Catching up on the Republican second district primary

Four Republicans are running against two-term Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second district. As the June 8 primary approaches, I see more and more news about this race.

Follow me after the jump for links and analysis about Mariannette Miller Meeks, Rob Gettemy, Steve Rathje and Chris Reed.  

Six months ago I assumed Miller-Meeks would have little trouble winning the nomination. She began the race with higher name recognition than she had in 2008, when she barely won the three-way GOP primary. She is also the only candidate with a base of support outside Linn County.

I still think Miller-Meeks is slightly favored to win the primary. She is no longer working full-time as an opthalmologist, so she has been spending lots of time campaigning around the district. She has probably had face-to-face contact with more voters than anyone else in the field.

Miller-Meeks has raised a decent amount of money for a primary and had $72,702 cash on hand at the end of the first quarter. I’ve been waiting to see when she would start running television commercials, and Craig Robinson reported today that she doesn’t plan to run any before the primary: “Instead, she is sending direct mail to voters.” That may work if she has a good handle on the voter universe for this primary, but she’s rolling the dice when other Republicans will be on the air for weeks.

Robinson sees other potential problems for Miller-Meeks too:

The crowded and more competent field of candidates means that this year’s primary in Iowa’s 2nd District will be much different than the one two years ago. In 2008, Miller-Meeks dominated her opponents in the rural part of the district.

Miller-Meeks garnered more than 50 percent of the vote in Appanoose, Davis, Jefferson, Johnson, Van Buren, Wapello, and Wayne counties. Had she not dominated those rural counties, there would have been no way that Miller-Meeks could have made up the 2500 vote margin that Teahen built for himself in Linn County.

It will be extremely difficult for Miller-Meeks to once again deliver the large margins she was able to build up in those counties this time around. That makes doing well in Linn and Johnson counties a necessity for her if she wants to win the nomination outright. While she has spent a considerable about of time in the northern part of the district, it’s also where all of her opponents are from.

The other important factor to consider in the 2nd CD race is what turnout will be. In 2008, 17,601 votes were cast, which was low for a contested primary in the district. The average turnout for a contested primary in the 2nd District is around 23,500. If that is the number of voters who turnout on June 8th, Miller-Meeks would have to increase her support by 12% to surpass the 35% threshold to avoid a nominating convention. Turnout in the 2010 primaries could easily exceed the 23,500 level. If that is the case, then Miller-Meeks will have to perform even better.

I am more bullish on Miller-Meeks’ chances than Robinson is, because I don’t think anyone will do as well in Linn County this year as Teahen did in 2008. As long as she doesn’t get crushed in Linn and Johnson Counties, she should be in good shape to clear the 35 percent threshold.

If the nomination ends up being decided at a district convention, I would expect Miller-Meeks to do well with delegates from the southeast portion of the district. The big problem for her would be the perception that she is too moderate. Miller-Meeks is a conservative, but some right-wingers don’t find her pure enough, or don’t like the fact that she has said nice things about former Representative Jim Leach. District convention delegates may skew to the right of the typical Republican voter.

Rob Gettemy got in this primary relatively late, but he had the most cash on hand at the end of March thanks to a $100,000 loan he made his own campaign. He has support from some heavy-hitters in Linn County and is the favorite candidate of the National Republican Congressional Committee. A Burlington-based Republican blogger suggests Gettemy has ties to Steve Scheffler of the Iowa Christian Alliance, but that group has not endorsed a candidate in this (or any other) Republican primary.

Gettemy started running television ads about two weeks ago. Here is “Values”:

Transcript by me:

I’m Rob Gettemy, and I approved this message. Iowa has given me great opportunities. I’ve raised my family, built my business and now I teach a new generation how to create jobs. I give back as much as I can, but I’m worried about our future. We have a government that is threatening the very values that made Iowa a great state.

On June 8, I need your support. I’m running for Congress to protect our values. In Congress I’ll represent Iowa values, because I’ve lived them my entire life. I’d appreciate your vote.

