IA-02: Miller-Meeks exploring, Hart has strong early fundraising

Republicans may have a competitive primary in Iowa’s second Congressional district, where former U.S. Representative Bobby Schilling announced his candidacy last week. State Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who was Representative Dave Loebsack’s GOP challenger in 2008, 2010, and 2014, is exploring another Congressional race.

Miller-Meeks did not announce her decision on her own Facebook page or Twitter feed, but on July 15 Republican Party of Iowa state chair Jeff Kaufmann posted her resignation letter from the GOP’s State Central Committee. In that letter (full text), Miller-Meeks wrote that serving in the state legislature

has made me acutely aware of the value someone with health care experience could have in the legislative process. As I have continued meeting with people across Iowa’s second district, I have been encouraged to run again for the second congressional district to bring that knowledge to Washington in the seat being vacated by Representative Loebsack.

I had not anticipated a congressional run, given our successful legislative session in the Senate and the respect I have for my colleagues, but I would at least like to explore that possibility.

Like me, Iowans are concerned about rising healthcare costs, premiums and drugs. They have seen little progress dealing with a crisis on our southern border, despite the repeated efforts of President Trump and there does not seem to be an immediate resolution. Most importantly, Iowans are frustrated by the lack of progress and dysfunction in Washington DC.

Having just been elected to a four-year term in 2018, Miller-Meeks would not be risking her Iowa Senate seat if she runs for federal office in 2020.

Miller-Meeks crushed well-financed primary rivals in 2010, winning about 51 percent of the vote in a four-way field, even though two of her opponents advertised extensively on television. Comically, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s endorsed candidate finished dead last in that primary.

In 2014, Miller-Meeks decided to run for Congress relatively late but easily defeated Mark Lofgren, who is now her colleague in the Iowa Senate. For some reason, Lofgren raised very little money for that race.

To win the Congressional nomination for the fourth time, Miller-Meeks would have to get past Schilling, an experienced campaigner and fundraiser. If she runs, the primary should be highly competitive, with some Republicans hesitating to nominate a three-time general election loser and others balking at a candidate who spent most of his life in Illinois.

Either way, I stand by my opinion that IA-02 is looking like a lean Democratic seat, assuming Rita Hart wins the Democratic primary.

Hart’s first Federal Election Commission quarterly report showed impressive numbers. She raised $279,593.81 in about a month and a half, which is roughly twice what Loebsack raised as an incumbent during the second quarter of 2011. He raised about $147,000 in the second quarter of 2013 and about $183,000 in the same period of 2015.

Not only that, Hart raised far more from individuals ($235,521.92) than from political action committees ($43,600.00). Loebsack consistently raised more from PACs than from individuals, nearly every quarter of the past decade. EMILY’s List, some labor unions, and campaigns of some U.S. House Democrats (including Loebsack) were among the political committees donating to Hart.

About twenty of Hart’s donors maxed out with contributions of $2,800, so it will be interesting to see whether her fundraising drops significantly in the next few months. Those who contributed to Hart included many “usual suspect” Iowa Democratic donors (such as Fred and Charlotte Hubbell, Bill and Susan Knapp, Toni Urban). One other name jumped out at me: former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus gave $500. Ternus was a Terry Branstad appointee who has been in private practice since social conservatives led a successful campaign against retaining her in 2010, their revenge for the high court’s unanimous marriage equality ruling.

Hart’s campaign spent just $10,726.29 during the second quarter and had $268,867.52 cash on hand as of June 30.

I could not find any FEC second-quarter report for Newman Abuissa, the other declared Democratic candidate in IA-02. He officially launched his campaign on June 30, so would not have been required to file a quarterly report with the FEC on July 15.

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

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin