IA-02: Loebsack in the driver's seat

The main campaign arm of U.S. House Republicans spent more than $1 million in 2014 trying to unseat Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second district. But national Republicans left the last Democrat representing our state in Congress alone during the 2016 campaign, and Loebsack is unlikely to be targeted this year either.

Fundraising by the candidates becomes more important when outside groups don’t get involved in a House race. For that reason, the latest batch of Federal Election Commission quarterly reports were especially encouraging for Loebsack.

Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann talked a good game early last year about making a play for IA-02, which covers 24 counties in southeast Iowa. And no wonder: the district Barack Obama carried with 55.8 percent of the vote in 2012 went to Donald Trump in 2016 by 49.1 percent to 45.0 percent. That result brought the district’s partisan voting index down from D+4 to D+1.

Nevertheless, leading election forecasters consider this race as either non-competitive (that is, safe for the incumbent) or a likely Democratic hold. Although Trump carried IA-02, Loebsack ran about 9 points better than the top of the Democratic ticket, winning re-election with 53.7 percent of the vote to 46.2 percent for GOP challenger Christopher Peters.

Republicans have dozens of House seats to defend this November, among them IA-01 and IA-03. It makes little sense for the National Republican Congressional Committee or other GOP-aligned groups to invest in a Democratic-held district that now contains 160,673 active registered Democrats, 141,815 Republicans, and 182,514 no-party voters.

Loebsack hasn’t traditionally been a powerhouse fundraiser–he famously dislikes “call time”–but the six-term incumbent was frugal with his campaign funds in 2016 and went into the current election cycle with nearly a million dollars in the bank. By the end of 2017, his campaign had more than $1.6 million cash on hand. During the first three months of this year, Loebsack raised $237,367.88, of which $107,751.50 came from individuals and $129,200 from a mix of progressive, labor, and corporate political action committees.

The incumbent’s campaign reported spending $71,700.17 during the first quarter, mostly on salaries and consulting fees. As of March 31, his campaign had $1,790,277.99 in the bank. Keep in mind that Loebsack spent only $681,228 during the entire 2016 election cycle.

Peters will be the only Republican on the primary ballot in IA-02 again this year, after his campaign successfully challenged competitor Ginny Caligiuri’s nominating petitions. I had a few minutes of confusion after searching for his 1Q filing on the FEC website and finding a “termination report” for Christopher Peters for Congress. A quick check of Peters’ social media feeds showed no sign he had ended his campaign. Then I found the April quarterly filed by a separate committee called Peters for Congress.

Loebsack’s challenger spent a little more than $200,000 during the 2016 election cycle, but he may be able to exceed that this year. Peters reported raising $51,235.43 from January through March, all from individuals other than $500 from GOP State Senator Tom Greene’s campaign. He also transferred $4,072.29 from the now-terminated committee Christopher Peters for Congress and loaned his own campaign $110,000. The Hills Bank and Trust Company in Coralville loaned the Peters campaign another $110,000, bringing total receipts for the quarter up to $275,307.72.

The Peters campaign reported $40,927.27 in operating expenditures from January through March but spent $110,000 repaying the Hills Bank and Trust loan and another $110,000 on a transfer to the previous Congressional committee as a way to balance the books before closing that account. When all was said and done, the campaign ended the quarter with $26,806.33 cash on hand and an outstanding debt of $110,000 to the candidate.

Although Caligiuri won’t appear on the IA-02 primary ballot, she continues to run for Congress as a write-in candidate. Her surname isn’t easy to spell, but election officials should accept anything in the ballpark, as long as voters remember to fill in the oval next to the write-in line as well.

Caligiuri will need all the help she can get from her allies in social conservative circles, because she won’t have a large budget for direct mail or other advertising. Her FEC filing listed $27,008.00 in contributions, all from individuals. However, two people maxed out with $2,700 contributions for both the primary and general election campaigns. That means $5,400 of the funds can’t be used before the June 5 primary and will be refunded if Caligiuri doesn’t win the Republican nomination.

The first-time candidate is running a lean operation, spending just $11,268.56 during the reporting period. But with only $15,258.00 cash on hand as of March 31, of which $5,400 is restricted for the general election, Caligiuri will struggle to get her message in front of voters district-wide and educate supporters on how to write in her name.

Any comments about the IA-02 race are welcome in this thread.

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