If all Iowa candidates had to win under rules Republicans forced on unions

“There’s not one Republican in this state that could win an election under the rules they gave us,” asserted AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan after the first round of public union recertification elections ended this week.

He was only slightly exaggerating.

A review of the last two general election results shows that Iowa’s capitol would be mostly devoid of office-holders if candidates for statewide and legislative races needed a majority vote among all their constituents–rather than a plurality among those who cast ballots–to be declared winners.

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IA-04: Joni Ernst is all in for Steve King

Today U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became the third Iowa Republican heavyweight to endorse Representative Steve King, who faces a primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ernst didn’t just allow King’s campaign to announce her support in a statement, she also filmed a short video which I’ve enclosed below, along with a transcript.

Birds can be heard singing in the background as Ernst praises King for supporting life, liberty, the military, four-laning U.S. Highway 20, and the fuel blender tax credit. The sound you can’t hear is the door slamming on Bertrand’s already slim chance to win this primary.

Ernst served with Bertrand in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from 2011 through 2014, so has observed his political work more closely than most Republicans. She could have stayed neutral, though seven-term incumbent King was heavily favored to win the IA-04 primary even before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley publicly backed him.

As with Grassley’s endorsement, I wonder whether Ernst wanted to dish out some payback to Nick Ryan, the dark money operative who was recruiting a primary challenger in IA-04 and endorsed Bertrand immediately after the state senator made his campaign official.

Ryan worked for Mark Jacobs during his race against Ernst and others in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. (Bruce Rastetter, a frequent ally of Ryan and major ethanol industry figure who is also supporting Bertrand against King, backed Ernst early in that race.)

Bertrand has been promoting himself as someone who will deliver for IA-04 in Congress, rather than trying to be a “national figure.” Last week, he asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski that there is widespread “discontentment” with King, who “has gone Washington.” Echoing that talking point, Ryan told Petroski, “I believe we can do better. I want a conservative congressman that cares more about getting things done for his district than booking an appearance on Fox or MSNBC.”

Ryan can raise a lot of money to spend on campaigns, but his track record in Iowa GOP contests is mixed. Unsuccessful candidates who benefited from spending controlled by Ryan include: Jim Gibbons in the 2010 primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district, Annette Sweeney in the 2012 primary for Iowa House district 50, Jacobs in the 2014 Senate primary, Matt Schultz in the 2014 primary for IA-03, and Mike Huckabee before the latest Iowa caucuses.

P.S.-Asked this morning whether he wants “to see King defeated” in June, Governor Terry Branstad replied, “It’s up to the voters to decide in each of these instances and I’ve always had confidence in the voters of Iowa to make a good decision and I will obviously support the Republican nominees,” O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa. Branstad made headlines by calling for Ted Cruz’s defeat less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. King was Cruz’s leading surrogate in Iowa after endorsing the Texas senator for president in November.

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New details on how the Koch brothers boosted Joni Ernst's campaign

Kenneth P. Vogel reports new details at Politico today on how the billionaires David and Charles Koch provided indirect financial support to Joni Ernst’s 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate. Politico’s headline “How the Kochs created Joni Ernst” (changed after a few hours to “How the Kochs launched Joni Ernst”) overstates the case somewhat. Arguably, the dark money employed to attack Ernst’s main rival for the GOP Senate nomination would have been less effective if either 1) Mark Jacobs hadn’t chosen to live outside this state for 30 years. fatally wounding his candidacy in my opinion; or 2) the other Republicans in the race had raised enough money to become credible alternatives to Jacobs themselves.

Still, money funneled through the Kochs’ network was a big help to Ernst. We already knew that the Kochs invited her to their 2013 summer “seminar” a few weeks after she kicked off her Senate campaign. We already knew that in the summer of 2014, the Koch brothers front group Concerned Veterans for America kicked off what became a sustained attack on Bruce Braley’s Veterans Affairs Committee hearings attendance. Vogel has shown that Ernst got more assistance before winning the primary than was previously known.

I enclose below excerpts from Vogel’s article, but I recommend clicking through to read the whole piece. Vogel concentrates on the Trees of Liberty PAC, which raised funds through the Koch network and spent most of that money to air a tv ad attacking Jacobs. You can view that ad here. It masquerades as non-election communication by ending with the line, “Call Mark Jacobs. Tell him Iowa families can’t afford higher energy costs from Washington,” instead of urging viewers not to vote for Jacobs.

Vogel does not address the role of American Heartland PAC, a single-candidate super-PAC supporting Ernst. American Heartland PAC piled on with more tv ads targeting Jacobs less than a week after the Trees of Liberty statewide ad buy ended on May 2, 2014. The super-PAC did disclose its donors (longer list here). The largest contributors were Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans football team, and hedge fund operator Robert Mercer.

