Former State Representative and State Senator Swati Dandekar is reportedly considering a bid for the open first Congressional district seat.
Dandekar was elected twice to the Linn-Mar school board and later served three terms in the Iowa House, representing a suburban Linn County district. In 2008 she was elected to an open Iowa Senate seat covering Marion and other parts of the Cedar Rapids suburbs. She resigned before the end of her first term to accept Governor Terry Branstad’s appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board, throwing control of the Iowa Senate in jeopardy.
Democrat Liz Mathis ended up winning the 2011 special election for Dandekar’s seat. In retrospect, many Democrats would consider that an upgrade, since Mathis was barely challenged in her 2012 re-election bid and (unlike Dandekar) is not considered one of the conservatives in the Senate Democratic caucus.
James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette yesterday that there’s a “coming soon” notice on the website SwatiDandekarforIowa.com. He quoted Dandekar’s friend and former campaign treasurer, Charlie Kress, as saying “a lot of people are pushing” Dandekar to run for the open Congressional seat.
Kress has met with the Dandekars to discuss a congressional campaign. He believes Dandekar is interested, but probably won’t announce her candidacy until late summer or fall. In the meantime, she’s fielding calls from people within the 20-county district as well as politicos in Washington, Kress said.
Speaking to Lynch, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge put a positive spin on a Dandekar candidacy:
“She’s certainly proven in the past to be a good campaigner and a better fundraiser than many,” Judge said. “She has the capacity to put a campaign together and it would be great to have her in the race.
“She would be a strong candidate, a moderate Democrat who has been true to her convictions and the people she represented,” Judge said. […]
For Judge, part of Dandekar’s appeal is her potential to break the glass political ceiling in Iowa. It is one of a handful of states never to elect a woman to Congress.
So Dandekar’s gender would be a positive, Judge said.
“I’m certainly interested in finding a strong woman for that seat,” Judge said. “The kind of support she could draw, she might be a stronger candidate than people think.”
Dandekar did not respond to my request for comment last month about a possible Congressional bid. Todd Dorman is skeptical that she would give up a seat on the Iowa Utilities Board to run for Congress, but I don’t think she would need to give up that position during the campaign–only if elected.
I am highly skeptical that Dandekar could win a Democratic primary in IA-01. Linn County has the largest population of the 20 counties, but it doesn’t dominate the Congressional district by any means. Many Democrats won’t forgive Dandekar for taking a job offer from Branstad when Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal was our main firewall against Branstad’s policy agenda.
Environmentally-minded primary voters won’t appreciate Dandekar’s work to promote Mid-American Energy’s nuclear power bill during the 2011 legislative session. The AARP in Iowa also lobbied strongly against the nuclear bill.
Pro-equality Democratic voters won’t appreciate Dandekar’s 2005 Iowa House vote for a state constitutional amendment that would have banned not only same-sex marriage but also civil unions (read the full text here). The amendment passed the Iowa House by 54 votes to 44, with support from almost all of the Republicans and seven Democrats (Dandekar, Dolores Mertz, Mike Reasoner, Brian Quirk, Wayne Ford, Paul Shomshor, Kurt Swaim).
In fairness to Dandekar, she did not come out for a constitutional amendment on marriage after the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Varnum v Brien. Several other Senate Democrats went out of their way at that time to say they opposed same-sex marriage, including Joe Seng, Jack Kibbie, and Tom Hancock. Hancock even signed a discharge petition trying to get a Senate floor vote on a marriage amendment.
Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.
LATE UPDATE: Forgot to mention that organized labor is also not part of Dandekar’s fan club, as she was considered unsupportive of the labor agenda while serving in the Iowa House.