# National Republican Congressional Committee

King opposes House GOP health care plan; Blum and Young non-committal

U.S. Representative Steve King confirmed this morning that he opposes the House Republican health care replacement bill released on Monday. Like several influential conservative groups that condemned the American Health Care Act earlier this week, King believes the legislation does not go far enough. He told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “We campaigned on the full, 100 percent, I say ‘rip it out by the roots’ repeal of Obamacare, and we don’t get that with this bill.”

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IA-03: Democratic establishment consolidating around Jim Mowrer

The candidate filing deadline may be nearly six months away, but it seems increasingly likely that the fight for the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s third Congressional district will be a two-way contest between Desmund Adams and Jim Mowrer. Today Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), the only Democrat left in Iowa’s Congressional delegation, made his “full support” for Mowrer official. I enclose the statement from Mowrer’s campaign after the jump. It includes a list of well-known endorsers, such as former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, State Senators Dick Dearden and Bob Dvorsky, State Representatives Charlie McConkey, Todd Prichard, and Abby Finkenauer, former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky, three IDP State Central Committee members, and Democratic Party chairs in five IA-03 counties.  

Endorsements at this stage are not aimed at persuading Democratic primary voters. Rather, they serve mainly to deter other candidates from getting into the race. They also signal to donors inside and outside Iowa that Mowrer is the “serious” candidate. He already was likely to raise substantially more money than Adams, by virtue of his strong fundraising effort as the 2014 Democratic candidate against Representative Steve King in IA-04.

On a related note, last month the Cook Political Report changed its rating on IA-03 from “toss up” to lean Republican. One reason: “Each day Mowrer consolidates support, the less likely it is that Democrats’ very top choice, U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt, gets in. Former Gov. Chet Culver was rumored to be interested but now looks unlikely to run.” I’m intrigued that a handful of unnamed sources (including one “operative”) managed to convince beltway experts that Klinefeldt would be the “gold standard” candidate in IA-03. Not meaning to knock Klinefeldt, but I’ve had scores of conversations with local Democrats about this race. It’s hardly a consensus view that the U.S. attorney would be the strongest possible candidate to face first-term Republican David Young.

Speaking of Young, earlier this month James Hohmann and Elise Viebeck reported for the Washington Post that he had signed a contract with the National Republican Congressional Committee as a condition for getting help from the NRCC’s incumbent protection program. You can view the fundraising, communication, and political requirements laid out in that contract here.

The sixteen counties in IA-03 contain 150,572 active registered Democrats, 163,096 Republicans, and 163,748 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. More than half of the district’s voters and roughly two-thirds of the Democrats live in Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs.

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Monica Vernon running for Congress again in IA-01

Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon announced this morning that she will run for Congress again in Iowa’s first district. I enclosed her campaign’s press release after the jump. Her official website is here, and Vernon for Congress is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Vernon finished second to Pat Murphy in the 2014 five-way Democratic primary to represent IA-01. She then became the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, while Murphy narrowly lost the general election to Republican Rod Blum.  

IA-01 is a top target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for 2016. Among Iowa’s four districts, it is the most Democratic-leaning with a partisan voting index of D+5. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the 20 counties in IA-01 contain 158,190 active registered Democrats, 135,957 Republicans, and 192,679 no-party voters. Turnout is typically about 30 percent larger in a presidential year than in a midterm and includes more voters from demographic groups expected to favor Democratic candidates.

I expect a competitive primary in IA-01 again, as Blum is considered vulnerable. Although Joni Ernst already broke Iowa’s political glass ceiling, many Democrats will want to elect their own woman to Congress, which could work in Vernon’s favor.

Among the other Democrats who ran in this district last year, only former State Senator Swati Dandekar is rumored to be seriously considering another Congressional bid. Both she and Vernon have a base in Linn County, which could create an opening for a candidate with strong appeal in either the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area or Dubuque.

During last year’s primary, some activists criticized Vernon for having been a registered Republican until 2009. Her work as Jack Hatch’s running mate should put to rest any questions about her commitment to the Democratic Party. It’s unfortunate that Governor Terry Branstad’s campaign didn’t agree to let Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds debate Vernon, though.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Scroll down for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s comment on Vernon’s announcement.

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Twitter was used in "cutting edge" scheme to evade campaign finance laws

The Federal Election Commission rarely enforces laws against coordination between political campaigns and groups making independent expenditures for and against candidates. Meanwhile, outside spending is exploding to the point that in some races, independent expenditures dwarf money spent by the candidates.

As a result, each election cycle brings more actions that raise suspicions of campaigns and outside groups coordinating their work. In Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, Joni Ernst’s campaign magically knew exactly when to launch a very small ad buy to maximal effect–on the same day an outside group released a months-old unflattering video of Bruce Braley. Later on, a super PAC came into existence solely to run a $1 million television commercial targeting Braley, and that super PAC just happened to be headquartered in the same office as a senior consultant for Ernst’s campaign.

CNN’s Chris Moody reported today on a newly uncovered, brazen scheme to share information between campaigns and political advocacy groups. Click through to read his whole piece about Twitter accounts that communicated polling data from competitive U.S. House races.

At least two outside groups and a Republican campaign committee had access to the information posted to the accounts, according to the source. They include American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove; American Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy group, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is the campaign arm for the House GOP. […]

The accounts that CNN reviewed were active in the months ahead of this month’s election, which gave Republicans their largest majority in the House since World War II and control of the Senate. They were live until Nov. 3 but deleted minutes after CNN contacted the NRCC with questions. […]

The tweets captured by screenshots stretched back to July, but the groups have communicated in this manner for four years, the source said. Staffers for each group deleted individual tweets every few months, so only the past few months of data were available when CNN first viewed the Twitter accounts.

Deleting online content minutes after a journalist starts asking questions sends a strong signal that these operatives knew they were doing something shady. Moreover, Philip Bump noticed that the American Action Network was one of the biggest outside spenders in the Congressional race in Florida’s 26th district. That race was the apparent focus of at least one now-deleted tweet containing polling data, which showed a very close race in FL-26.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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IA-03 catch-up thread, with tv ads about education and terrorism

Although all four of Iowa’s Congressional districts are targeted in theory, only the third district is seeing large-scale independent expenditures as well as broadcast advertising by the candidates.

Today Democratic nominee Staci Appel’s campaign launched a new positive ad, focusing on her support for public education at all levels. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a new spot bashing Republican nominee David Young over his call to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee is out with a new ad today about the same “passports for terrorists” canard they featured in their last Iowa effort. Clearly they think this is their strongest card against Appel, and they won’t stop no matter how many news media report her real position on the issue.

Videos and transcripts of all the latest ads are after the jump.

I haven’t seen any new commercials from Young’s campaign lately. Justin Sink reported for The Hill that Young cancelled $107,000 in “reserved television ad time in the Omaha market through election day, according to a source tracking ad buys.” Roughly 20 percent of the voters in IA-03 live in the Omaha viewing area, most of them in Pottawattamie County (Council Bluffs). Residents of Mills, Montgomery, Fremont, Page, and Cass counties also receive Omaha television stations, as do some Iowans living in Adams, Adair, and Taylor counties. Click here for voter registration numbers in all of the 16 IA-03 counties.

The NRCC has pledged to spend $1.5 million on this race between Labor Day and November 4, but to my knowledge, they have only been running their anti-Appel ads in the Des Moines market, not in Omaha. The Appel campaign maintains they are already on broadcast networks in Omaha and will be on cable there shortly, for the duration of the campaign.

Last week the DCCC released partial results from an internal poll showing Appel slightly ahead of Young by 47 percent to 44 percent. I expect this race to remain close all the way up to election day. While Republicans have a slight advantage in voter registrations, Democrats lead so far in absentee ballots requested by voters in the district.

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IA-03: Appel hits back on latest attack ad

Over the weekend, Staci Appel’s Congressional campaign released a new television commercial responding to Republican claims that she is weak on fighting terrorists. I’ve enclosed the video and transcript after the jump. From a statement accompanying the ad release:

“Our campaign is not going to stand by and let David Young’s Washington cronies play politics with national security in a desperate attempt to save his sagging campaign,” said Appel Campaign Manager Ben Miller. “David Young should join former Congressman Boswell, veterans across the 3rd district and others in renouncing this ridiculous and over-the-top idea that an Iowa mother of six thinks terrorists should have passports.”

Obviously, David Young will do no such thing. He must be grateful that while his campaign suspends its own advertising (presumably for lack of funds), the National Republican Congressional Committee has picked up the slack. Their charge has occupied the media space for nearly a week, putting Appel on the defensive. Every spot she runs responding to the NRCC’s charge represents air time she can’t spend promoting her own positive message.

Research on the media’s role in “agenda-setting” and “priming” suggests that when there is extensive news coverage on a particular topic, the public may be more likely to evaluate candidates in that context. As far as I’m concerned, the sooner Appel can get back to talking about bread and butter economic issues, the better. I understand the need to respond to a false charge, but she needs voters to make up their minds based on domestic policy issues that play to Young’s weaknesses.

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IA-03: Republicans try oldest trick in the book against Staci Appel

UPDATE: Appel’s response ad is here.

For decades, Republicans have tried to win elections by painting Democrats–especially Democratic women–as soft on crime or weak on national defense. So no one should be surprised by the smear at the heart of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s latest attack on Staci Appel in Iowa’s third district. Taking out of context comments Appel made during her first debate with David Young, the NRCC is claiming Appel supports “passports for terrorists.”

Background and details are after the jump, along with the latest ads from both sides. Politico’s “Morning Score” reported on September 18 that David Young’s campaign has “gone dark”–not airing any television commercials–for the time being. It’s not clear whether the Young campaign is running short of funds or simply taking a break while the NRCC does the heavy lifting. Typically candidates will run positive ads while outside groups run attacks. The NRCC already has a positive spot running about Young as well as the misleading ad they’ve launched against Appel.

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Catching up on the IA-01 race, with ads from Pat Murphy and Rod Blum

Since the June primary, I haven’t written much about the first Congressional district campaign between former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy and longtime business owner Rod Blum. In theory, the race could be competitive. IA-01 leans Democratic with a partisan voting index of D+5, meaning that in the last two presidential elections, voters living here skewed about 5 percent more Democratic than the nationwide electorate. Crucially, this is a midterm, not a presidential year. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that the 20 counties in IA-01 contain 156,344 active registered Democrats, 134,313 Republicans, and 186,446 no-party voters. Hardly an overwhelming advantage. The right Republican could win this district.

Nevertheless, I doubt Blum has a strong chance in IA-01 for three reasons. First, the hero to the “Liberty” crowd and Steve Forbes is not moderate enough to win a lot of crossover voters. Blum applauded a key vote that led to last year’s federal government shutdown. The Republican won’t be able to run up the score in his home county either, because both Murphy and Blum are from Dubuque.

Second, Bruce Braley’s Senate hopes are dead in the water if he doesn’t get a strong Democratic turnout in the Congressional district where he is best known to voters. So his campaign and the Iowa Democratic Party have incentive to focus on GOTV in the key IA-01 counties. Unless the “coordinated campaign” is an epic failure, Murphy should benefit.

