Washington Republicans have been talking up their chances of retaking the House of Representatives for months, and the National Republican Congressional Committee claims many recruiting successes in competitive House districts. However, Republican primary voters haven't always sided with candidates favored by the Washington power-brokers. Last month a tea party candidate defeated "top national GOP recruit" Vaughn Ward in Idaho's first district. In Kentucky's third district, the NRCC's candidate finished third with 17 percent in the primary; the winner had over 50 percent. In Pennsylvania's fourth district, the NRCC-backed candidate was out-raised and eventually beaten 2-1 in the Republican primary. In Alabama's fifth district, the NRCC backed party-switching Representative Parker Griffith, who proceeded to get crushed in his new party's primary.
In Iowa, the NRCC has tipped its hat to two Republicans in competitive primaries. In the third district, Jim Gibbons was named an "on the radar" candidate in February and bumped up to "contender" status in April. In the second district, the NRCC put Gettemy "on the radar" about six weeks after he declared his candidacy.
Both Gibbons and Gettemy are newcomers to campaigning, and both are facing at least one more experienced politician in their primaries. Gibbons' main rival, State Senator Brad Zaun, has won several elections in Urbandale and Iowa Senate district 32. All three of Gettemy's opponents have run for office before, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Christopher Reed both won Republican primaries in 2008.
If Gibbons and Gettemy fail to top the voting in their respective primaries, the NRCC's ability to identify candidates with strong potential will again be called into question. The "young gun," "contender" and "on the radar" lists are important signals to NRCC donors about where their money could be most helpful. People who wrote checks to Gibbons or Gettemy without knowing anything about the local landscape may be upset if their money went to a losing candidate.
Iowa Republicans who recruited Gibbons and Gettemy and talked them up to GOP leaders in Washington also have something to lose if today's primaries don't go their way. Key members of the Iowa Republican business elite have supported Gibbons, and Gettemy had the backing of prominent Cedar Rapids area Republicans. Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, who heads the Iowa Christian Alliance, is also said to be close to Gettemy, though Scheffler has made no formal endorsement in this year's primaries.
Both the IA-03 and IA-02 primary battles may end up being settled at GOP district conventions, so Gibbons and Gettemy could conceivably win the nominations if they don't finish in first place today, as long as no other Republican receives at least 35 percent of the vote. However, they may have an uphill battle persuading district convention delegates.
WEDNESDAY AM UPDATE: Add IA-02 and IA-03 to the list of districts where the NRCC sure doesn't know how to pick 'em.
Zaun won 42 percent of the vote in the seven-way IA-03 primary, while Gibbons managed just 28 percent. Tea Party favorite Dave Funk didn't raise enough money for a significant paid media campaign, but he finished not far behind Gibbons with 22 percent. Gibbons did carry several of the smaller counties in IA-03, but Zaun dominated Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs. Zaun's ground game defeated Gibbons' superior "air power."
Miller-Meeks won the IA-02 primary in dominating fashion with 51 percent of the vote. She led in all of the district's 11 counties. Gettemy finished dead last with 13 percent of the vote. Even in his home county (Linn), he came in third. Gettemy won fewer votes across the district than Christopher Reed, who raised very little money and is best known for for calling Senator Harkin "the Tokyo Rose of Al-Qaeda and Middle East terrorism" during the 2008 campaign. All of Gettemy's tv ads and connections to Cedar Rapids movers and shakers delivered fewer votes than Reed managed with his band of way-out-there wingnut endorsers.