Former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced yesterday that he will chair Senator Ted Cruz’s Iowa caucus campaign, calling the Texas senator “a consistent conservative who cares about liberty and won’t back down from a fight.” I can’t think of a more perfect match for Cruz than Schultz, who talked a big game but had little to show for four years of political crusades in state government.
The 2010 GOP wave propelled Schultz to a narrow victory in the Iowa Secretary of State’s race. He seized the chance to push for a voter ID law that Iowa’s experienced county election officials didn’t want. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate blocked that bill, which wouldn’t have prevented improperly registered people from casting ballots anyway.
Undeterred, Schultz forged ahead with his top priority. His office used federal funds allocated under the Help America Vote Act to pay for criminal investigations into voter fraud. Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the investigations produced few identified cases of wrongful voter registration and fewer cases of ineligible voters casting ballots. Most of the people charged with crimes probably didn’t even know they were not entitled to vote.
Schultz also promoted the idea that thousands of non-citizens might be improperly registered to vote in Iowa. He developed a plan to root them out using a federal database not intended for that purpose. One Polk County District Court judge rejected his efforts to use emergency rulemaking to purge voter rolls before the 2012 general election. Later a different Polk County District Court judge found that the secretary of state had exceeded his authority when he promulgated the new rule on voter roll maintenance. Schultz’s successor, Secretary of State Paul Pate, quietly dropped the state’s appeal in that case earlier this year.
Schultz didn’t even demonstrate good management skills in his last job, keeping a few political appointees on the state’s payroll after they had stopped doing any meaningful work.
Instead of seeking a second term as secretary of state, Schultz ran for Congress in Iowa’s third district last year. After finishing third in that primary, he failed to win the nomination at a special district convention, then shifted gears over the summer to a successful campaign for Madison County attorney.
Schultz has his fans in Iowa Republican circles, but I’d guess he has just as many detractors, if not more. I don’t see him as the guy to help Cruz put together a winning statewide coalition. I still expect Cruz to crash and burn in next year’s caucuses.
While Schultz may have little to offer Cruz, his endorsement of the Texas senator is another bad sign for former Senator Rick Santorum, whom Schultz backed before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Santorum is still well-liked in Iowa GOP circles, but he hasn’t polled well here lately as a potential presidential candidate for 2016. Cruz has been getting a more enthusiastic reception than Santorum for some time, most recently at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s event in Waukee this past weekend.
Earlier this month, Iowa’s dark money king Nick Ryan agreed to lead a super-PAC supporting Mike Huckabee for president. Ryan headed the pro-Santorum super-PAC during the 2012 presidential campaign. (Incidentally, Ryan’s 501(c)4 group American Future Fund backed Schultz in the 2014 IA-03 primary, but their full-court press before the special district nominating convention backfired.)
From my perspective, Republicans should listen closely to what Santorum is telling them. But Santorum may need to acknowledge that his party isn’t ready to hear that message, and his moment as a serious presidential contender has passed.
UPDATE: I should have mentioned that the Cruz campaign rolled out its first big batch of Iowa endorsements this week, including some of the most far-right GOP state lawmakers: State Senators Dennis Guth, Jake Chapman, and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Ralph Watts, Steve Holt, Larry Sheets, and Greg Heartsill. Several presidential candidates courting social conservatives would have hoped for their support. On the other hand, Michele Bachmann rounded up a bunch of Iowa legislative endorsements in the spring of 2011, and look how far that got her.
My favorite name on the Cruz leadership team in Iowa is Bill Salier. Virtually unknown before he gained about 40 percent of the vote in the 2002 GOP primary for U.S. Senate, Salier is so far out there that he can make Steve King sound reasonable.