Third, as in Iowa’s second Congressional district, we haven’t seen a lot of activity from outside groups in IA-01. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is committed to defending this seat, but to my knowledge has not spent any money on radio or television commercials here. Likewise, the National Republican Congressional Committee put Blum in its top tier of challengers but hasn’t reserved air time or spent significant money against Murphy. I believe they would do so if they smelled a real opportunity here.

We haven’t seen much polling on this race. In August, Murphy released partial results from an internal poll indicating that he was ahead by 51 percent to 40 percent. Blum countered with his own internal showing Murphy leading by just 40 percent to 35 percent. Take those with a grain of salt, as with all internals.

Loras College surveyed 300 voters in IA-01 earlier this month and found Murphy barely ahead, by 34.6 percent to 33.0 percent, with 32.3 percent either undecided or refusing to answer. Both candidates have been campaigning around the district, but neither Murphy nor Blum started running general election television commercials until this month, which could explain the high number of undecideds. On the other hand, Loras doesn’t have a long track record in polling, and that survey had a relatively small sample and a relatively large margin of error (plus or minus 5.6 percent). The cross-tabs included some unusual findings, such as Murphy barely ahead among women and Blum barely ahead among men. If true, that would be a big red flag for Murphy, who defeated three women candidates in the Democratic primary. While Republican blogger Craig Robinson draws big hope from this aspect of the Loras poll, I am skeptical that the gender gap we’ve seen in so many elections for decades is magically absent from this race. The margin of error for a subsample of a poll is always larger than the margin of error for the whole survey.

After the jump I’ve posted the first two general election ads for Murphy and the debut general election ad for Blum, as well as the spot Blum ran before the GOP primary. They all look solid to me. Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread.  

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IA-03: Latham and Grassley endorse David Young in NRCC's latest ad

Here’s something you don’t see every day: an independent expenditure for a positive commercial. Yesterday the National Republican Congressional Committee started running a tv ad in Iowa’s third district featuring retiring Representative Tom Latham and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley endorsing David Young.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a commercial from the NRCC or its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, that didn’t attempt to tear down the other candidate. Unfortunately for Democrats, this spot is probably way more effective than the NRCC’s previous effort to undermine Staci Appel. Latham won the newly configured IA-03 by a comfortable margin in 2012, carrying every county but Polk, and losing Polk by a much smaller margin than Mitt Romney did. Grassley has carried all of the sixteen counties in IA-03 in every U.S. Senate election that I can remember.

After the jump I’ve posted the video and annotated transcript of the new commercial. Any comments about the IA-03 race are welcome in this thread.

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IA-03: NRCC tv ad attacks Staci Appel on spending votes (updated)

Yesterday the National Republican Congressional Committee launched its first television commercial in Iowa this year. After the jump I’ve posted the video and transcript of the 30-second spot attacking Democratic candidate Staci Appel over spending votes she cast in the Iowa Senate. Bleeding Heartland provided background here on one of the points, which was a staple of Iowa Republican campaign rhetoric in 2010. Short version: money was never spent on those “decorative flowerpots,” because Governor Chet Culver line-item vetoed the allocation. But in any case, they were not intended purely for decoration around the State Capitol grounds. Rather, they were similar to heavy planters commonly seen around federal government buildings, as much a security measure as a decorative one.

I’ve also enclosed below background on the historic musical instrument for which Appel and other state lawmakers allocated restoration funds. UPDATE: It turns out that GOP candidate David Young’s boss, Senator Chuck Grassley, went to bat for federal funding to restore the same organ. Scroll down for details.

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IA-01, IA-02: NRCC makes Blum, Miller-Meeks "contenders"

The National Republican Congressional Committee has elevated the GOP nominees in Iowa’s first and second Congressional districts to the second level of their “Young Guns” program supporting challengers. Rod Blum will face former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy in the open IA-01. Mariannette Miller-Meeks will face four-term Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack for the third time in IA-02. As official NRCC “contenders,” Blum and Miller-Meeks now have a chance to move up to the top level (“young guns”) if they meet certain targets for fundraising and campaign organization.

Only some of the “young guns” will receive major financial assistance from the NRCC. So far, the group has reserved tv time for independent expenditures in seventeen Democratic-held U.S. House districts, none in Iowa. During the last election cycle, the NRCC paid for a small amount of advertising against Loebsack and against Representative Bruce Braley in IA-01 but never made a big commitment to either race.

IA-03: First-quarter fundraising news roundup (updated)

Yesterday was the deadline for Congressional candidates to file quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission. Because so many candidates are running for Congress this year in Iowa, I’m breaking up these posts by district rather than doing a statewide roundup.

After the jump I’ve enclosed highlights from the first-quarter fundraising and spending reports of Democratic candidate Staci Appel and the six Republicans seeking the GOP nomination in the third district. Spoiler alert: one of the GOP candidates is still carrying debt from a previous campaign.

I also added details below on what retiring ten-term Representative Tom Latham is doing with his substantial war chest.

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IA-03: NRCC adds Latham to incumbent protection program

Emily Cahn reported for Roll Call last night that the National Republican Congressional Committee will add ten-term Representative Tom Latham to its “Patriot” program for vulnerable incumbents today. Latham is among nine new “Patriots,” bringing to 20 the number of House GOP members the NRCC will focus on protecting during next year’s campaign. In 2012, the NRCC spent money defending both Latham in IA-03 against Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell and Representative Steve King in IA-04 against challenger Christie Vilsack.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has indicated that Latham will be one of its targets next year. It has already paid for some robocalls, online ads and a paid twitter campaign in IA-03 since last December. Democrats need a net gain of at least 17 seats to win back control of the U.S. House in 2014. Most analysts consider that an uphill battle.

