Ray Zirkelbach becomes fourth Democrat to run for U.S. Senate--but why?


Former State Representative Ray Zirkelbach is officially exploring a candidacy for U.S. Senate in 2016, James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 7.

Although the field is getting crowded — former legislators Bob Krause of Fairfield and Tom Fiegen of Clarence, and State Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids have all entered the race — Zirkelbach, 37, believes he’ll be the Democratic Party’s best candidate to defeat [Senator Chuck] Grassley. His ideas will set him apart from the others, Zirkelbach said. […]

“It’s about progress,” he said.

First elected to the Iowa House in 2004, Zirkelbach served three terms before losing his 2010 re-election bid. He missed the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions, because his Iowa Army National Guard unit had been called up to serve in Iraq.

I have not seen a website or Facebook page for Zirkelbach’s U.S. Senate exploratory committee yet, but will update this post as needed. In lieu of an up to date official bio, I have posted the “member profile” that appeared on the Iowa House Democrats website during Zirkelbach’s third term. Zirkelbach’s Twitter account hasn’t been active since 2009; his personal Facebook feed is here.

I struggle to understand why Zirkelbach would run for Senate when we already have three progressive Democrats in the field, including one (Hogg) with a much stronger background of legislative accomplishments.

Meanwhile, to my knowledge, Democrats have no declared candidate against GOP State Representative Lee Hein in Iowa House district 96, where Zirkelbach lives (a map is at the end of this post). Hein defeated Zirkelbach in the 2010 wave election, and Democrats didn’t field a challenger against him in 2012 or 2014. Taking on the incoming House Agriculture Committee chair would be a long-shot race; House district 96 leans to the GOP with 4,386 active registered Democrats, 5,761 Republicans, and 8,483 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. But Zirkelbach would be much better positioned to defeat Hein than Grassley.

UPDATE: Pat Rynard spoke to Zirkelbach about his Senate bid. Added excerpts to that post below.

From Iowa Starting Line’s November 9 post about Zirkelbach’s candidacy:

“I’m not a politician, I’m a worker, and I like to work,” Zirkelbach told Starting Line last night, presenting himself as someone who can work across party lines to get things done. “I’m able to move above the whole left and right spectrum. That’s the way I always legislated.” […]

“I was progressive before progressive was cool in the legislature,” Zirkelbach says of his appeal for the primary campaign. “You see these people try to tag themselves as progressive, but I don’t know if they fully understand what that means … it has to be absolutely organic.”

Looking ahead to Grassley, the 37-year-old Zirkelbach who has two young children thinks he can offer a generational contrast.

“We’re going to make it about ideas, and I’d like to see Senator Grassley bring his ideas to the table, fresh ideas, new ideas,” he says. […]

“We’re going to bring Iowans with ideas, Iowans who have shown that they’re proven progressives [to the campaign],” Zirkelbach says of how his campaign will compete in the primary to get his name across the state. “We’re going to break away from the establishment, we’re going to bring fresh faces into the game. I’m lining up advisers statewide right now, to be an Iowa-based, organically cultivated campaign. We don’t want to run with the establishment, we want to run outside of the establishment and show that there is something new. Yeah, I’m a Democrat, I identify with Democrats for many, many reasons, however, it’s just a label that unfortunately has to be placed on us in order to politically lead in this nation.”

“Member profile” of Zirkelbach from the Iowa House Democrats website in 2009:

Ray was born in Manchester and raised in Scotch Grove, Iowa. Ray graduated from Monticello High School. He graduated from the University of Wyoming with a BA in Administration of Justice. After graduation, he began his career in corrections as a correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Ray and Emily Hartkemeyer, who is a Registered Nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, were married in December 2002. She attended Monticello High School and Northeast Iowa Community College. Emily is employed at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as a RN. Ray and Emily have two children, Claire and Owen.

In 2005, Ray was called to active duty by the US Army and began serving in Iraq, and consequently he missed the 2006 and 2007 legislative sessions. He is a retired Infantryman with CO A 1/133rd Infantry in Dubuque, IA. He is a Veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. He received the Purple Heart for wounds received in Combat in August 2006 in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. He retired from the National Guard in February 2009.

Ray attends Peace United Church of Christ in Monticello. He is a charter, and lifetime, member of the Monticello AMVETS. He is a part of Monticello’s Drill Team, Olin American Legion and the VFW. He is also a charter member of the Monticello Eagles Club and a lifetime member of the Anamosa Penitentiary Museum.

Iowa House district 96 covers all of Delaware County and part of Jones County, including Monticello:

Iowa House district 96 photo IowaHD96_zpscxxka59m.jpg

Photo credit: Greg Hauenstein

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  • House 73

    Interesting not on Hein remaining unopposed. Also worth noting that Fiegen lives in House 73, where Bobby Kaufmann remains unopposed. Cedar County was the scene of Fiegen’s one electoral victory, in a 2000 state senate race he won as an anti-choice Democrat against a pro-choice Republican, . (He lost the seat in redistricting year 2002, then again in 2004, before losing the 2008 Senate primary.)

    If I can ask one thing, just ONE thing, of Sanders supporters: PLEASE don’t default to Fiegen in the Senate race. Just because he’s the loudest about Bernie doesn’t mean he’s the best candidate, or even a good candidate.

  • Fight the Establishment!

    If Hogg wants to win this, he will need to win over more than just the hearts of his CR district. The first half of this article is a Hogg bias, but it will take more than a pocket of eastern Iowans to win any type of election against a Grassley. Hogg and Fiegen could do great as a leader in the Iowa House or Iowa Senate, but they don’t understand what it will take to beat the older generations of republicans that live out in western Iowa.

    I’m not sure if but why is an even question here on this article. The current candidates don’t have enough pull over the gray area. Zirkelbach’s name was tied to a lot of the legislation that increased funding to vets during his house days that could just sway those older voters. Hogg and Fiegen’s success in the west rely on the presidential candidates success to sway voters. Will be interesting to see where Zirkelbach falls on that one, though, the idea of progress could be more swaying towards Bernie, or a young O’Malley crowd.

    That idea of progress, it’s good. It’s much more reflective of what my friends and I (younger Iowans) talk about. This will definitely be an interesting race to the primary We’ll see who can connect best with the everyday Iowans and not just the upper 25%.