Lopsided governor's race imperils whole Democratic ticket

The filing deadline for campaign finance disclosures is always an exciting day for political reporters. My plan for this week was to write a series of posts about fundraising and spending for each of Iowa’s statewide races: governor, attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, state auditor, and secretary of agriculture.

I shifted gears after reviewing the latest reports for Governor Kim Reynolds and Deidre DeJear, the only Democrat actively campaigning for governor.

Unless things change dramatically in the coming months, Reynolds will be able to use most of her war chest to help down-ballot Republicans.

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Will Jake Chapman's big swing at teachers play in a swing district?

Opening day speeches at the Iowa legislature are often filled with boring platitudes. But Senate President Jake Chapman dispensed with cliches about bipartisan work for the common good in his welcoming remarks on January 10.

Instead, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican called on colleagues to “take a stand” against what he described as a “sinister agenda” by the media and teachers, “who wish to normalize sexually deviant behavior against our children.”

Chapman’s broadside made headlines across the state and quickly inspired a new RAYGUN t-shirt: “Just another SINISTER TEACHER who’s passionate about education.”

Many conservatives have applauded Chapman for his crusade to remove books he considers “obscene” from public schools and create a felony offense for teachers and librarians who disseminate such material. But Iowa’s new political map put the Senate president in a swing district for the first time. He hinted last month that he will seek re-election there, rather than moving to a solid Republican district nearby.

Conspiracy theories that play well in some GOP circles could drive suburban moderates toward Democratic State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, who is already running in Senate district 14.

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Ras Smith's departure raises tough questions for Iowa Democrats

State Representative Ras Smith suspended his campaign for governor on January 5, saying he had reached “the heartbreaking conclusion that there are barriers that one campaign cannot overcome, no matter how hard we work or how faithfully we represent the majority of hardworking Iowans.”

In a written statement and recorded video message, Smith thanked Iowans who welcomed him a candidate for governor, saying the campaign “has reaffirmed for me the magnitude of mission-driven work that lies ahead.” He added, “Unfortunately, this process has also exposed a drastic disconnect between the current political system and the people.”

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Where things stand in the Iowa Democratic race for governor

Since State Auditor Rob Sand ruled out running for governor earlier this month, I’ve been meaning to catch up on the Democratic candidates who have been actively campaigning against Kim Reynolds: State Representative Ras Smith and Deidre DeJear, the 2018 nominee for secretary of state.

The field may not be set; many Democrats believe at least one other candidate will join the governor’s race early next year. Recent speculation has centered around State Representative Chris Hall. The six-term Iowa House Democrat from Sioux City, who is ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, has not announced whether he will seek re-election or run for higher office in 2022. Hall declined to comment for the record when I reached out to him shortly after Sand confirmed he’ll run for state auditor again.

This post will focus on bases of support for Smith and DeJear. We’ll know more about their capacity to run a strong statewide campaign after candidates disclose how much they’ve raised and spent this year. Those reports must be filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board by January 19.

Bleeding Heartland is unlikely to endorse any candidate before the primary, but I welcome guest commentaries advocating for any Democratic contenders. Those wanting to learn more about the options should tune in to the Iowa Unity Coalition’s gubernatorial candidate forum on January 22 in Des Moines; both Smith and DeJear have agreed to participate.

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EMILY's List to play in Iowa; won't commit to positive Senate race

One of the leading Democratic-aligned political action committees endorsed three Iowa candidates this week. EMILY’s List, which backs pro-choice Democratic women seeking federal, state, or local offices, endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer on December 15 and U.S. House candidates Christina Bohannan and Liz Mathis in the new first and second Congressional districts on December 16.

The PAC endorsed U.S. Representative Cindy Axne for re-election in the third district in March.

This week’s announcements were no surprise, since EMILY’s List supported Axne and Finkenauer in their 2018 and 2020 U.S. House campaigns, and said in April that Senator Chuck Grassley was one of three Republicans the group planned to target in 2022 Senate races.

Backing from EMILY’s List helps candidates raise money through the organization’s large network of donors. Perhaps more important, it indicates the group is prepared to pay for advertising on behalf of endorsed candidates or against their opponents.

The big question is whether EMILY’s List will keep its messages positive before the June 2022 Senate primary, or also target Democratic rivals. I couldn’t get an answer from the group yesterday.

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Pro-Ernst group fails to toss lawsuit over undisclosed donors

The public is one step closer to learning who funded a sophisticated messaging and organizational effort to re-elect Senator Joni Ernst in 2020. A federal court on November 19 denied a motion to dismiss a watchdog group’s lawsuit against Iowa Values, which supported Ernst’s re-election in 2020 but did not disclose its fundraising or spending.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit focused on “advancing democracy through law,” sued Iowa Values in February, after the Federal Election Commission did not act on the center’s complaint against the pro-Ernst group for more than a year.

Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia comprehensively rejected legal arguments the pro-Ernst group raised in trying to dismiss the lawsuit and return the case to the FEC, which would likely do nothing.

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