Latham has a big financial advantage over his two declared challengers, former State Senator Staci Appel and Gabriel De La Cerda. Many Democrats believe Appel can raise enough money to run a competitive race against Latham. She has already hired consultants to help craft a campaign message. De La Cerda described his “work boots clocking in” approach on the Fallon Forum webcast last week.

IA-01, IA-02 on long list of NRCC targets

The National Republican Congressional Committee released a memo today outlining a strategy to “stay on offense” during the 2014 electoral cycle. No Iowa district is among the top seven NRCC targets, but the districts currently represented by Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) are on the long list of 45 seats Republicans see a chance to pick up.

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IA-03: Least inspiring campaign ever?

I planned to write several posts this fall about the third Congressional district race between Representatives Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell. Instead, every time I sat down to write about the campaign, I found myself turning to other topics. Central Iowa radio and television stations have been so over-saturated with cookie-cutter attack ads against both candidates. If a political junkie like me finds it off-putting, I can’t imagine how disengaged other people feel when they hear the beginning of yet another negative commercial.

Neither Latham nor Boswell has offered a compelling case for re-election, but after the jump I review the main messages from both campaigns and from various outside groups that have been advertising in Des Moines and Omaha.

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New thread on Congressional races

This thread is for any comments about Congressional races you are following, whether in Iowa or in other states. Steve King and Christie Vilsack held their seventh (!) debate tonight, but I was unable to listen, because Windsor Heights holds trick-or-treating the night before Halloween.

Democrats are starting to talk about a net gain of U.S. Senate seats, but I am not that optimistic. While some races are trending toward the Democratic candidates, others where Democrats led last month are tightening (Virginia, Wisconsin).

To me, the most amazing development in a Congressional race is President Bill Clinton campaigning for Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and recording a television commercial for her. Bleeding Heartland readers who are old enough to remember 1990s politics, could you ever have believed that Bill Clinton would be considered an asset to a Democratic candidate in North Dakota a week before the election?  

U.S. House and Senate race discussion thread

It’s time for another discussion thread on any competitive U.S. House and Senate races. More detailed posts about the four Iowa Congressional districts are in progress, but after the jump I’ve posted the latest information on independent expenditures for and against the major-party candidates. Bleeding Heartland covered the third-quarter financial reports for the Iowa Congressional candidates here. Early voting totals for each of the four Congressional districts are here.

I’ve also added a few links on U.S. Senate races around the country. I’m amazed that Democrats still appear to be favorites to hold a small Senate majority. For me that has been one of the most surprising political stories of the year. Republicans could still win a majority, but they would have to run the table in the tossup races.

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Iowa Congressional 3Q fundraising news roundup

The latest Federal Election Commission disclosure reports are out, covering money raised and spent by Congressional candidates between July 1 and September 30. Details from Iowa’s four races are after the jump, along with information on groups that have made independent expenditures in each of the districts. The latest voter registration totals in the Congressional districts are here, and I’m updating absentee ballot totals for each district on weekdays here.

Any comments about these campaigns are welcome in this thread. I’d be particularly grateful if some Bleeding Heartland reader could explain what Tom Latham has been saving his money for, and why the PAC of the Credit Union National Association is supporting both Latham in IA-03 and Christie Vilsack in IA-04.

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IA-02: Big issues, cheap shots

Medicare and alleged “job-killing” policies are the focus of the latest television commercials from Representative Dave Loebsack and his GOP challenger John Archer. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee is taking cheap shots over a committee hearing Loebsack attended three and a half years ago.

Videos and transcripts of the latest television commercials in Iowa’s second Congressional district are after the jump. Bleeding Heartland covered previous ads from this race here, here, and here.

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IA-02: Archer running first general-election tv ad

Republican candidate John Archer is running his first television commercial since the primary in Iowa’s second Congressional district. It’s mostly a positive spot introducing the candidate and doesn’t mention incumbent Representative Dave Loebsack by name. (The National Republican Congressional Committee went up on tv earlier this month with an attack ad on Loebsack.) The video and annotated transcript of Archer’s commercial are after the jump.

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IA-01: Dueling tv ads for NRCC, Braley, Lange (updated)

The air war in Iowa’s first Congressional district is fully engaged, with four new television commercials in the last week alone. Three-term Democratic incumbent Bruce Braley started running a spot about veterans last week and went up on the air yesterday with a response to a new ad about Medicare, paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Last week Republican challenger Ben Lange launched his second tv spot, which depicts the national debt as unfair to the next generation.

More details on the new commercials, including videos and transcripts, are after the jump. Bleeding Heartland covered Braley’s opening tv spot here and Lange’s here.  

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IA-01: Braley on the air with positive tv ad

Three-term Democratic Representative Bruce Braley launched his first television commercial of the 2012 campaign today. After the jump I’ve posted the video and transcript of the 30-second ad, along with reaction from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Last month the NRCC elevated Braley’s repeat challenger Ben Lange to the top tier of its “young guns” program.

Democrats have a voter registration advantage in Iowa new first Congressional district, but no-party voters have a plurality.  

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IA-01, IA-02: NRCC bumps up Lange and Archer

The National Republican Congressional Committee just announced the third set of GOP challengers to achieve “young guns” status, “the top tier of the Committee’s four-level ‘Young Guns’ recruitment program.” Two of the seven candidates to make the cut are Ben Lange, who is running against three-term Democrat Bruce Braley in Iowa’s first Congressional district, and John Archer, who is running against three-term Democrat Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district. The NRCC elevated Lange and Archer to “contender” status in May, along with Archer’s primary opponent Dan Dolan.

