John Deeth’s latest blog post for the Des Moines Register reviews the ten worst campaigns waged in Iowa during the past 20 years. I didn’t observe all of those campaigns first-hand, but he makes a convincing case for including most of the candidates on his list.
Two campaigns don’t belong on Deeth’s list, in my opinion. He ranked Congressman Neal Smith’s 1994 effort as number seven. Maybe Smith was slow to realize that Greg Ganske was a threat, but one thing destroyed Smith in that race, and it wasn’t incompetence. Redistricting after the 1990 census took Story County and Jasper County out of Smith’s district, replacing them with a bunch of rural counties in southwest Iowa he had never represented. Smith brought incalculable millions to Iowa State University over the years, and union membership in the Newton area was very strong. If Story and Jasper had still been in IA-04, Smith would have easily survived even the Republican wave of 1994.
Number two on Deeth’s list is Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Iowa caucus campaign. As I discussed at length here, I feel that Barack Obama won the caucuses more than Clinton or John Edwards lost them. Remember, Clinton started out way behind in Iowa. Whatever mistakes her campaign made, and they made plenty, you have to give them credit for getting more than 70,000 Iowans to stand in her corner on a cold night in January. That included many thousands of people who had never attended a caucus before. In the summer of 2007, almost anyone would have agreed that 70,000 supporters would be enough to win here. The turnout for Clinton is even more impressive when you consider that she did worse on second choices than Obama or Edwards. She didn’t win Iowa, but this wasn’t one of the ten worst Iowa campaigns by a longshot.
I want to share one anecdote about Jim Ross Lightfoot’s gubernatorial campaign in 1998, which rightfully claimed the top spot on Deeth’s list. Lightfoot blew a huge lead over little-known Tom Vilsack in September and October. Here’s how stupid this guy was. According to several people who witnessed the event, Lightfoot advocated for school prayer at a candidate forum organized by Temple B’Nai Jeshurun in Des Moines. Not only that, Lightfoot told that room full of Jews that majority rule should determine the prayer. For instance, in a town that’s 90 percent Danish, why not let them say Lutheran prayers in school?
Terry Branstad showed horrible judgment by endorsing Lightfoot in the 1998 primary, when he could have supported his own highly capable Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning.
Go read Deeth’s post, then share your own thoughts about the worst Iowa campaigns in this thread.
Also, check Deeth’s own blog regularly this month for updates on Iowa candidate filings. March 19 is the deadline for state legislative and statewide candidates to submit nomination papers.