IA-02: Ken Croken exploring, Kevin Kinney and Veronica Tessler are out

Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken may seek the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s second Congressional district, where U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack will retire at the end of his current term.

Bill Lukitsch was first to report the news for the Quad-City Times on April 30. Croken spoke to Bleeding Heartland about his plans on May 4.

Croken hasn’t yet filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission but has assembled a team of labor and party activists to advise him as he explores a Congressional bid. He expects to decide shortly after Memorial Day whether to become a candidate.

A Davenport resident since 2003, Croken has been an elected official for only a few months, having won a seat on the board of supervisors last November. But he is not new to Democratic politics. While living in Connecticut, he worked on Bruce Morrison‘s successful U.S. House campaign in 1982. Morrison defeated the Democratic establishment’s preferred candidate in the primary and went on to beat a Republican incumbent. Croken then held a staff position in Morrison’s Washington office, so he is familiar with the work of a member of Congress.

More recently, Croken has worked for various Democratic candidates as an executive with Liberty Bell Communications, a wholly-owned subsidiary of TAG Communications, where he is senior vice president. I enclose below a bio listing some of Croken’s past employment and community involvement in the Quad Cities.

Croken explained during a May 4 telephone interview, “My motivation for running is to ensure we maintain the second district seat in progressive hands, and I think that my brand of practical progressivism” would fit the district well. He believes “Scott County will be a determining county in this race, it will be the battleground.”

Leading election forecasters consider IA-02 a toss-up, for good reason. Although the district contains about 22,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, a plurality of the electorate have no party affiliation. Donald Trump outpolled Hillary Clinton in the district’s 24 counties in 2016. Fred Hubbell carried the district in the 2018 governor’s race, but not by much. (Bleeding Heartland published recent county-level results in IA-02 for Congress, president, and governor here.)

Scott has the largest population among the IA-02 counties, with about 21 percent of the district’s Democrats and about 23 percent of all registered voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Unlike heavily Democratic Johnson County, the other large population center in IA-02, Scott has traditionally been “swingy.” For many years, the Quad Cities metro area was a reliable vote-producer for U.S. Representative Jim Leach, the moderate Republican whom Loebsack defeated in 2006.

Compared to Loebsack, “My personal style is more assertive,” Croken told me. He feels the middle class “need and deserve aggressive representation” and a “vocal advocate” with the country “moving in the wrong direction on so many issues.” Referencing some of his past political work, he said, “I know how to fight in the trenches.”

“Environmental restoration” would be a top priority for Croken. This week’s flood that surpassed 1993 levels gave him a view of the Mississippi River from his home, which he shouldn’t have. “For us to pretend like global warming isn’t happening anymore is just absurd.”

Yet Croken has observed a “spectacular failure of leadership” from politicians on climate change. “We need more and louder voices in Washington” to address the issue with “all the persistence and sacrifice and intensity and innovation” the U.S. brought to other urgent tasks in decades past. Moreover, the “economic consequences of failing to respond” to this challenge “are overwhelming.”

Surveys indicate that health care was a major concern for voters in the last midterm election, and Croken expects health care to be one of the key issues in the 2020 campaign. He has worked closely with federal, state, and local officials as a health care advocate in the past. I asked about one of the major fault lines in Democratic circles: whether to push for a single-payer system (Medicare for all) or improve on the Affordable Care Act by giving consumers the option of buying into Medicare. Croken said we need to consider what we have the capacity to do. He believes “access to quality health care ought to be a right” and supports an “affordable public option for everyone.”

The “demise of quality public education” would be another key issue for Croken if he runs for Congress. He noted that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some level of post-secondary education and training.

Former State Senator Rita Hart, last year’s nominee for lieutenant governor, is widely expected to enter the Congressional race soon. (She did not reveal her plans at the Clinton County Democrats’ Hall of Fame dinner on May 3.) State Senator Zach Wahls took himself out of the running for IA-02 in the event of a Hart candidacy, but Croken was not so definitive. He said the other candidates in the race–Republican as well as Democratic–might influence his decision. But he would not automatically rule out a competition with Hart.

“My objective is to ensure that the Democratic Party nominates the strongest candidate” to face the Republican nominee, he said. Since “Scott County will be critical,” the ability to perform well there should be a consideration for voters. Croken said the party needs a nominee “who can appeal to a wider spectrum of voters,” adding that he won his county supervisor race by appealing to independents and even Republicans as well as Democrats.

Two other prospective Democratic candidates for IA-02 have bowed out in recent days. State Senator Kevin Kinney told James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette on May 1, “I’m happy with where I’m at.”

In making his decision, Kinney said that even as a member of the minority, he believes he’s able to affect legislation. For example, in a Senate controlled by Republicans 32-18, he was instrumental in winning approval for a bill to allow Iowa farmers to raise hemp. […]

He’s been asked to endorse another candidate, Kinney said, but he’s not ready to do that now. He declined to identify which candidate or candidates have sought his endorsement.

Iowa City business owner Veronica Tessler was seen as a likely contender, having filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission in April. But she posted on Facebook on May 3,

As you may know, I was exploring a run for Congress. I have a deep love for this community and believe strongly in the need for bold leadership given what’s at stake at this moment in history. It’s been a dream of mine to serve in public office. I’m now faced with the reality that this very moment is not right for me given other responsibilities I must address with my businesses (news soon on a new venture!). These responsibilities would keep me from devoting the time needed for this campaign. With a heavy heart, I am withdrawing my name as a candidate.

Davenport attorney Ian Russell indicated last month that he is thinking about the race but has yet to confirm his plans.

Any comments about the IA-02 campaign are welcome in this thread. No Republicans have announced here, but I expect a competitive GOP primary. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart flagged nine potential Republican candidates at Caffeinated Thoughts. His list did not include Ginny Caligiuri, who sought the nomination in 2018 but failed to qualify for the primary ballot.

As of May 1, the IA-02 counties contained 165,405 active registered Democrats, 143,004 Republicans, and 185,242 no-party voters.

Bio listed on the TAG Communications website:

Ken Croken is the Senior Vice President at TAG Communications and serves as adjunct faculty at St. Ambrose University. Until December 31, 2017, Croken was Chief Marketing Officer for Genesis Health System. Other previous executive leadership and professional assignments include: IBM Corporation (DC), Edelman PR Worldwide (NY), Norstan Communications (MN), Save the Children Federation (CT) and the Legal Services Corporation (DC).

Ken is a graduate of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and the New England College of Law in Boston. He moved to Davenport in 2003 with his wife of nearly 40 years, Kathryn McKnight. They have two adult children, Matthew and Anne, who live and work in New York City. Ken chairs the local organizing committee for Red, White + Boom! He is a past chairman of the Davenport Public Library Board and serves on many boards and advisory committees including, the Putnam Museum and Science Center, Downtown Davenport Partnership, Scott County Family Y and the University of Iowa Community Credit Union, and others.

Top photo: Ken Croken, taken from his political Facebook page.

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Laura Belin

  • FYI 2018 election margin in Scott County

    Interesting that in his election to the Scott County Board of Supervisors: he was 2nd in total votes (top 3 got elected).

    I expected Cathy Glasson to be in the mix of potential candidates. Any word? She and Rita Hart have much more name recognition/exposure to IA-2 voters than Ken.

    • I haven't heard any speculation

      that Cathy Glasson is running for Congress. Which doesn’t mean she isn’t, I just haven’t heard that.

      Rita Hart will be the prohibitive favorite in the primary if she runs.