Three-way primary in IA-03 as Theresa Greenfield misses ballot (updated)

The Iowa Secretary of State's office announced today that Theresa Greenfield's campaign submitted fewer than 1,500 of the 1,790 signatures needed to qualify for the Democratic primary ballot in Iowa's third Congressional district.

Greenfield had already been cleared for the ballot last week, but she withdrew her first set of nominating papers after learning her campaign manager had forged some of the signatures. Many volunteers, including gubernatorial candidates and rival Congressional contender Pete D'Alessandro, frantically sought to collect new signatures for Greenfield on the last day of the filing period. They submitted new petitions with one minute to spare on March 16.

Politics can be a cruel business, and this is a heartbreaking way for a campaign to end. Greenfield spoke at dozens of events around the district, had raised substantial funds for her Congressional bid, and had prominent supporters, including several labor unions. She was also rumored to be the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's preferred candidate, though the DCCC had not officially weighed in on the IA-03 primary.

Only a few days ago, six Democrats were actively seeking the chance to run against two-term Representative David Young in November. Now the field is down to three: Cindy Axne, Pete D'Alessandro, and Eddie Mauro.

Axne benefits most from Greenfield missing the ballot. In a year when overreaches by Iowa Republicans and opposition to President Donald Trump have energized massive numbers of women to become active in Democratic politics, Axne is the only woman left in the field. Her pitch to voters also resembled Greenfield's in many respects, as she emphasizes the values she learned growing up, her career accomplishments, and being able to relate to average Iowans as a hard-working mom.

D'Alessandro has strong support among local Democrats as well, thanks to his work on many Iowa campaigns, most recently for Bernie Sanders. Though Mauro has been involved in local politics for many years, I see him as less well-positioned for the primary than either Axne or D'Alessandro. On the other hand, his campaign has more than enough money to run a credible district-wide effort before June 5, thanks to some generous individual donors and $200,000 in loans from Mauro himself.

Bleeding Heartland covered prominent endorsers of each Democratic candidate here and the electability case for each here.

Staff for the secretary of state finished reviewing nominating papers submitted by two other candidates today. Courtney Rowe submitted enough signatures to qualify for the Democratic primary in IA-01. Ron Corbett also met the requirements to run for governor on the Republican ballot. Technically, Iowans can challenge any candidate's nomination papers through the close of business on March 23. In practice, such challenges rarely happen. The updated document is likely the final list of major-party candidates for Iowa state and federal offices in the June 5 primary.

UPDATE: Iowa Starting Line quoted Greenfield as saying in a March 19 statement,

“Over the next few days, I will be talking to all of those incredible people who support my candidacy and gauge their support for a path forward,” Greenfield continued. “I’ll carefully weigh what’s good for Iowa, the country and for Democrats. But no matter where the chips fall, I’ll work harder, be stronger and never give up for the people of the 3rd District.”

I am not aware of any legal avenue for Greenfield to gain access to the primary ballot. A write-in campaign against three relatively well-funded opponents sounds like a non-starter.

SECOND UPDATE: Here's the full news release from Greenfield today.

Theresa Greenfield Comes Out Swinging: Says “Never Give Up”

DES MOINES, Iowa – Despite the extraordinary efforts of hundreds of supporters on Friday, the Iowa Secretary of State informed Theresa Greenfield today that her second petition for the primary ballot in June fell short of the 1,790 signatures required.

Greenfield, Democratic candidate for Congress in Iowa’s Third Congressional District, was informed on Thursday night that there were forged signatures on her original petition. Not willing to let a tainted petition stand, Greenfield rallied her supporters on Friday to secure 1,790 new signatures for a second petition due to the Secretary of State’s office by 5 p.m.

The final count announced by the Secretary of State’s office was 1,592, just 198 short of the required 1,790.

“I’m no stranger to a tough fight,” Greenfield said. “Not when the farm crisis threatened the family farm. Not when I was widowed with two small children after my lineman husband was killed on the job. Not during the Great Recession when I lost my job, picked myself up, and then started a new career. And I’m not going to give up now!”

“What happened on Friday afternoon was electrifying to me and all who support my campaign regardless of the final count today,” Greenfield continued. “Our campaign was tested and showed its strength. We are organized and mobilized. People are starving for someone who will do the right thing in today’s cynical political environment, and they are willing to fight for that kind of representation in Washington. They want a candidate that can beat David Young in November, and they aren’t willing to give up no matter the odds.”

“Over the next few days, I will be talking to all of those incredible people who support my candidacy and gauge their support for a path forward. I’ll carefully weigh what’s good for Iowa, the country and for Democrats. But no matter where the chips fall, I’ll work harder, be stronger and never give up for the people of the 3rd District,” Greenfield said.

Democratic activist Nick Kruse speculated that while a write-in campaign could not win the primary outright, Greenfield could attract enough votes that way to keep other candidates below 35 percent on June 5. I'm not convinced, but even if it were so, I don't think that approach would lead to a winning convention strategy.