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Iowa Congressional 3Q fundraising news roundup

October 15 was the deadline for Congressional candidates to file reports on their third-quarter fundraising with the Federal Election Commission. Follow me after the jump for highlights from the filings for incumbents and challengers in Iowa’s four new Congressional districts.

I’m covering the districts in reverse order today, because based on second-quarter filings, political junkies are most closely watching the money race in IA-04 and IA-03.

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NRCC looks unlikely to get involved in Iowa races

The National Republican Congressional Committee has put all three Iowa GOP Congressional challengers “on the radar,” the bottom rung of the three-tier Young Guns program. Challengers who appear better positioned to win may be bumped up later this year to “contender” or “young gun” status. Only the “young guns” are likely to get significant financial help from the NRCC.

If I were running Brad Zaun’s campaign, I’d start implementing “plan B,” assuming he’s on his own in his race against Representative Leonard Boswell. Iowa’s third district is rated “lean Democratic” by most analysts of the House races, while Iowa’s first and second districts are in the “safe Democratic” column. This spring the NRCC gave Zaun’s primary opponent Jim Gibbons “contender” status. Although the Iowa primary results were in a sense humiliating for the NRCC, I would have expected House Republican leaders to signal in some way that IA-03 (with a partisan voting index of D+1) is a more competitive district than IA-01 (D+5) or IA-02 (D+7). Instead, they give Zaun the same status as Bruce Braley’s challenger Ben Lange and Dave Loebsack’s repeat rival Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Looking solely at fundraising numbers, which seems to be the NRCC’s main benchmark for candidates, Zaun belongs at the same level as Lange and Miller-Meeks. All three Republicans finished the second quarter with a little more than $100,000 cash on hand, and all face incumbents with much more money in the bank. Iowa politics-watchers generally consider Boswell more vulnerable than Loebsack or Braley, and on paper Zaun is a good candidate. He is an experienced campaigner and has a base in the population center of the district. However, it’s far from clear Zaun will have the resources he needs to be successful. Boswell’s campaign is about to hold its biggest fundraiser yet, featuring President Bill Clinton.

The tough reality for Zaun (and Lange and Miller-Meeks) is that the NRCC doesn’t have a bottomless pit of money to spend on every potentially competitive race. The latest FEC reports from party committees show the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with $33.8 million cash on hand compared to just $17 million for the NRCC. That’s not even enough to make a serious play in the 40 districts where Republican challengers already have full “young gun” status. Even worse for Iowa’s Republicans, the 14 candidates who got “contender” status this week are also ahead of Zaun, Lange and Miller-Meeks in line for help from the NRCC.

I doubt the NRCC will play much of a role in Iowa until 2012, when at least one of our four newly-drawn Congressional districts may be highly competitive.

Share any thoughts about Iowa’s U.S. House races in this thread.

UPDATE: Get a load of the ridiculous spin from Zaun: “The NRCC has identified our race as a top 30 race in the country.” Sorry, no: there are 40 candidates in the top tier, where the best pickup opportunities lie. Then come the “contenders” (second tier), and finally Zaun and the rest of the “on the radar” bunch.

THURDSAY UPDATE: Reid Wilson of Hotline on Call reports that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is buying tv air time in 17 districts held by Democratic incumbents, including IA-03.

One day left for second-quarter donations

A friendly reminder to Iowa Democrats: candidates for federal offices face an important fundraising deadline tomorrow. If you are able, please consider donating to one of our Congressional candidates before midnight on June 30:

Roxanne Conlin for U.S. Senate

Bruce Braley for Congress (IA-01)

Dave Loebsack for Congress (IA-02)

Leonard Boswell for Congress (IA-03)

Bill Maske for Congress (IA-04)

Matt Campbell for Congress (IA-05)

This quarter I have donated to Conlin, Maske, Campbell and Boswell. I made my contribution to Boswell’s re-election campaign before he advocated for big telecom companies over the public interest on net neutrality. I probably won’t give him any more money, but he’s still a lot better than his Republican opponent, the not very well-informed Brad Zaun. The next FEC reports from Boswell and Zaun will be particularly important: a huge advantage for Boswell lengthens the odds of the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee spending heavily for Zaun this fall. The NRCC simply does not have enough money to make a difference in every competitive U.S. House race.

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NRCC credibility on the line in Iowa's second and third districts

Washington Republicans have been talking up their chances of retaking the House of Representatives for months, and the National Republican Congressional Committee claims many recruiting successes in competitive House districts. However, Republican primary voters haven’t always sided with candidates favored by the Washington power-brokers. Last month a tea party candidate defeated “top national GOP recruit” Vaughn Ward in Idaho’s first district. In Kentucky’s third district, the NRCC’s candidate finished third with 17 percent in the primary; the winner had over 50 percent. In Pennsylvania’s fourth district, the NRCC-backed candidate was out-raised and eventually beaten 2-1 in the Republican primary. In Alabama’s fifth district, the NRCC backed party-switching Representative Parker Griffith, who proceeded to get crushed in his new party’s primary.

In Iowa, the NRCC has tipped its hat to two Republicans in competitive primaries. In the third district, Jim Gibbons was named an “on the radar” candidate in February and bumped up to “contender” status in April. In the second district, the NRCC put Gettemy “on the radar” about six weeks after he declared his candidacy.

Both Gibbons and Gettemy are newcomers to campaigning, and both are facing at least one more experienced politician in their primaries. Gibbons’ main rival, State Senator Brad Zaun, has won several elections in Urbandale and Iowa Senate district 32. All three of Gettemy’s opponents have run for office before, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Christopher Reed both won Republican primaries in 2008.

