IA-01: Steve Rathje's in and other news on possible candidates

Cedar Rapids business owner Steve Rathje announced his candidacy  for the open seat in Iowa’s first Congressional district last Friday. Background on Rathje and thoughts about other possible candidates in IA-01 are after the jump. A district map and the latest voter registration numbers in all 20 counties can be found here.

This won’t be Rathje’s first rodeo. He finished a close third in the 2008 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. Two years later, he finished a distant second behind Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the GOP primary to represent IA-02. He explored a Congressional bid in IA-01 in 2011, but dropped out of that race months before the filing deadline. He has said he left that race, returning about $100,000 in campaign contributions, “to help a west coast customer keep from falling into bankruptcy, saving hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in the process.” Rathje issued this press release on February 15:

Cedar Rapids businessman and entrepreneur Steve Rathje filed a Statement of Candidacy today with the Federal Elections Commission stating he will seek election to the U.S. House of Representatives in Iowa’s first congressional district which encompasses 20 counties in North East Iowa.

Citing a strong base of support throughout the district, Rathje said, “Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents agree on a set of common principles: From JFK’s ‘ask not what your country can do for you’, to Reagan’s ‘government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem’; the theme of limited government rings true. The role of government is the protection of life, liberty and property. It is free enterprise in the free market; free of government interference, burdensome regulations and oppressive taxation, that creates jobs.”

“I am running to take my experience, plans and solutions to Washington D.C. to do the same things for this country that I do on a daily basis for my customers, and that is to cut spending, eliminate waste, and bring the good paying jobs that have been outsourced to other countries back home to America where they belong.”

Laying the groundwork for an extensive grassroots campaign, Rathje said, “I am committed to visiting every county and every town in this district.” A formal announcement tour is being planned for early spring.

Side note: Rathje’s press contact is Craig Bergman, best known for his brief stint as Newt Gingrich’s Iowa political director in late 2011. Bergman had to step aside after he described Mormonism as a “cult” in a focus group.

More Rathje trivia: during his 2010 Congressional bid, he received the endorsement of former Cedar Rapids Mayor Paul Pate. Now Pate is said to be considering the IA-01 race himself. I see him as a potentially strong general-election candidate if he can get through the GOP primary.

One thing’s for sure: Rathje won’t be getting any help from the National Republican Congressional Committee. On January 2, he posted on Twitter that Republicans need a new speaker of the House who “will stand on principle regardless of the consequences.”

I don’t see Rathje as a game-changer. Linn County has the largest population in IA-01, but Rathje didn’t carry his own county against Ottumwa-based candidate Miller-Meeks in the 2010 IA-02 primary.

Rathje’s campaign may complicate Rod Blum‘s task in the Republican primary. Assuming Blum runs, and it sounds like he will, both he and Rathje will be campaigning as strong, principled conservatives and successful business owners.

On the Democratic side, I expect at least one or two more candidates to run against former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy, who announced his candidacy last week.

Speaking on WHO-TV’s “The Insiders” program yesterday, Iowa Democratic power-broker Jerry Crawford suggested that State Representative Tyler Olson should think about running for Congress. Olson represents House district 65 in the Cedar Rapids area. He has previously declined to give a straight answer about whether he might run for governor in 2014.

UPDATE: Speaking by telephone on February 18, Olson confirmed that he is keeping his options open on the first Congressional district race. He said that while no “specific effort” is underway to recruit women candidates, the Iowa Democratic Party values its greater diversity, and it’s “important that our candidates reflect the diversity of the party.” He said neither he nor the state party will endorse candidates in Democratic primaries for open-seat races, adding that the Iowa Democratic Party is not trying to “limit or expand primary fields.”

Not to disparage the many capable men in IA-01, but I think it would be a huge mistake for Democrats to nominate a man for this seat. We finally have a good chance to elect Iowa’s first woman to Congress. I had hoped to see State Senator Pam Jochum run in IA-01, but there are plenty of highly-qualified women across the district.

Many Democrats are encouraging State Senator Liz Mathis to run for Congress. She represents Senate district 34 in the suburbs of Linn County and is well-known because of her previous career as a news broadcaster. Speaking by telephone this morning, Mathis said, “I’m keeping my options open” and “still in discussion with fellow Democrats” about the Congressional race. I would be surprised to hear any formal announcement from her one way or the other before the end of this year’s legislative session.

Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman mentioned during the February 8 On Iowa Politics podcast that Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston may seek the Democratic nomination in IA-01. I know nothing about Langston, but I wouldn’t want to go into a general election having just voted myself a taxpayer-funded salary increase from $74,362.98 to $92,953.73. The Gazette’s editorial board made a strong argument against the raise for county supervisors here. Even if you believe the salary increase is justified, how would you make that case to voters next year? The median household income in IA-01 is a little more than $50,000. Langston’s current salary is well above average even for prosperous Linn County.

Any comments about this Congressional race are welcome in this thread.

FEBRUARY 20 UPDATE: Langston and three Linn County supervisors voted to raise their annual salaries from $74,362.98 to $94,812.80. I hope Langston doesn’t run for Congress. That vote is all the Republicans would need for the general election. IA-01 leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly so.

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