When State Senator Brad Zaun came out “110 percent” behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for president recently, I inferred that Zaun probably won’t run for Congress again. But this week the Urbandale Republican told the Des Moines Register that he is keeping “all my options open” regarding a primary challenge to Representative David Young.
Iowa Republicans aren’t in the habit of seeking my advice, but for what it’s worth: Zaun should stop dreaming about representing the third Congressional district.
In the seven-way 2010 primary to represent IA-03, Zaun beat a better-funded candidate who had the National Republican Congressional Committee’s blessing (Jim “Burn the Boats” Gibbons). But amid a landslide that ended the careers of scores of House Democrats and three Iowa Supreme Court justices, Zaun failed to defeat Representative Leonard Boswell that November.
Zaun faced no opponent in his 2012 campaign for a third term in the Iowa Senate. Following Tom Latham’s retirement, he gained a plurality of the vote in the six-way 2014 primary to represent IA-03, but because he failed to clear the 35 percent threshold, the nomination was decided at a special district convention. Zaun led on every ballot until the last one, where David Young (the fifth-place candidate in the primary) pulled ahead of him.
Zaun is up for re-election in Iowa Senate district 20 in 2016. Speaking to Des Moines Register reporter William Petroski this past week, he said,
“My intention is to run for state Senate again. That is my intention. In regards to David Young, like always, I have kept all my options open. So I haven’t decided. But my intentions right now are to run for state Senate,” Zaun told The Des Moines Register.
However, Zaun added that he has had “hundreds of people email me or call me and ask me to consider running for Congress again.”
Young will have at least one primary challenger next year, I’m sure of that. But Zaun is not well-positioned for the race.
1. He can’t raise the money to pull it off.
For a guy who represents some of Iowa’s wealthiest precincts, Zaun is an amazingly poor fundraiser. He didn’t raise much money for his 2010 Congressional primary. As an unopposed incumbent in a prosperous Des Moines suburb, he didn’t raise much money to contribute to Republicans’ 2012 efforts to retake the Iowa Senate majority.
Then, in a feat I would not have believed possible, Zaun raised less money for his 2014 Congressional primary campaign than he had four years earlier. Four of his five Republican rivals in that race out-raised him, even though Zaun entered the race with the highest name recognition as a former Congressional nominee and a legislator from Polk County, the largest in the district.
Young will raise a ton of cash for his 2016 re-election campaign, thanks to being Senator Chuck Grassley’s protege and an incumbent with a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. Zaun would be blown out of the water. Moreover,
2. He won’t have the foot soldiers to compensate for lack of funds.
I don’t doubt that Zaun has received lots of e-mails urging him to run for Congress again. But numbers tell a different story. Zaun received 19,469 votes out of 50,270 cast in the 2010 primary to represent IA-03. Last year, he only managed 10,522 out of 44,628 votes cast in the primary.
Many of Zaun’s key supporters before last year’s nominating convention came from the “Liberty” wing of the Iowa GOP. But those people are about to spend this year mobilizing support for Senator Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, while Zaun serves as a leading supporter for Wisconsin Governor Walker. Speaking of which,
3. Keeping the door open for a Congressional race could make Zaun a distraction for Walker.
Grassley typically does not endorse before the caucuses, but I doubt it would help Walker to have one of his lead supporters anger Iowa’s senior senator. Besides, a surrogate shouldn’t make the news because of his own political ambitions. Perhaps Zaun thinks he can wait until next February to launch a primary challenge against Young. But every time he refuses to rule out another bid in IA-03, it will fuel speculation among Iowa politics watchers that he is doing public events to raise his own profile.
After the legislative session adjourns for the year, Zaun needs to focus his political energy on helping Walker gain ground. The Iowa caucuses will be more critical for the Wisconsin governor than for some of the other leading contenders, who will have the cash to fight other early-state contests even after a disappointing showing in Iowa.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
P.S.- The Des Moines rumor mill has seen Zaun as a possible Iowa Senate retirement, so I was a bit surprised to see him tell the Register that he is leaning toward another re-election campaign in Senate district 20. Having virtually no chance of beating Zaun in Urbandale, Democrats probably would leave him unopposed again.