If Gibbons and Gettemy fail to top the voting in their respective primaries, the NRCC’s ability to identify candidates with strong potential will again be called into question. The “young gun,” “contender” and “on the radar” lists are important signals to NRCC donors about where their money could be most helpful. People who wrote checks to Gibbons or Gettemy without knowing anything about the local landscape may be upset if their money went to a losing candidate.

Iowa Republicans who recruited Gibbons and Gettemy and talked them up to GOP leaders in Washington also have something to lose if today’s primaries don’t go their way. Key members of the Iowa Republican business elite have supported Gibbons, and Gettemy had the backing of prominent Cedar Rapids area Republicans. Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler, who heads the Iowa Christian Alliance, is also said to be close to Gettemy, though Scheffler has made no formal endorsement in this year’s primaries.

Both the IA-03 and IA-02 primary battles may end up being settled at GOP district conventions, so Gibbons and Gettemy could conceivably win the nominations if they don’t finish in first place today, as long as no other Republican receives at least 35 percent of the vote. However, they may have an uphill battle persuading district convention delegates.

WEDNESDAY AM UPDATE: Add IA-02 and IA-03 to the list of districts where the NRCC sure doesn’t know how to pick ’em.

Zaun won 42 percent of the vote in the seven-way IA-03 primary, while Gibbons managed just 28 percent. Tea Party favorite Dave Funk didn’t raise enough money for a significant paid media campaign, but he finished not far behind Gibbons with 22 percent. Gibbons did carry several of the smaller counties in IA-03, but Zaun dominated Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs. Zaun’s ground game defeated Gibbons’ superior “air power.”

Miller-Meeks won the IA-02 primary in dominating fashion with 51 percent of the vote. She led in all of the district’s 11 counties. Gettemy finished dead last with 13 percent of the vote. Even in his home county (Linn), he came in third. Gettemy won fewer votes across the district than Christopher Reed, who raised very little money and is best known for for calling Senator Harkin “the Tokyo Rose of Al-Qaeda and Middle East terrorism” during the 2008 campaign. All of Gettemy’s tv ads and connections to Cedar Rapids movers and shakers delivered fewer votes than Reed managed with his band of way-out-there wingnut endorsers.  

Boswell's opponents are not ready for prime time

Iowa Republicans are deluding themselves if they think Representative Leonard Boswell is highly vulnerable this year. The more I see of the Republican primary campaigns, the less worried I am about holding Iowa’s third Congressional district in the Democratic column.

Four of the seven Republicans running against Boswell have no chance of winning the nomination. Jason Welch hasn’t attended any candidate forums, and I wonder why he went to the trouble of qualifying for the ballot. Pat Bertroche and Scott Batcher are ill-informed sideshows who will be lucky to win 5 percent of the vote. Mark Rees seems to have the firmest grasp of the issues, but there aren’t enough moderate Republicans anymore for someone like Rees to win a primary. Rees could affect the election, because a strong showing for him (10 to 20 percent of the vote) would increase the chance that no candidate receives at least 35 percent in the primary. But whether Republicans pick a winner on June 8 or at a district convention later, Rees will not be Boswell’s general election opponent.

That leaves the Washington establishment candidate Jim Gibbons, State Senator Brad Zaun and tea party favorite Dave Funk. After watching yesterday’s forum featuring six of Boswell’s opponents, Graham Gillette argued that Funk, Gibbons and Zaun “are all capable of putting together a strong general election effort.” After the jump I explain why I disagree.

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NRCC casts its vote for Gettemy in IA-02, Gibbons in IA-03

The National Republican Campaign Committee added Rob Gettemy to its list of “on the radar” candidates today. Gettemy is one of four Republicans running against Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district.

“The NRCC is committed to working with Rob Gettemy as he continues to meet the rigorous goals of the Young Guns program,” said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. “Rob is an accomplished, independent leader who will fight to create jobs and rein in government spending. I am confident that Republicans will wage a strong fight against Dave Loebsack, a loyal Democrat who has repeatedly put his partisan agenda before a healthy economy.”

They’ll have to do more than that to convince me that this D+7 district will be competitive in the fall. The real reason for putting Gettemy “on the radar” is to signal to Republican donors that he’s the guy to support in this race. It’s a slap in the face to 2008 nominee Mariannette Miller-Meeks, not to mention the other two Republicans running in IA-02 (Steve Rathje and Chris Reed). Gettemy joined the race last but has the most cash on hand thanks to a $100,000 loan he made to his own campaign.

If no candidate wins 35 percent in the June 8 primary, NRCC support could help Gettemy at the district convention that would decide the Republican nominee. Gettemy already has backing from many prominent Linn County Republicans.

In the NRCC’s three-tiered system for candidates in supposedly competitive races, the next step up from “on the radar” is “contender.” Jim Gibbons’ campaign announced today that the NRCC has elevated him to that level. Gibbons became an “on the radar” candidate in February. If Gibbons can meet certain benchmarks, the NRCC may later elevate him to the top “Young Gun” level, for candidates deemed to have the best chances of winning Democratic-held House seats.

Getting a pat on the back from the NRCC will help Gibbons raise money, particularly from out-of-district donors who don’t know the political terrain in Iowa’s third district. Gibbons outraised the other Republican candidates in IA-03 by a substantial margin in the first quarter, and being a “contender” will probably help him extend that financial advantage in the second quarter. The Gibbons campaign press release is not subtle:

By achieving ‘Contender’ status, Gibbons has already proven his ability to build a successful campaign structure and achieve vital fundraising goals.

