IA-01: Blum and Lange actively campaigning

Although the presidential campaign is the center of attention in Iowa for obvious reasons, caucus season also provides opportunities for down-ticket candidates. Large groups of politically-active conservatives gather at campaign events all over the state. Local and county GOP activists are planning for all the 2012 elections, not just the caucuses.

Two Republicans are likely to run against three-term Representative Bruce Braley in Iowa’s new first Congressional district. Both have been busy touring northeast Iowa this fall, speaking to various county central committees and conservative groups.  

Until a couple of weeks ago, three candidates appeared set to challenge Braley next year. However, Steve Rathje ended his campaign on December 15 in order to focus on saving his company. He explained his decision in a statement I’ve enclosed at the end of this post.

That leaves Dubuque businessman Rod Blum, who formally announced his candidacy in October, and Braley’s 2010 challenger Ben Lange, who formed an exploratory committee the same month.

Blum has taken advantage of many opportunities to meet with conservative activists in northeast Iowa. In November, he spoke to the Jackson County GOP dinner and to Republican central committees in Black Hawk and Linn Counties, the largest by population in the new IA-01. This month, Blum has attended GOP committee meetings in Tama, Jones and Winneshiek Counties. He also spoke at a Cedar Valley Tea Party event in Cedar Falls (Black Hawk County).

Blum regularly updates his Facebook page and sends out a newsletter twice a month as well as occasional press releases on policy matters. His campaign hired Steve Webber as communications director a month ago. Webber is a former newspaper reporter who later served as press secretary for Jim Nussle when Nussle represented IA-01 in Congress. When Congress considered legislation this month to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, Blum responded to my request for comment on the issue. (Lange did not.)

To my knowledge, Blum has not endorsed any of the Republican candidates for president. That may be wise; no need to alienate any highly engaged party activists. The GOP nominee for Congress will need all the volunteer help he can get around the district next year.

Lange has taken a different approach. The website for his exploratory committee has no information about news, policies, or upcoming events. There’s just a link to donate and a form to sign up for updates. However, Lange’s posts on his campaign’s Facebook page indicate that he has spent a lot of the last two months on the road. On November 22, he said he had visited all 20 counties in the new IA-01 since announcing his exploratory committee six weeks earlier. Lange’s public appearances included the Howard County Republicans’ annual pork barbecue, the Fayette County Tea Party meeting, and a fundraiser for State Representative Walt Rogers of Waterloo.

I expected to see Lange as a frequent surrogate for former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. Lange endorsed Santorum’s presidential campaign way back in July. Santorum’s Iowa state director is Cody Brown, who managed Lange’s 2010 campaign against Braley. Santorum has held dozens of town-hall meetings in the IA-01 counties. News accounts rarely mention Lange’s presence, but he has attended at least some of the campaign events, such as Santorum’s rally in Cedar Rapids on December 28. The same day, Lange was on hand to praise Santorum in Independence, where Lange lives and practices law.

Endorsing a presidential candidate can be risky, but Lange chose well in this case. Backing Santorum is unlikely to alienate supporters of other contenders, with the possible exception of the Ron Paul crowd. Since Santorum has been a second-tier candidate for most of the year, he hasn’t been the target of many attacks or negative ads. He’s performed well in the televised debates. In fact, some polling suggests that of all the presidential candidates, Santorum has the best favorability numbers among likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers. A surprisingly strong finish for Santorum next Tuesday might give Lange a boost with GOP activists.

Any comments about the IA-01 campaign are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Braley has mostly ignored his Republican challengers this fall, campaigning against rural post office closures and for the payroll tax cut extension when traveling the district.

Statement from Steve Rathje, ending campaign in IA-01 on December 15:

“More than twenty years ago I made a decision to leave the safety and security of a good paying job to take a chance on myself and build a business of my own. I had done my homework and understood that there was not only a tremendous amount of risk involved, but that my character, my integrity, my belief in personal responsibility, and being accountable for all three would be tested to the limit. I also understood that, although I had control over my company, I did not have control over the inner workings of the companies I chose to do business with, nor the economy and its obvious role in the markets with which we participate.  

As the economy continues to deteriorate, and large customers push payments on receivables well beyond that which we had originally agreed to, tough decisions have to be made. My employees, their families, my customers, my supply chain, the thousands of source employees I feel responsible for, and most of all my family, need to know that the husband, the father and the leader they depend on, is doing the responsible thing. I have full confidence in those I’ve hired to lead my company in my absence, but what does it say about me, my character, my integrity, and my leadership ability if I continue down the current path ignoring obvious problems and the consequences that ‘could’ go along with them?

That said, and after talking with my family, members of my company, deep thought, and a lot of prayer, I have made what I believe to be a conscious, responsible decision, and that is to step down as a Candidate for the United States House of Representatives, for Iowa’s First Congressional District, and take personal responsibility for that which I founded more than twenty years ago and help secure the future of my company, and those that are depending upon me and the kind of sound judgment they’ve grown to expect.

Over the past several days, I have traveled throughout our district, and beyond, in an effort to return the nearly $100,000.00 in ‘remaining’ financial contributions to those that believed, and still believe, in my ability to win this congressional seat. My decision to return the contributions came without hesitation, as they were in support of a joint effort, and once that effort ceases, who am I to keep that which doesn’t belong to me. Once my decision was made, I believed it my responsibility as well, to those contemplating a congressional run, the respect they deserve in making them aware of my decision as soon as possible, and I look forward to helping the ‘conservative’ that eventually wins the primary, as best I can.

To my supporters; I am not leaving politics, and as time permits I will continue to travel and speak to you and others in regard to our conservative values, principles and my constitutionally based solutions, and once this issue is behind me, I will return. Finally, thank you to all the volunteers, my staff and everyone involved in helping me throughout this process. Your love and support will never be forgotten, nor will I ever take it for granted. I hope I didn’t let you down then, and I hope I’m not letting you down now. God bless you all.”

UPDATE: Blum confirmed by e-mail that he has not endorsed a presidential candidate. On January 3 he will greet Republicans arriving at the Fayette County Republican Caucus in Oelwein. Blum will address that gathering at 5:30 pm before driving to Cedar Falls. There he and his wife, Karen Blum, will help staff tables at the Black Hawk County Republican Caucus at the UNI Dome.

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