THIRD UPDATE: Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement that his office and the Secretary of State's office are looking closely at Iowa Code 43:23, which states,

If a person who has filed nomination papers with the state commissioner as a candidate in a primary election dies or withdraws up to the seventy-sixth day before the primary election, the appropriate convention or central committee of that person’s political party may designate one additional primary election candidate for the nomination that person was seeking, if the designation is submitted to the state commissioner in writing by 5:00 p.m. on the seventy-first day before the date of the primary election.

I'm seeking comment from the Iowa Democratic Party, the Third District Democrats, and Greenfield's campaign on prospects for a district convention or central committee nominating her for the IA-03 primary.

From a Greenfield campaign e-mail blast sent on the evening of March 19 (echoed in a campaign Facebook post):

Well, [recipient's name], despite our extraordinary effort on Friday, we learned today from the Secretary of State that we only had 1592 signatures -- 198 short.

But we're not giving up!

Here's the next step. Iowa election law allows the Democratic Party to hold a meeting to do a one-for-one replacement. Well, I withdrew my candidacy last Friday, because I couldn't allow it to go forward with a petition that contained forged signatures. It's not as clear as we'd like, so the Secretary of State is getting an opinion from the Attorney General to see if the code section supports us the way we hope it does. We've talked with the leadership of the 3rd CD Democrats to let them know what we're planning.

Our campaign has been tested and continues to show its strength. We are organized and mobilized. People are starving for someone who will do the right thing in today's cynical political environment, and they are willing to fight for that kind of representation in Washington. They want a candidate that can beat David Young in November, and they aren't willing to give up no matter the odds.

Bill Brauch, leader of the third district Democrats, confirmed on the evening of March 19:

I was contacted by her campaign today regarding that Code section. I also discussed this at length with folks at IDP. Late in the afternoon I e-mailed the Third District Central Committee notice of a Special District Central Committee meeting for next Monday, March 26, at noon, to be held via telephone. Our district bylaws require a minimum of 7 days notice of a Special Meeting. Special meetings can be called by the Chair or by a quorum of members. The notice provides that the purpose of the meeting will be to discuss Ms. Greenfield's request to be added to the ballot via the process set out in section 43.23. However, the meeting is contingent upon her first receiving an opinion from the AG and Secretary of State to the effect that she would be eligible under the circumstances to be designated via that process. She has agreed to that condition. The key issue for the Central Committee is concern about any potential legal expenses. The District Central Committee does not have deep pockets and has little funding for legal fees in the event someone should challenge any action we might take under the section.

Brauch added, "if a legal opinion favorable to her is issued, it would still require a majority vote of the Central Committee members voting on 3/26 to designate her for the ballot via this process."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Paul Pate said his office still has the first set of Greenfield nominating petitions and "will provide any assistance necessary" to law enforcement conducting a criminal investigation of the forged signatures.

  • Miller butting in

    Surely the Iowa code section refers to a candidate who was successful in the petition filing, not one who botched it twice. If anyone can submit a lousy petition on the deadline and withdraw the next week to reactivate the convention route, then the deadline and petition rules are a sham.

  • Another point

    Does the Code mean to allow the convention to nominate the same candidate who withdrew? I think not. By mentioning a candidate who dies, it reveals its intent to have someone new placed on the ballot when the successful petition becomes unusable later due to death or withdrawal. It is not a route to be used by a candidate who needs three tries to win access.

  • Statute not a good fit here

    Having worked in plenty of campaigns, what happened makes me hurt. But as good as it was of Greenfield to self-report, and as feel-good as the story of last Friday may have been, getting on the ballot is still basic blocking and tackling, and this kind of thing rarely happens because campaigns get thousands of extra signatures, file more than 48 hours early, and have multi-person internal quality control on the petition effort.

    More important now, however, is that 43.23 would not seem to work to put her back on the ballot. It specifies two triggers for the substitution: death and withdrawal. But withdrawal here is after the filing -- that is, someone is on the ballot and withdraws. Greenfield's not being on the ballot is not based on a withdrawal; yes, she did but then she resubmitted new petitions -- which failed to quality. Failure of submitted petitions to meet qualifications is *not* one of the triggers. Additionally, I think the language is fairly clear that it contemplates someone other than the candidate in question -- someone "additional" to the nomination *that person* was seeking.

    We'll see if Miller and Pate punt over to the 3rd District Central Committee, but I have trouble seeing how this passes legal opinion.

    Finally, as DesMoinesDem has pointed out, write-in doesn't seem to make much sense here, and once the raw feelings subside I hope Greenfield doesn't go that route. It is the longest of long shots, and makes sense where -- as when the Dem missed the deadline for Gronstal's seat -- there would be no Dem candidate at all. Here, there are still 3 viable candidates in the race to provide good choices.

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