Gibbons added, “This recognition shows that our campaign is ready to take down Leonard Boswell in the fall.  I am the only candidate in this race that has shown the financial heft and organization structure to compete and win in November.  I am running for Congress to bring Iowa values back to Congress,” said Jim Gibbons.

I have to laugh to see Gibbons bragging about support from Washington party leaders a week after he tried to attack incumbent Leonard Boswell for getting help from the head of the DCCC.

Many people on the ground in IA-03 expect State Senator Brad Zaun to win the Republican nomination. Zaun appears to have an early advantage in name recognition as well as a base in vote-rich Urbandale. On the other hand, Zaun has raised only a little more than $80,000 for his Congressional campaign, about $50,000 of that in the first quarter. It may not be enough for strong district-wide advertising and direct mail before the June 8 primary. A majority of Republican voters haven’t yet decided on a candidate, according to a recent poll commissioned by Zaun’s campaign.

If no candidate wins 35 percent in the primary, Zaun could be well-positioned to win the nomination at a district convention, having much more background in Republican politics. But Gibbons could point to the NRCC’s backing as an argument in his favor. Party leaders in Washington are less likely to commit resources to this district if Zaun is the candidate.

A final word on Zaun’s meager fundraising. His defenders claim that his fundraising has lagged because he was tied up in the state legislature from January through March. I’m not buying it. Zaun announced his candidacy against Boswell in early December, more than a month before the 2010 legislative session began. If Rod Roberts could raise more than $50,000 in the kickoff event for his gubernatorial campaign, Zaun should have been able to raise much more at his kickoff event in late December (before the legislative session began). Zaun is a former mayor of Urbandale, a community with much more wealth and more Republicans than the Carroll area Roberts has represented in the Iowa House. Zaun should have a large pool of major donors to tap.

Share any thoughts about Congressional races in Iowa in this thread.

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Iowa Republicans in Congress co-hosting Gibbons event (corrected)

Jim Gibbons has emerged as the Republican insiders’ choice against seven-term incumbent Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s third district. Nine members of Congress are hosting a fundraiser for Gibbons in Washington on February 24, the Gibbons campaign announced today. The hosts are Senator Chuck Grassley, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (VA-07), and Representatives Jason Chaffetz (UT-03), Dean Heller (NV-02), Jim Jordan (OH-04), Steve King (IA-05), Tom Latham (IA-04), Kevin McCarthy (CA-22), and Peter Roskam (IA-06).

I cannot recall whether Grassley or Latham endorsed a candidate in the four-way GOP primary to represent IA-05 in 2002, which King won at a district convention. I also don’t remember Grassley, Latham or King getting involved in the three-way GOP primary in IA-01 in 2006, or the three-way primary in IA-02 in 2008. If any Bleeding Heartland reader remembers endorsements by members of Congress in those races, please post a comment here or e-mail me at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

CORRECTION: Not all of the co-hosts at this event are endorsing Gibbons in the Republican primary. Bleeding Heartland user mirage notes in the comments that Iowa Republicans in Congress also co-hosted an event for Dave Funk in Washington. Grassley’s spokeswoman e-mailed the following comment to me today: “Senator Grassley has not endorsed anybody in the 3rd District race. It is correct that Senator Grassley was also listed as a co-host of an event for Dave Funk.  If the other Republican candidates asked, he would do the same thing for them.”

Gibbons was recruited by key Iowa Republican donors, and has since been anointed by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

State Senator Brad Zaun, probably the strongest rival to Gibbons in the five-way Republican primary, has the backing of several Republican state legislators, including Iowa Senate Minority leader Paul McKinley. An internal poll for Zaun showed he begins the campaign with more name recognition and support in the district. However, Gibbons raised far more money in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Tea Party favorite Dave Funk recently attacked Gibbons for supposedly saying in an interview, “It[‘]s fine for me where the Constitution says that the federal government should be in charge of education.” Today Gibbons advocate Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican blog declared Funk’s attack “sloppy and untrue.” After listening to a recording of the interview, Robinson concludes that Gibbons actually said, “Find for me where in the Constitution does it say that the federal government is in charge of education.”

Robinson transcribed part of the interview in question and posted it here. Gibbons doesn’t come across as someone who knows what he’s talking about. But that’s not surprising, given his ignorance about Congressional procedures and idiotic federal income tax holiday proposal.

What does surprise me is that according to Robinson, no one at the Gibbons campaign “set the record straight” after Funk issued his press release. Maybe it’s a strategy for Gibbons to not acknowledge his primary opponents, but I think his press shop needs to stay on top of what the other candidates are saying about him.

UPDATE: In this comment thread Funk stands by his press release about what Gibbons said, and several commenters write that they heard Gibbons’ remarks as Funk did.

LATE UPDATE: Latham assured moderate Republican Mark Rees that he will not be endorsing a candidate before the primary.

NRCC unofficially endorses Gibbons in third district primary

Yesterday the National Republican Congressional Committee gave another sign that Jim Gibbons is their man in the five-way primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district. Gibbons is among a dozen or so Republicans who have been added to the NRCC’s list of “on the radar” candidates.

The Young Guns program is designed to assist Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives achieve goals and benchmarks throughout the election cycle focused on the fundamentals of a winning campaign. By achieving ‘On the Radar’ status, Gibbons has already proven his ability to build a successful campaign structure and achieve important fundraising goals.

“The NRCC is committed to working with Jim Gibbons as he continues to meet the rigorous goals of the Young Guns program,” said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. “Jim is an accomplished, independent leader who has already built significant momentum behind his campaign. I am confident that Republicans will be successful in our effort to defeat Leonard Boswell, who is an out-of-touch politician solely focused on his party’s big-government, big-spending agenda rather than job creation.”

