Several Republicans competing for Iowa Senate district 18 nomination

Linn County Democrats are working behind the scenes to find a consensus candidate for the November 8 special election in Iowa Senate district 18, but at least three Republican candidates will seek the GOP nomination.

Linn County Republican central committee members who live in the current Senate district 18 will choose the GOP nominee at a district nominating convention on September 22.

Mary Rathje, who works for Rathje Construction in Marion, announced her candidacy on Monday.

“We need to complete the circle,” she said. “Employers want to grow and hire employees, parents want stronger schools and jobs to pay their mortgages, and graduates want job opportunities in Iowa to begin their careers.

“Working daily in a family-owned business and raising kids in this community has provided me a strong perspective of the issues in the area,” Rathje said.

Many Bleeding Heartland readers will recognize the Rathje name, because Mary Rathje’s brother-in-law is Steve Rathje. He unsuccessfully sought the GOP U.S. Senate nomination in 2008 and the GOP nomination in the second Congressional district in 2010. He is considering a campaign against Representative Bruce Braley in the first Congressional district in 2012.

James Q. Lynch reported at Eastern Iowa Government that Rathje is Governor Terry Branstad’s “choice for the nomination.” I have seen no public endorsement from Branstad, but he appears to be getting the word out on the ground. Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican alluded to rumors that Rathje is Branstad’s preferred candidate. She donated $1,000 to the governor’s 2010 campaign. UPDATE: Branstad’s communications director Tim Albrecht told me that the governor “is not getting involved and will support whomever the local GOP selects” to run in Senate district 18.

Linn County GOP co-chair Cindy Golding is also seeking the nomination in Senate district 18. A chemist by training (as is Swati Dandekar, the Democrat who just resigned), Golding is active in the local business and political community.

Golding and her husband, Joe, own and operate a number of small businesses including C and J Investment that manages residential, commercial and agricultural property, Sweet Maple Farms, an organic farming operation and Advanced Resources, which provides training for non-profit organizations around the world. The businesses have increased employment from 12 to 18 over the past year, she said.

Golding, who described herself as a “conservative republican, fiscally and socially, wants to serve in the Senate to help Branstad reset the state’s agenda. […]

As a member of the National Federation of Small Businesses and the Farm Bureau political action committee, Golding has worked on legislative issues.[…]

“I think I can make a difference in Des Moines,” she said. “I’ve had lots of practice trying to guide legislation as a business owner and farmer.”

Golding, who worked as a research chemist before moving to Iowa in 1985, sought the GOP nomination in 2002 for the House seat now held by House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.

Rathje is a first-time candidate for elective office, but Golding sought the GOP nomination against Kraig Paulsen in Iowa House district 35 in 2002. Paulsen is now House speaker. Golding wasn’t a major donor to GOP candidates in 2010, but she made several small donations to the Linn County GOP.

Craig Robinson made his preference clear this morning.

The candidate with the most impressive resume is Matt Dummermuth, a Cedar Rapids attorney.  Dummermuth is an Iowa State grad who earned his J.D. at Harvard Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy.  From 2007 to 2009, Dummermuth served as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa.

In his capacity as United State Attorney, Dummermuth was the chief federal prosecutor and law enforcement official for 52 counties in northern Iowa. He supervised criminal prosecutions involving drug trafficking, child exploitation, immigration, and document and financial fraud offenses.  His background would bring an interesting skill set to the State Senate.

Dummermuth’s most famous (or infamous) law enforcement action was the May 2008 raid on the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville.

Too bad for Dummermuth that Robinson isn’t one of the 48 potential electors who will decide the nominee this Thursday. Robinson did his best to tip the scales, though. He mentioned Mary Rathje’s donation to Dandekar’s 2008 Iowa Senate campaign and Golding’s $50 donation to liberal Democrat Ed Fallon’s 2006 campaign for governor. Robinson also noted that while Golding’s home is in district 18 now, she would need to move in order to run for re-election in the new Senate district 34 in 2012.

Lynch reported that Iowa House Local Government Committee Chair Nick Wagner and Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson “both considered the race [in district 18], but have taken themselves out of the running.” According to Todd Dorman’s latest post, there’s more to the story than that:

When word of Dandekar’s departure broke, one of the first names I thought of was Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, who represents much of Senate 18, including Marion, and was chief of staff to Mary Lundby, who represented Marion in the state senate for 14 years.

But Oleson said he was contacted by several Republican leaders/activists in Des Moines who informed him in no uncertain terms that his candidacy would not be warmly received. Do not run was the message. He didn’t name names.

“They said I wouldn’t get past the convention because of my support for (Project Labor Agreements) and the marriage amendment issue,” Oleson said. “They want someone without a record.”

Oleson played a key role in putting together project labor agreements with the intention of making sure the maximum number of local workers got jobs on numerous post-flood county public works projects, in then midst of a recession. And he’s signed on with former Sen. Jeff Angelo’s effort to organize Republicans who support legal gay marriage.

Senate district 18 covers suburban areas where moderate Republicans once thrived, but I’m not surprised that Linn County GOP activists didn’t want Oleson on the ballot line.

Presumably the Democratic nominee will campaign as a better fit for the moderates in this district, especially since the Iowa Senate was the backstop against various conservative Republican policies this year.

Democrats are expected to announce their special election candidate later today. Local rumors suggest that the nominee will be Liz Mathis, a former local television news anchor in Cedar Rapids.

UPDATE: From Dummermuth’s formal campaign announcement:

“Now more than ever, Iowa needs genuine leaders who are not afraid to think outside the box and tackle tough issues in a principled, conservative manner,” said Dummermuth.  “I want to use my extensive government experience and small business background to help Iowa become an even better place to grow a business, find a job, and raise a family.  The state should help foster such an environment by effectively and efficiently carrying out its essential responsibilities, limiting the reach and size of government beyond its core functions, and protecting Iowans’ economic, political, and religious liberties in the process.”

Matt’s small business experience involves starting a new law office and practice, along with active involvement since childhood in his family’s farming business.  Matt’s government experience includes stints in public service in all three branches of the federal government and in Iowa’s executive and legislative branches.  His most recent public service was as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa from 2007 to 2009, leading an office of 60 employees including 26 attorneys in prosecuting federal crimes and handling civil matters in the District, which includes Linn County.

Dummermuth continued, “In today’s uncertain economic climate and hyper-partisan political atmosphere, the state would benefit by having more elected officials who are effective problem-solvers focused on creating a stable and sustainable government, rather than those who excel at ratcheting up rhetoric, making empty promises, and attacking opponents.”

Matt is a native Iowan who resides in Robins with his wife and three young kids.  He earned his B.S. in engineering at Iowa State University and his J.D. at Harvard Law School.  He practices law in Cedar Rapids as a partner with the law firm of Whitaker Hagenow GBMG.

SECOND UPDATE: The Iowa GOP is recruiting volunteers for the Senate district 18 campaign by offering them free tickets to the state party’s annual Reagan dinner in November. Several GOP presidential candidates will speak at the dinner, and tickets cost $75 to $150.

About the Author(s)


  • I dunno

    Is Liz Mathis the best the Demo’s can do?  Traditionally, tv types make pretty bad candidates and usually get thrashed..a la the Connie McBurney ’96 Congressional race against incumbent Greg Ganske. There are other examples nationwide. I’ve googled her and she seems pretty lite. She’ll have a tough go.

    • Tami Wiencek

      won an Iowa House seat for Republicans in Waterloo in 2006–that race wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

      I have no idea who else Linn County Democrats approached or vetted for this campaign, so I can’t say whether Mathis is the best potential candidate. She will have very high name recognition compared to the GOP opponent.

      • yeah I guess

        but Tami got the hook after one term. The exception that proves the rule, however briefly.

        Liz has little chance against Rathje, IMHO. Liz has been off the air for four years, and there is nothing older than yesterday’s news. People have short memories.

        Rathje has a ton of name recog too, among the political types in the district who will vote. She’s Branstad’s choice.  Rastetter, Elwell, Lange and the rest of the usual suspects will make sure she has a lotta dough. They’re on a role, and have the big mo.  As a side note, I went to the Harkin steak fry and I know the weather was bad, but the crowd seemed pretty small and while there was some rah rah it seemed overall to be pretty dispirited, which might bode ill for this race.  That’s just my opinion.

    • McBurney

      In the primary that year she ran very well against Jack Hatch in the area that watched KCCI.  Outside of the KCCI area Hatch beat her.  One thing that probably hurt her in the general election was her refusal to debate Ganske.

      She didn’t really know much about the issues.  And probably didn’t want to appear ignorant so she refused to debate.

      • Very true

        She did not know the issues, a debate with Ganske would’ve been a disaster. Fun Fact: Connie’s consultant – Axelrod’s operation out of Chi.  Connie’s prob was she wouldn’t listen to him.  Liz Mathis is much smarter, I’m sure, but still has a uphill fight for any number of reasons.  

  • Thoughts

    I have to agree with Robinson that a donation to Fallon would be a tough one for Golding to explain in a GOP primary.  I get it though, being an organic farmer and fighting against what many view as corporate welfare.  

    Swati should have recommended someone, but maybe Mathis will work out.  I presume the Republicans will win this one, but if I’m wrong I’ll be happy.  

    • quite a few Republicans

      agree with Ed Fallon on land-use issues. When he was in the legislature, people like Mary Lundby and Jodi Tymeson were his allies on some bills. I know nothing about Golding’s reasons for donating to Fallon, though.  

  • Dreamland

    Wouldn’t it be great if some moderate Republican stepped up in the Mary Lundby tradition and snagged the nomination?  A guy can dream, can’t he?

    • fyi

      My article was not in any way an endorsement for Dummermuth.  I don’t have a dog in the hunt.  If I did you it would be obvious. 🙂