Talk about missing the big picture

Craig Robinson has a post up at The Iowa Republican on efforts by the Scott County GOP to “turn the tide” for Republicans in eastern Iowa and statewide. The problem:

Just over a decade ago, Republicans held eight of the nine legislative seats in Scott County, today Republicans only control three of those seats. […] Currently, Republicans control only five senate seats and sixteen house seats east of Polk County. If you want to understand why Republicans have lost their majorities, one need[s] to look at what has happened to the state of the Republican Party in eastern Iowa.

In January of 2000, there were almost 5,000 more registered Republicans in Scott County than there were registered Democrats. Today, Democrats enjoy a registered voter advantage of 8,622 over Republicans. The 13,000 person swing in registered voters explains why Republicans have struggled to win elections in Scott County, the first congressional district, and statewide.

In the late 1990’s, Republican statewide candidates could win if they were able to perform reasonably well in Polk County. Many times, western Iowa counties as along with eastern Iowa Republican strongholds like Scott County could offset the margin that Democratic candidates could build in Polk and Johnson counties. Unfortunately, those were the glory days of Republican politics. In recent years, the only area of the state in which Republicans can build significant margins over Democrats is in northwest Iowa.

Here’s a name you won’t find in Robinson’s piece: Jim Leach. In the “glory days,” Jim Leach represented Scott County in Congress. But other Republicans attacked Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks last year because she praised Leach’s work (even though she disagreed with his pro-choice position).  Now Christian Fong, the only gubernatorial candidate from eastern Iowa, assures voters that he is a social conservative and ducked a question about whether he’d ever voted for Leach.

In the “glory days,” most of the statehouse Republicans representing eastern Iowa were moderates. But in the 2006 Republican primary in Iowa Senate district 41, right-wing interest groups helped David Hartsuch oust pro-choice incumbent Republican Maggie Tinsman. Legislators on both sides of the aisle respected Tinsman, which can’t be said of Hartsuch. Getting rid of Tinsman helped social conservatives gain more power in the Iowa GOP, but I doubt it helped the Republican brand in Scott County.

The Republican Party in Iowa and nationally has simply become too conservative to compete in much of eastern Iowa. The same process has turned many longtime Republican districts in Illinois and Wisconsin blue.

Robinson praises Brian Kennedy’s organizing and fundraising work as the finance chair of the Scott County GOP. He argues that rising unemployment in eastern Iowa has created an opening for Republicans in 2010. For that reason, Kennedy wants GOP candidates to focus on “job creation and the economy.” But clearly, there is no room in the GOP for candidates who don’t accept all of the religious right’s positions, whether or not they talk about jobs.

Until the Republican Party makes room in the tent for people who admire Jim Leach, they won’t regain a dominant position in places like Scott County. A weak economy can help the GOP make up some ground next year, and raising more money can improve their grassroots organizing, but that won’t solve their fundamental problem.

Eastern Iowa Bleeding Heartland readers, tell me if I’m right or wrong and why.

  • You're right

    I think that you’re right DMD.  There is another piece of the story for Leach:  he used to get 20% of the Democratic vote in Johnson county, and that was enough for him to squeak out a narrow majority.  But Democrats finally got tired of voting for him, and he finally lost his seat when Dave Loebsack won Johnson county outright.

    • I never lived in his district

      but I would have voted for Leach in the 80s and 90s. I think I would have stopped voting for him after he voted to impeach Clinton, but I knew a lot of Democrats who continued voting for him into this decade.

  • Expect the GOP to double-down in 2010

    Since the 1990s, the Iowa GOP has morphed into Victor Frankenstein’s Creature, but without the Creature’s charm or wit.  They really do buy the nonsense that the reason they lost so badly last year was that they weren’t conservative enough, that they didn’t beat the drums of anti-intellectualism and religious and racial bigotry loud and hard enough.  The Tea Bagger win in the bye-election in NY-23 today is going to be read by GOP base activists as a national tectonic shift, even though no one but a Republican has been elected from that district since U.S. Grant was still living in Galena.  As with the Tea Baggers and Dede Scozzafava, the New Model Iowa GOP will never make room for people who have a warm spot in their hearts for someone like Jim Leach.  But frankly, the worst thing that could happen to them would be to win.  That was actually the hidden lesson of the Bush years.  Suddenly all the mindless bumper-sticker slogans and shouted bits of hatred have to be turned into governing, and since Reality holds all the cards higher than a two, they fail miserably, and publicly.  Each one of those failures seals the doom of the GOP with greater certainty.

    The one advantage they have is that the Democrats have so little backbone that they’d rather play it safe by going all Grover Norquist and slashing government than by taking a hard-eyed look at the state’s fiscal structure and changing it, and the GOP-written rule that govern it, so that Iowa collects revenues adequate to its needs and has the ability to run deficits in those times when the GOP has destroyed the economy and driven the nation to the brink of a depression.  People get very frightened and frustrated as a consequence, and that may drive them to vote for Tea Baggers as the only way of voicing their discontent.

  • Though I've not lived in Iowa for 20 years

    I still have close ties there, love the state, and keep up with developments, and I think you’re spot-on.  I grew up in Davenport at a time when there still was a liberal wing in the Republican Party.  I still remember Jim Leach’s first successful campaign for Congress in 1976.  

    I am amazed at the political realignment that I’ve witnessed on my trips back to Scott County.  It has actually been going on, under the radar, for many years.  Your post only references as far back as the late 1990s, but the farther back you go, the stronger the Republican influence – and that of liberals within the Republican Party.  When I attended my first (and only) caucus in 1988, the Republicans met in the school auditorium; the Democrats were relegated to the cafeteria in the basement.  There were probably 200 Democrats in the room that year, and the chair kicked off the evening by mentioning that only 15 years earlier there were so few Democrats they could have met in the broom closet. Indeed, going further back to 1968, the journalist Irwin Ross referred to the state of Iowa as “the very Citadel of Republicanism”.  

    Of course, the Republicanism that Ross referred to has ceased to exist.  

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