A few months ago, Iowa Department of Public Health Director Mariannette Miller-Meeks confirmed that she is considering a third Congressional campaign against Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02). I am becoming more and more convinced that she will enter the Republican primary, where she would face State Representative Mark Lofgren.
1. Old news, but still relevant: Miller-Meeks really, really wants to be elected to Congress.
After losing to an incumbent by an 18-point margin in 2008, many challengers would give up. But Miller-Meeks sought the Republican nomination in IA-02 again in 2010. She won the GOP primary convincingly, with more than 50 percent of the vote in a four-way field where the National Republican Congressional Committee had bet on a different horse.
Miller-Meeks received little financial help from the NRCC or outside conservative groups during the 2010 general election period, but poured more than half a million dollars of her own money into her own campaign. She hired an airplane to fly an “Elect Iowa’s first Congresswoman” banner around Kinnick stadium during the last Iowa Hawkeyes football game before the November election.
My gut says someone who was “in it to win it” on that scale will not want to sit out a midterm election cycle that may be promising for Republicans.
2. Although Miller-Meeks has been running the Iowa Department of Public Health since early 2011, she doesn’t seem particularly interested in state-level health policy.
Her twitter feed is full of links and commentary on federal political controversies. Whereas Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck (and his predecessor Jason Glass) have used twitter to highlight news about Iowa schools, education trends, or wonky reports on reform initiatives, Miller-Meeks gravitates toward more overtly political topics: defunding Obamacare, conservative skepticism about climate change, NSA domestic surveillance, the alleged IRS scandal, Benghazi, you name it. Heck, I’ve seen more tweets from Miller-Meeks about U.S. policy toward Syria than I have about any Iowa Department of Public Health initiatives. She doesn’t link to her agency’s press releases or even to news stories quoting her, which are staples of many government officials’ forays into social media.
I’m not saying Miller-Meeks never comments on health-related matters–she occasionally does. I’m saying public health policy doesn’t seem to be where her passion lies. She is more apt to comment on the conservative outrage du jour. She comes across as a happy warrior, and that’s a temperament I associate with candidates, not state bureaucrats.
3. Miller-Meeks is attending Republican events all over the second Congressional district.
In the past three months alone, Miller-Meeks has mingled with GOP activists in at least eight of the 24 counties in IA-02 (not counting Wapello County, where she maintains a home). Miller-Meeks was a featured speaker at the Johnson County Republicans’ Reagan Society dinner and was on hand for the Henry County Republican Hog Roast, the Muscatine County GOP fall dinner, an Iowa House Republican’s fundraiser on the edge of Cedar and Muscatine counties, and central committee meetings in Scott County, Appanoose County, Jasper County, and Des Moines County. Presumably agency directors do plenty of traveling around Iowa, but anyone who spends that much time with Republican activists in one Congressional district looks like a candidate to me.
If Miller-Meeks makes a third attempt to defeat Loebsack, she’ll have to get past Mark Lofgren in the GOP primary. He has the support of many Iowa House colleagues as well as both Republicans who ran against Loebsack in 2012: Dan Dolan and GOP nominee John Archer. Lofgren has been networking with Republicans at events all over the district, as you can see from his campaign’s twitter feed and Facebook page.
I’m not sold on Lofgren as a great speaker or thinker, but he did defeat a three-term Democratic incumbent in 2010 and hold that Iowa House seat in 2012, even as President Barack Obama won more than 57 percent of the vote in his district. He can credibly claim to appeal to swing voters.
Having fallen short against Loebsack in the massive Republican landslide of 2010, Miller-Meeks may struggle to convince GOP primary voters that she deserves a third shot at IA-02. Her best bet is probably to argue that the changed political landscape and her experience working in Governor Terry Branstad’s administration will make the third time a charm. The new Congressional map reduced the partisan lean of IA-02 from D+7 in 2010 to D+4 now. The current Democratic voter registration advantage in the district is roughly 21,500, compared to nearly 48,000 in November 2010, when she lost to Loebsack by about 11,500 votes.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.