do real damage. If anything, he could help Culver with swing voters in the general election, by showing that the big, bad “special interests” are unhappy with the governor.
I don’t mean to sound complacent. The Republican Party of Iowa is bruised and divided now but could rebound by 2010 with the right gubernatorial candidate. More important, the fiscal outlook is terrible at both the national and state level. That and other continuing economic problems pose a much bigger threat to Culver’s re-election than the prospect of a Democratic primary challenger.
What do you think?