“On the radar” is the third tier for NRCC-backed challengers in Democratic-held districts. Republican candidates with somewhat better prospects are on the NRCC’s list of “contenders.” Republicans with the best pickup opportunities are called “young guns.” (The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a similar three-tier structure, from the top-ranked “red to blue” districts to “emerging” candidates and “races to watch.”)

Washington Republicans have indicated before that Jim Gibbons is their choice in the IA-03 primary, but yesterday was the closest thing to an official endorsement we’ve seen from the national party insiders.

For some reason, there’s no asterisk denoting an “official” NRCC endorsement on this list of candidates in the Young Guns program. But that doesn’t matter much. By singling out Gibbons as an “on the radar” candidate, the NRCC is telling major donors and out-of-state political action committees where they should put their money. That is bound to increase Gibbons’ money advantage over his rivals in the primary.

I still don’t fully understand why Republicans are so much more interested in a former wrestling coach and financial advisor than in State Senator Brad Zaun, a former mayor of a major Republican vote-producing region of Polk County. Perhaps they think Gibbons can bring over Democratic-leaning Cyclone fans. If some well-connected Republican cares to enlighten me, please post a comment in this thread or send a confidential e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

THURSDAY UPDATE: More establishment support emerges for Gibbons, as former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will headline a fundraiser to be hosted by former Representative Greg Ganske, who represented the fourth district (including Polk County) from 1995-2003. Hastert’s influence wasn’t enough to carry his son Ethan through in the recent GOP primary for Illinois’ 14th district (Hastert’s old seat).  

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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GOP hopes to pressure Boswell to retire

John Deeth brought this piece by Hotline’s Reid Wilson to my attention.

An informal list of 17 members the NRCC believes can be convinced to step down, privately called the “Dem Retirement Assault List,” makes clear the party needs Dem incumbents to step aside if they have hopes of taking back the majority. The NRCC has taken pains to attack those lawmakers in recent weeks.

The list includes 14 members whose districts voted for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in ’08. […]

The NRCC has also begun targeting Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Leonard Boswell (D-IA), three members who already have credible opponents but who occupy seats Pres. Obama won in ’08.

2008 would have been a perfect time for Boswell to retire. Tons of voters in Iowa’s third Congressional district registered as Democrats in order to participate in the Iowa caucuses, and any number of candidates could have held this seat easily. Statewide, turnout in November 2008 was about the same as in 2004, but turnout in Polk County was significantly higher in 2008.

I don’t know anyone who expects Boswell to step down next year, but if he did, this might be a tough hold, since Democratic turnout tends to be lower in off-year elections. On the other hand, much would depend on the Democratic nominee. One possible candidate is former First Lady Christie Vilsack, who seemed to leave the door open for a future campaign when she ruled out running against Senator Chuck Grassley. Someone with high name recognition and no voting record to attack might even do better than Boswell against Brad Zaun or Jim Gibbons.  

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National Republicans unlikely to spend heavily against Boswell

Republicans are trying to recruit a strong challenger against Congressman Leonard Boswell, and by the end of the year State Senator Brad Zaun, former Iowa GOP head Mike Mahaffey, or perhaps some other prominent figure will throw his hat in the ring. However, I continue to believe that Iowa’s third Congressional district will not be a close contest next year, and I’ll explain why after the jump.  

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Boswell makes long list of Republican targets

Republicans and their allies have been keeping up the pressure on Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-03) this summer. The Republican National Committee ran radio ads trying to get Boswell to oppose health care reform, while MidAmerican ran newspaper, radio and television ads attacking Boswell after he voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (the climate change bill).

On Tuesday the National Republican Congressional Committee released a list of 70 Democratic-held U.S. House districts it says it will target next year. Huffington Post ran the full list along with this Republican description:

Those targeted satisfy at least one of these requirements: They won less than 55 percent of the vote last year or they represent a district carried in 2008 by John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee.

Boswell is on the list, even though Barack Obama easily won Iowa’s third district, and Boswell was re-elected with just over 56 percent of the vote last year. Although Boswell remains in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program for supposedly vulnerable incumbents, Iowa Republicans don’t seem to be focusing on candidate recruitment for this race. Maybe Krusty Konservative is right and Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn is thinking about running against Boswell. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if you’ve heard chatter about a potential Republican opponent.

Most analysts do not consider IA-03 competitive in 2010. (After redistricting it’s a different story.) CQ Politics recently released new House ratings and put IA-03 in the “Democratic favored” category, a notch above “Leans Democratic” but a notch below “Safe Democratic.”

Over at Swing State Project, James L. posted an extremely useful table showing all 70 districts on the NRCC’s target list, the incumbent’s name, the partisan voting index, the 2008 margin of victory, and whether Republicans have at least one legitimate candidate lined up. As you can see if you click over, lots of people on this list had very large winning margins last year–much larger than Boswell’s. They include quite a few Blue Dogs who represent red districts but haven’t faced a serious Republican challenge for a long time.

If most of these districts are lost causes for Republicans, why release such a large target list? I agree with James L.:

Many of these races probably won’t produce competitive contests, but there’s absolutely no downside for the NRCC to be putting these incumbents on notice — not only will the targets being painted on these members’ backs have the potential to affect legislative votes, it helps to promote the idea that the NRCC is preparing for a big wave in their favor in 2010.

If the NRCC can scare some safe Democratic incumbents into voting against Obama’s agenda, fearing a potentially strong Republican challenge, that’s the next best thing to winning the district from the GOP’s perspective.

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