P.S.-It’s worth recalling on “Throwback Thursday” that Governor Terry Branstad helped launch Ernst when he picked the little-known Kim Reynolds as his running mate in 2010. Reynolds’ election as lieutenant governor that year opened up the Iowa Senate seat Ernst won two months later. If Branstad had chosen a different running mate, Reynolds would have stayed in the state legislature, and Ernst would likely still have been the Montgomery County auditor in 2013–not a promising springboard for a statewide candidate.

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Warning to Marco Rubio: Iowa Republicans primed to care about missing work in Congress

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is treading on dangerous ground by continuing to avoid the Capitol when he already has missed more votes than most of his colleagues. Last week, he cast his first vote in nearly a month, then skipped several more roll calls to go back on the presidential campaign trail. Rubio apparently feels he can frame his poor attendance as a virtue. “Frustrated” by the ineffective Senate, he prioritizes running for president “so that the votes they take in the Senate are actually meaningful again.”

I doubt that argument will convince many politically engaged people, judging by comments I’ve seen in news accounts and on social media. It’s particularly ill-suited for Iowans, who have been primed to value a good attendance record and to view missed work in Congress as a major character flaw.

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Joni Ernst breaks a promise to military victims of sexual assault

“Alarming rates” of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military, most of which go unpunished, are an ongoing scandal. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has been the leading voice in the Senate for reforms to address the “vastly underreported” problem. Last year, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin both supported a bill Gillibrand introduced, which would have taken sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command.

While former Representative Bruce Braley served in the U.S. House, he repeatedly introduced legislation aimed at reducing rates of sexual assault in the military and removing “decisions over investigating and prosecuting sexual assault allegations […] from the normal chain of command.” Braley’s guest at the 2014 State of the Union address was Service Women’s Action Network executive director Anu Bhagwati, whose group “has been at the center of the national effort to reform the military’s handling of military sexual assault.”

As the Republican nominee facing Braley in last year’s U.S. Senate campaign, Joni Ernst talked a good game on this issue. After disclosing that she had faced sexual harassment while serving in the Iowa National Guard, Ernst promised to support reforms that would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, even if she got “push-back” from Pentagon leaders or GOP Senate colleagues. She also said ensuring “sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted […] should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now.”

Last week, Ernst had a chance to walk the walk. Instead, she helped kill Gillibrand’s amendment to the 2016 defense authorization bill, going back on her campaign pledge and casting a rare vote in opposition to her fellow Iowa Republican Grassley.

Follow me after the jump for more background and details on Ernst’s broken promise.

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New bipartisan group will battle "overwhelming influence of big money" in Iowa politics

A new bipartisan group emerged this week, on a mission “to educate Iowans on the need for meaningful reform to address the issue of money in politics.” Two Democrats, two Republicans, and a no-party voter are co-chairing Iowa Pays the Price. The most prominent co-chair is Brad Anderson, who ran President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in Iowa and was the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of State in 2014. The Republican co-chairs are Franklin County GOP chair Shawn Dietz, who unsuccessfully challenged State Senator Amanda Ragan in 2014, and David Niffenegger, who directed operations for Sam Clovis’ 2014 state treasurer campaign. After the jump I’ve enclosed the full statement on the Iowa Pays the Price launch and more background on Issue One, the organization behind the Iowa project.

Speaking to Catherine Lucey of the Associated Press, Anderson said,

“I cannot tell you how many doors I knocked on in 2014 where voters said they were so tired of the mudslinging that they were going to sit out the election.”

Communications research going back to the 1980s and 1990s has produced mixed evidence on whether negative campaigning on television discourages Americans from voting. My impression is that current opinion among political scientists tends toward the view that negative ads do not depress turnout. However, I suspect the avalanche in outside spending following the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United may have changed the equation, because the relentless attack ads run on television, radio, and social media for many months (rather than just a few weeks before election day). The Iowa Pays the Price press release notes,

According to an analysis by Maplight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics, a record $111,770,953 in federal campaign spending was spent in Iowa in 2014. This represented a 350% increase in campaign spending when compared to the $31,901,404 in federal campaign spending from the previous 2010 midterm election.  In addition, for the first time in Iowa history a majority of the 2014 election spending was by outside groups rather than by candidates’ campaigns.

The largest share of that spending was seeking to influence the election for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat, but substantial outside spending came into play in some of the Congressional districts, especially the IA-03 race between David Young and Staci Appel.

Good resources for hard facts about big money in American politics include Open Secrets, the Sunlight Foundation, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Common Cause.

P.S.- Contra Shane Vander Hart, it’s not “hypocrisy” for a person to raise lots of money for his own election race (which must be a priority for candidates under our current system) and to believe that campaign finance reform would improve our political culture.  

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