Here is the second Gettemy commercial, called “Jobs”:

Transcript by me:

I’m Rob Gettemy, and I approved this message. Iowa has given me great opportunities. I’ve raised my family, built my business and now I teach a new generation how to create jobs. And because I’ve met a payroll and managed a budget, I understand what it takes to turn the economy around. It’s not more government.

On June 8, I need your support. I’m running for Congress to bring jobs back to Iowa–real jobs, jobs that support our families. I’m Rob Gettemy, and on June 8, I’d appreciate your vote.

Those ads look pretty good to me. Nothing special, but they are professionally done and hit safe themes that will be popular with Republican voters. Gettemy’s biggest problem will be building up his name recognition across the district, since he has never run for office before. I would like to hear from people who live in this district about how visible Gettemy’s campaign is outside Linn County. He needs to either dominate the primary vote in the Cedar Rapids area or win over lots of district convention delegates on the strength of his conservatism and NRCC backing.

I didn’t think much of Steve Rathje’s chances when he began this campaign. The last time I heard from him, he was finishing third behind the underwhelming duo of Chris Reed and George Eichhorn in the 2008 U.S. Senate primary. However, Rathje raised more money than Miller-Meeks in 2009 and had $55,586 on hand at the end of the first quarter. He was the first Loebsack opponent to go up on television with what I consider a very solid introductory ad. Rathje also has endorsements from Paul Pate, the former Iowa secretary of State and former mayor of Cedar Rapids, and retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney, a Fox News contributor.

Rathje isn’t as knowledgeable about policy as Miller-Meeks. His proposal to stimulate the economy by halting federal tax withholdings from paychecks for 60 days is unrealistic (I wonder if he got the idea from third district candidate Jim Gibbons). Then again, something that’s too good to be true might be just what anti-tax Republican voters want to hear.

I would be shocked to see Rathje win at least 35 percent of the vote on June 8, but if it goes to a district convention, he may have a chance to become the nominee. I have no idea how strong his support was at the county conventions that elected district convention delegates.

Chris Reed has the least chance of winning the second district primary. He has raised little money and won’t be as visible as the other candidates in the final stretch. However, he has the most wingnutty endorsements, and if his volunteer network is strong, he could win enough votes to prevent any of the other candidates from clearing the 35 percent threshold.

No matter who wins the primary, I doubt Dave Loebsack is in any danger. As I’ve argued before, only a moderate Republican would have a chance in a district with as strong a Democratic lean as IA-02 (D+7).

Any thoughts on the second district race are welcome in this thread.

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  • None of these folks are well known enough

    MMM could be a viable candidate in my view if she were allowed to stray from the GOP dogma on a regular basis.

    Gettemy has a good resume, but I don’t think he’ll able to raise the money to raise his name identification.  

    My guess is that MMM still wins the primary although we should all be rooting for Chris Reed for the fun of it all.  

  • well...

    The problem with MMM and the GOP is that she has a libertarian streak and leans for small government and personal responsibility across the board. That also means she’s sympathetic to those ideals on the social issues as well, which gets her in trouble with the social conservatives of the party who seem to have no problem with Big Government as long as it’s their issue.

    She also is very Jeffersonian about concentrations of power, which means you will often hear her rail against big corporations and champions standing up for the little guy and small business and leaving the average Joe alone. That Democrat sounding rhetoric probably doesn’t help with some in the GOP either.

    However, she’s far more consistent than the other candidates in her view, so people may like her or hate her, but she stands for what she stands for.

  • Gettemy

    My money’s on Gettemy. He’s got a lock on the Marion area, where most of the Linn Co. republican base is. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get close to Teahen numbers there. Gettemy also seems to be doing well in Johnson Co, although it’s harder to gauge there since a lot of republicans fly under the radar there.

    I haven’t really seen MMM make a good argument as to why she should get another chance at Loebsack, so I’m thinking she’s going to lose some of that advantage she had in the rural south.

    I think Gettemy takes it in a close, close race.

    • you may be right

      I’m just about to post on Rathje’s new ad against Miller-Meeks. I would think Gettemy benefits more from that than Rathje.