IA-03: David Young has a primary challenger, but not a strong one

First-term Representative David Young has never been a favorite among Iowa conservatives, but he escaped a strong challenge from the right in his first re-election campaign.

Young left his job as Senator Chuck Grassley’s chief of staff in 2013 to run for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat. Having failed to gain traction in that race, he switched to the third Congressional district primary shortly after Representative Tom Latham announced plans to retire. Young finished fifth out of six candidates in the 2014 primary to represent IA-03, then won the nomination at a special district convention by being less-disliked than other contenders.

He faced trouble on his right flank during the general election campaign, drawing sharp criticism from talk radio host Steve Deace. Two conservative rivals registered for the ballot in IA-03: Libertarian Ed Wright and “independent Liberty” candidate Bryan Jack Holder. Nevertheless, Young defeated Democrat Staci Appel by a comfortable margin in a Republican wave year.

Hard-core conservatives continue to find fault with Young. Although he has a very low Progressive Punch score in absolute terms, more than 150 House Republicans have even less progressive voting records. The Conservative Review’s scorecard gives Young a 50 percent “F” rating.

A year ago this month, State Senator Brad Zaun floated the prospect of challenging Young in this year’s GOP primary. Zaun was the 2010 Republican nominee against Representative Leonard Boswell in IA-03 and won a plurality of the vote in the 2014 primary, but lost to Young on the final ballot at the special district convention. Last October, Zaun ruled out running for Congress in 2016, opting to seek a fourth term in the Iowa Senate instead.

When Iowa’s filing period for major-party primary candidates ended on Friday, only two candidates were on the Republican ballot for IA-03: Young and retired teacher Joe Grandanette. “Mr G.” finished dead last in the 2014 Congressional primary, winning about 1.6 percent of the vote. He is campaigning as a “populist” taking on a “Professional Politician INSIDER” and a true conservative as opposed to someone who won’t answer questions. But with all due respect to Mr. G., he is not a credible challenger to a Congressional incumbent. He did not file a year-end financial report with the Federal Election Commission, indicating that he raised and spent very little money for his campaign.

Even though Young likely could have withstood a strong primary challenge, he’ll be pleased to have avoided one. Now he can hoard his war chest (nearly $800,000 at the end of 2015) for the general election. He is a top target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and will face the winner of the primary between Desmund Adams, Jim Mowrer, and Mike Sherzan.

I am not aware of any declared third-party candidates in IA-03 yet. The Libertarian Party’s state convention on March 19 did not nominate a candidate here, though someone could easily collect the 375 signatures needed to qualify for the general election ballot by mid-August.

The 2014 “independent Liberty” candidate Holder has a different Republican target now: wearing his trademark Revolutionary War style tri-corner hat, he filed as a GOP challenger to State Representative Greg Forristall in Iowa House district 22. Assuming he loses that race (primary opponents have rarely knocked off Iowa House or Senate incumbents), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Holder run in IA-03 again this fall.

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