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.