Iowa's first U.S. House district will be the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's top pickup opportunity in Iowa next year, but the third district will be on the DCCC's target list as well. Recognizing the competitive nature of IA-03, the National Republican Congressional Committee has put first-term Representative David Young in its incumbent protection program. However, Washington insiders are not keen on State Senator Matt McCoy, one of several Democrats who may challenge Young.
I'm not sold on any candidate for this race and won't make up my mind until after the Democratic field has been set. That said, Democrats could do a lot worse than McCoy. I challenge those who would dismiss him as a credible challenger to answer two questions.
Although Washington Republicans consider Young one of their more vulnerable House incumbents, beating him will not be easy. Iowans generally re-elect members of Congress. GOP incumbent Tom Latham easily won another term in 2012, even as IA-03 voters favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. In addition, Senator Chuck Grassley will be on the ballot in 2016, doing everything he can to assist his protege Young. Democrats will need a strong nominee to have any chance at all.
Speaking to the Iowa Daily Democrat's Mike Glover recently, McCoy admitted that he's not the kind of candidate the DCCC recruits these days.
"The Washington crowd, the DCCC crowd, I'm not their profile of a candidate," said McCoy. "The young professionals in Washington who make up the DCCC would like to see a person run for Congress who has no political record, who can self-fund their campaign, who are wealthy or have access to wealth and have no voting record. That's their perfect candidate." [...]
"A guy like me who has been bare-knuckle fighting in the legislature for 22 years, who is openly gay, who has been through the political scrapes in my life, that would not be their ideal candidate."
Roll Call's Emily Cahn indirectly confirmed McCoy's impression in an article published on April 8. Officially, the DCCC didn't comment for the piece, but the people who talked to Cahn gave one reason after another why McCoy would not be a good candidate. His 2007 trial on extortion charges could be exploited during a Congressional campaign. Most voters won't know the background or that the jury acquitted McCoy remarkably quickly, indicating that partisan Republican U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker overreached and should never have prosecuted the case.
Cahn also alluded to McCoy's allegedly poor attendance record during the Iowa legislature's 2003 session. That was news to me, because he hasn't stood out for missing votes during the decade or so I've been following the legislature's work closely. In fact, McCoy has been present for just about every important Iowa Senate floor debate since 2011; Democrats have needed all hands on deck with only a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber.
In his recently published book, McCoy writes frankly about his struggles with alcoholism as his marriage disintegrated and he came to terms with being gay. (He was outed by a Republican colleague during the Iowa Senate's 2004 session.) I would guess that's why he was absent more often in 2003. It's also worth noting that Democrats were in the minority then, so McCoy's vote wasn't needed to pass legislation.
Cahn's sources did not cite McCoy's sexual orientation as a deal-breaker for an Iowa Congressional candidate, but the senator told Glover that Democrats have frequently said so to his face.
"One of the things that I continually find in politics is despite our progress that we made with respect to gay rights, I find that many of my Democratic colleagues and friends are quick to dismiss me as a candidate for higher office because I am gay," McCoy said. "It's interesting because people who are supposedly progressive will say `It's really too bad that you're not able to run for Congress, it's really too bad that you're not able to run for governor, it's really too bad that you're not able to run for the U.S. Senate because you'd never be accepted by Iowans.'" [...]
"This comes from people who are supposedly progressive and liberal and people who are supposed to be about busting through glass ceilings," said McCoy.
For the record, this liberal thinks Iowans would elect an LGBT candidate to Congress under the right circumstances. I see no reason IA-03 should be out of reach for an openly gay candidate. Two-thirds of the Democrats and more than half of the district's no-party voters live in Polk County. The Des Moines metro area becomes more LGBT-friendly every year.
Regardless of political ideology or candidate preference, we can all agree that there is only one Democratic path to winning IA-03: run up the score in Polk County without getting crushed everywhere else. Don't take my word for it: look at the latest voter registration numbers by county, which I've enclosed at the end of this post.
Here are my questions for those who dismiss McCoy's prospects.
1. Which Democrat considering this race could beat Young by a larger margin in Polk County?
2. Which Democrat who might run has a better chance to hold down Young's margin in the Council Bluffs area (Pottawattamie County) and the mid-sized counties near Des Moines (Warren and Dallas)?
Unlike the "Iowa Democratic operative" who told Roll Call, "I don't think there's a lot of interest in [McCoy] running," I have talked to plenty of local Democrats who would support him in a primary. He's a longtime state legislator with good connections in the central Iowa business community. He can raise the money to run a credible district-wide campaign. I'm not convinced lesser-known candidates like U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt or former Iowa Senate candidate Desmund Adams or Assistant Iowa Attorney General Nathan Blake can do that, nor do I see Iowa voters warming to a hypothetical self-funding millionaire.
McCoy comes with a certain amount of political baggage, but so do some other Democrats considering the race, such as former Governor Chet Culver or Young's 2014 opponent, former State Senator Staci Appel.
Please spin your own IA-03 scenarios in this thread.
Active registered voters in the third Congressional district as of April 2015, according to the Iowa Secretary of State's Office: