IA-03: Two questions for Democrats seeking alternatives to Matt McCoy

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:

County Democrats Republicans no-party voters
Adair 1,030 1,900 2,028
Adams 598 961 1,158
Cass 1,504 4,674 2,989
Dallas 10,174 16,864 19,393
Fremont 1,105 1,966 1,618
Guthrie 1,728 2,638 2,792
Madison 2,707 3,916 3,796
Mills 1,893 4,791 3,045
Montgomery 990 3,667 2,078
Page 1,491 4,194 3,361
Polk 101,401 81,263 84,240
Pottawattamie 15,363 20,544 19,351
Ringgold 835 1,444 732
Taylor 703 1,806 1,228
Union 1,646 2,691 3,130
Warren 9,279 10,701 10,944
total 152,447 164,020 161,883

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  • 03

    There is another name not on your list considering a run who would do as least as well as McCoy in Polk and who would certainly do better in Dallas County. And would also hold down GOP votes in the rest of the District. Not sure if this person will jump in. Keeping it quiet for now.

    I am a Democrat foot soldier. If Matt McCoy is the candidate, I will support Matt. I will door knock, phone call, donate to his campaign and give it everything I’ve got.

    Matt McCoy will not beat David Young in the 3rd District.  

  • Excited for McCoy to run

    Matt McCoy is an excellent elected leader and could handily beat David Young. The difficulties outlined above (federal witch hunt case by Whitaker and being an “out” gay man) are easily handled in how McCoy introduces himself as a candidate to the people of the district WHO DON’T ALREADY KNOW HIM.

    Let’s take a minute to look at who does know Matt McCoy. He is well known, respected and appreciated by the Greater DSM business community as a respected, accessible, and responsive leader. His donor list is not strictly Democrats, but includes people who are no-party voters and Republicans. That only happens when you have credibility.

    He’s well known by people all around Des Moines, as his senate district has changed and now includes West Des Moines. (Very glad to have him as my state senator these days!)

    When you approach Matt on any business for the Iowa Senate, he is fair, reasoned and accessible to all view points.

    The type of work Matt has done on behalf of the communities he has represented will be of great interest to those in the small towns across the 3rd CD.

    His role as a senate leader working with Mike Gronstal, should be an asset to him for Council Bluffs and Pottawattamie County.

  • Matt McCoy

    Republicans have been after Matt McCoy for decades.  He’s an economic moderate, pro-business guy that isn’t going to scare the  intellectually honest business community.  His legislative accomplishments are a mile long when you compare his record to Staci Appel’s (just compare the years that Appel served in the legislature, and you can see the difference there.)

    The question for Matt is whether some of the rural counties will not swamp him, due to cultural differences.  I don’t hear most people opposing gay rights here in IA-2, anymore.  

  • Other Democratic Candidates

    Staci Appel should not run again. Whether it is fair or not, she has shown she can raise money and still lose, twice now. Staci is a nice person, but for whatever reason, she doesn’t sell well to the voters of Iowa.

    Chet Culver’s name comes up, but not from Chet. I find it hard to believe that he is interested in getting back into electoral politics and won’t take his name seriously as a candidate until he actually says he’s going to run.

    You are wise to discredit the Iowa Democratic Operative who talked to Roll Call. It’s probably someone who doesn’t live in Iowa anymore and only comes back when there’s a political event and they want to be seen.