Iowa Senate district 18 news roundup

Only 20 days remain before the special election in Iowa Senate district 18. Both parties are spending heavily on the race, judging from campaign finance reports released yesterday.  

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board posted disclosure forms for Democratic candidate Liz Mathis and Republican nominee Cindy Golding yesterday (pdf files). James Q. Lynch summarized the highlights:

Mathis reported raising $63,406 and spending $22,564, leaving her with $40,842 cash on hand for the final 20 days of the campaign.

Golding raised $44,808 and spent $35,549, leaving her with $9,258. […]

The big difference in the campaigns’ numbers is in what is called “in-kind contributions.” Golding reported $69,418 in in-kind contributions, primarily from the Republican Party of Iowa. Mathis logged $292,426 of in-kind contributions with most coming from the Iowa Democratic Party. The funds, for the most part, went toward advertising, printing, postage and office supplies.

Hannah Hess reported at IowaPolitics.com,

More than $17,000 [for Mathis] came from political action committee ActBlue, a national clearinghouse for Democratic fundraising. Online donors select the campaign to which they want to contribute; then, Massachusetts-based ActBlue mails weekly checks.

Another $23,000, or more than 35 percent of Mathis’ total, came from Iowa unions. Calls to Mathis regarding her stance on unions and collective-bargaining rights were not immediately returned Wednesday.

“Hers is an out-of-state, big union campaign,” Golding spokesman Don McDowell said of the Democratic candidate. “Ours is a grassroots campaign that is based on Iowans that are ready to see a change in the way things are going in the Iowa Senate.”

Golding reported raising $44,808, of which 40 percent came from conservative political action committees, or PACs. She collected $12,500 from Team Iowa PAC, a Republican PAC that has helped elect many Iowa GOP candidates.

Golding also received $5,000 from PursePAC, part of Purse Iowa, which helps elect female candidates who support fiscal responsibility, limited government and free-market issues.

The Team Iowa PAC is registered as a 527 organization (not a political action committee). Nick Ryan chairs Team Iowa PAC; he is better known to Bleeding Heartland readers as the founder of the 501(c)4 organization American Future Fund. Bruce Rastetter, who provided the American Future Fund’s seed money, was also the largest financial supporter for Team Iowa PAC in 2008 and in 2010.

Hess observed that neither the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa nor Bob Vander Plaats’ conservative organization FAMiLY Leader donated to the Senate district 18 candidates. But both Vander Plaats and One Iowa Executive Director Troy Price have commented on the importance of this special election. Political action committees and outside groups have often spent money on organizers or advertising in competitive Iowa House and Senate races without donating directly to either candidate.

The Iowa Democratic Party and Republican Party of Iowa have mobilized volunteers every weekend to knock on doors, distribute literature, and collect absentee ballot request forms in Senate district 18. A strong early voting effort greatly helped Democrat Curt Hanson in the 2009 special election in Iowa House district 90. The Iowa GOP improved its early voting program in 2010, and the final absentee ballot request numbers in Senate district 18 will indicate how much Republicans have stepped up their game for special elections. November 4 is the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot by mail.

Mathis and Golding are scheduled to appear side by side twice next week. The Cedar Rapids Gazette and KCRG-TV are organizing a candidate forum on October 26 (7 pm at Linn-Mar High School, 3111 10th St., Marion). The League of Women Voters of Cedar Rapids/Marion are hosting another forum on October 27 (7 pm at the Kirkwood Training and Outreach Center, 3375 Armar Drive in Marion).

With many years of experience as a television news reporter and anchor, Mathis shouldn’t have any trouble communicating with an audience. But Todd Dorman’s latest column on this race worried me:

A month ago, Mathis was not a politician. So I guess it’s not shocking that when I attempted to kick some questions her way, she often pulled away the football. Frustrating, but not shocking.

Differences with Golding? “I haven’t really focused on what my opponent is doing,” she said.

Raise the gas tax? “I need to talk to more people on both sides of the issue,” Mathis said.

Cut income, corporate or property taxes? “I’m going to go back and talk to my constituents,” she said.

Right to work, labor issues? “I’d have to look at the wording of the legislation,” Mathis said.

On education, Mathis did point to “disconnects” in Gov. Terry Branstad’s school reform blueprint. She wonders how the same governor who tried to slash public preschool funding now wants high-stakes reading tests for third-graders. She also worries that too much testing will shove aside time for students to stoke creativity and imagination.

Obviously no candidate wants to go out of her way to offend an important constituency, but playing it too safe has drawbacks. According to Dorman, Golding excelled in the Q and A at the Republican nominating convention: “during questioning, it became clear that Golding was the most articulate, enthusiastic, prepared and polished candidate” of the three Republicans running.

I see trouble ahead for Mathis if she appears evasive or afraid to take a stand at next week’s forums, especially if Golding answers questions in a straightforward, confident way.

Mathis and Golding won’t be the only names on the Senate district 18 ballot. Constitution Party member Jon Tack of Hiawatha filed as a candidate last week as well. John Deeth predicts that Tack will hurt Golding due to the Constitution Party’s conservative orientation. In the 2009 Iowa House district 90 special election, two minor candidates received more votes than the margin separating Hanson from Republican Stephen Burgmeier.

Tack ran for Congress as the Constitution Party candidate in Iowa’s second district in 2010. He won 2,463 votes district-wide (a little more than 1 percent). Linn County residents cast 785 votes for Tack in that race. Senate district 18 is fairly balanced politically, and Iowa has had many statehouse races decided by tiny margins, so even a hundred or two votes for Tack could become important. I can’t think why Constitution Party supporters would find Golding lacking–she’s no moderate. But then, neither was Burgmeier.

Any comments about the special election are welcome in this thread.

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