Exclusive: Iowa Democrats recall first Congressional vote on Hyde amendment

Forty-three years ago this week, Congress overrode a presidential veto to enact an appropriations bill containing the first ban on federal funding for abortion. Republican U.S. Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois had proposed language prohibiting Medicaid coverage of abortion during House debate on what was then called the Health, Education, and Welfare budget. Ever since, the policy has been known as the “Hyde amendment.”

Four Iowans who served in Congress at the time spoke to Bleeding Heartland this summer about their decisions to oppose the Hyde amendment and the political context surrounding a vote that had long-lasting consequences.

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Weekend open thread: Neal Smith memories edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Polk County Democrats’ spring awards dinner on Friday night exceeded all expectations. Hordes of journalists showed up to cover speeches by former U.S. Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. I enjoyed both speeches and have posts in progress on their messages. C-SPAN put up video of both speeches here.

You had to be there to experience the evening’s other high points. Beautiful videos honored the memories of veterans who died overseas and three legendary local Democratic supporters who passed away during the past year (including Paulee Lipsman). Tireless Urbandale volunteer and letter-to-the-editor writer Rick Smith was recognized for his activism. Before Webb and O’Malley spoke, Iowa Democrats honored Representative Neal Smith, who represented Polk County in Congress from 1959 to 1985. Unfortunately, Smith couldn’t be present, having suffered a minor injury last week. He sent a letter to be read on his behalf, while former Senator Tom Harkin shared memories by videotape and Representative Leonard Boswell told the crowd a few of his favorite stories about Smith. After the jump I’ve listed six new things I learned on Friday about the longest-serving member of the U.S. House in Iowa history.

In 2012, Smith sat down with Polk County Democratic Party Chair Tom Henderson to reflect on his life and long political career. Those videos are well worth your time: part 1 and part 2.  

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Oh good, a top ten list to argue about

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.

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The perils of having no record to run on

Via the Stinging Nettle blog, I found this piece in Politics magazine by Marty Ryall, who managed Senator Elizabeth Dole’s unsuccessful campaign last year. Ryall’s main subject is the grotesque “Godless” ad that Dole ran against Kay Hagan in late October. He contends that contrary to widespread opinion, backlash against the ad did not cost Dole the election. Rather, the ad was “our Hail Mary pass” that ran only because they felt they had no other chance to win.

As you’d expect from an operative who worked on a failed campaign, Ryall goes out of his way to explain why Dole’s campaign was already in trouble before he came on in May 2008, and why she lost the election mostly for reasons out of his control. (For instance, Barack Obama targeted North Carolina and registered hundreds of thousands of new voters.) Ryall also claims that he and others intervened to make the final version of the “Godless” ad more fair to Hagan than the first cut. Whatever.

I was more interested in why Dole would have to resort to that kind of desperate attack. Ryall doesn’t explicitly address that point, but this passage in his piece suggests Dole simply had nothing else to say:

We knew we had three weaknesses. A report by Congress.org had ranked Dole 93rd out of 100 senators in effectiveness. She voted with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time. And during the two-year period when she was chairman of the NRSC, she only traveled to North Carolina a handful of times.

No doubt external conditions helped sink Dole. But if she had built up a solid record during her six years in the Senate, Dole would have had a better chance of withstanding the Democratic wave. At the very least she would have had a better final-week message for voters than, “Atheists held a fundraiser for my opponent.”

Democrats control the executive and legislative branches in Iowa and in Washington. Current economic trends suggest that they may face a challenging political environment in 2010. I hope they will draw the right lessons from Dole’s disgrace. Don’t blindly follow failed policies and do something substantial for your constituents.

Having a record to run on is no guarantee of victory if the prevailing winds are against you. My very effective 18-term Congressman Neal Smith (IA-04) lost in the 1994 landslide. But it helps to be able to remind voters of some big achievements. In the worst-case scenario you’ll lose with more dignity than Dole.

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