Bret Hayworth had a great scoop in the Sioux City Journal this weekend: Republican State Senator Rick Bertrand is "strongly, strongly considering" a primary challenge to seven-term Representative Steve King in Iowa's fourth Congressional district.
Part of me wants him to go for it. Part of me hopes Bertrand will put his ambition for higher office on hold until 2018.
Bertrand was first elected to the Iowa Senate in 2010, thanks in part to a Democratic attack ad that backfired, spawning a defamation lawsuit that went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. Voters re-elected Bertrand in 2014 from Senate district 7, covering much of Sioux City. He has been rumored to be considering a run for governor in 2018, but speaking to Hayworth late last week, Bertrand indicated he may run for Congress this year instead.
"I am strongly, strongly considering it. I have been heavily considering it for the last six months to a year," Bertrand said. [...]
He declined to address specifics about his legislative experience and how that might play in a congressional race.
"Maybe it is time to give Iowans a choice," Bertrand said.
Bertrand isn't a policy wonk, so I'm not surprised he doesn't have a list of issues ready to cite in a possible bid against King. For what it's worth, he endorsed Marco Rubio for president last summer. King became Ted Cruz's most prominent Iowa surrogate after endorsing the Texas senator in November.
To qualify for the ballot, Bertrand would need to collect and submit by March 18 at least 1,866 valid signatures, with minimum amounts coming from at least 20 of the 39 counties in IA-04. (Click through for details on how many from each county would qualify toward the overall amount.)
Iowa's dark money king Nick Ryan has been looking for a Republican to challenge King, though I haven't seen him comment on Bertrand's possible candidacy. Before the Iowa caucuses, Ryan ran the super-PAC supporting Mike Huckabee. To my knowledge, he has not endorsed a new presidential candidate, but his Twitter feed continues to be full of venom against King and Cruz. The pro-Huckabee super-PAC spent a little money on direct mail targeting Rubio but far more attacking Cruz.
Since Bertrand is not up for re-election to the Iowa Senate until 2018, he could run for Congress without giving up his legislative seat. That's good news for him, since he would be an extreme longshot to take out the incumbent in a primary. King doesn't have a large campaign war chest but could raise a lot of money in a hurry from legions of Cruz fans.
Today the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund super PAC endorsed King for the IA-04 primary, Hayworth reported. That "astroturf" group doesn't have a lot of cash on hand yet either but raised and spent more than $14 million during the 2014 election cycle.
Bertrand raised more than $47,000 during 2015, but a lot of those contributions came from political action committees that give to dozens of Iowa lawmakers. Few if any of them would step up to support Bertrand in a primary against King. A district-wide campaign across 39 counties would be costly, and there's not a lot of time left for fundraising. Ryan could quickly raise cash for attacks on King, but Bertrand would need his own campaign infrastructure as well to raise his name recognition outside the Sioux City area.
I would love to see a contentious GOP primary in IA-04, even if King emerged the almost-certain winner. My biggest concern is that if Bertrand runs for Congress now and gets beaten badly, he will be discouraged from seeking higher office in 2018. I want him to run for governor or some other position that year.
An open seat race in Iowa Senate district 7, where Democrats have a voter registration advantage, would be at worst a tossup and possibly a lean-Democrat race with a strong candidate like State Representative Chris Hall. On the other hand, if Bertrand seeks a third Senate term in 2018, his race probably leans Republican.
Any comments about this year's campaign in IA-04 or possible avenues for Bertrand in 2018 are welcome in this thread.
P.S.- I forgot to mention in my earlier post on a possible King challenger that Paul Lunde plans to run in this primary, he told Hayworth in January. Lunde launched a campaign for U.S. Senate in 2013 but ended up not qualifying for the GOP primary ballot. He will not be a serious factor in this year's IA-04 race, even if he collects enough signatures by March 18.
UPDATE: Bertrand spoke to Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson on February 22.
“I’m highly encouraged by the level of support in the last couple of weeks to do this. This is about math. If the numbers are there and that lines up with the chatter that’s out there, yeah, it’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.”
Bertrand, a 46-year-old businessman and commercial real estate developer, said he doesn’t just jump into anything on “a fluke.”
“When I do something, I do it full bore,” Bertrand said. “I do it strategically.” [...]
“I don’t think anybody’s any surprised that I believe in term limits,” Bertrand said. “I don’t think anybody’s surprised that I feel like my list in the Iowa Senate of things I want to accomplish is shrinking.”
King today said he doesn’t know why Bertrand might be “motivated” to challenge him.
“I don’t remember Rick ever contacting me with any issue that he was concerned about,” King told KSCJ Radio.
King suggested there have been “well-funded people in Des Moines” who have been trying to recruit someone to run against him for years.
Ryan has not expressed support for Bertrand but re-tweeted the link to the state senator's Radio Iowa interview.