# Swati Dandekar

Srinivas, Bagniewski running for Iowa House seats in Des Moines

The Iowa House Democratic caucus is poised to have more turnover than usual after the 2022 election, as the new legislative map created open seats in some solid blue areas, and several sitting lawmakers have confirmed they won’t seek re-election.

In Des Moines, Megan Srinivas and Sean Bagniewski are the first Democrats to begin campaigning in two House districts where the winner of the June primary is virtually guaranteed to be elected next November.

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Liz Bennett, Breanna Oxley face off in open Iowa Senate primary (updated)

Catching up on some news from before the holiday weekend: a competitive Democratic primary is shaping up for an open Iowa Senate seat covering part of Cedar Rapids. Four-term State Representative Liz Bennett confirmed on June 30 that she will run for the district that State Senator Rob Hogg has represented since 2007. Hogg won’t seek re-election in 2022, he announced last month. Iowa has yet to adopt a new political map, but this district will cover some part of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Bennett is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Economic Growth Committee and a member of the Human Resources, Natural Resources, and Information Technology committees, as well as the Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations subcommittee. Having won four previous state legislative races, she will be the early favorite in the Iowa Senate primary.

Bennett is also the first out LGBTQ woman elected to the Iowa legislature and the only out LGBTQ person now serving at the statehouse. Only one out LGBTQ person has ever served in the Iowa Senate: Matt McCoy, who did not seek re-election in 2018.

Breanna Oxley, a public school teacher and education activist, was first to declare her candidacy for the Cedar Rapids Senate district on June 15. She told Bleeding Heartland last week she is staying in that race. Her endorsers include former U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack, former State Senator Swati Dandekar, and former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston.

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Barriers broken as Iowans elect more people of color to state House

Fourth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

More people of color than ever ran for the Iowa House in 2020. As a result, a more diverse group of state representatives will be sworn in next year.

Not only will the state House have a record number of members who are not white, people of color serving in the Iowa legislature will include some Republicans for the first time since the 1960s.

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More people of color running for Iowa legislature in 2020 (updated)

UPDATE: As of August, people of color who will appear on the general election ballot as candidates for the Iowa legislature include nine Democrats, seven Republicans, one Libertarian, and one independent. I’ve added details in the original post, which follows.

After a decade of little change in the racial breakdown of the Iowa House and Senate, more people of color are running for the state legislature this year.

Candidates appearing on today’s primary ballot include eight Democrats and seven eight Republicans, which to my knowledge is a record for the Iowa GOP.

In addition, three people of color representing minor parties have filed as general election candidates in state legislative districts.

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Swati Dandekar confirmed for Asian Development Bank position

The U.S. Senate has confirmed former State Senator Swati Dandekar as U.S. executive director of the Asian Development Bank, with the rank of ambassador. Senators approved Dandekar’s non-controversial appointment by voice vote on May 17, Senator Chuck Grassley’s office announced the next day. President Barack Obama nominated Dandekar for the position last November. Created in 1966 and representing dozens of member countries, the bank “finances development in the Asia and Pacific region with the aim of reducing poverty” through “loans, technical assistance and grants for a broad range of development activities.”

Grassley commented in a statement,

Swati Dandekar has served Iowa in many ways over a long period of time. She’s shown her talent for building relationships that lead to productive dialogue and initiatives. Her enthusiasm for public service and willingness to take on new challenges and responsibilities are what the public deserves. The President and the Senate made a good decision in choosing Swati Dandekar to represent the United States in this capacity.

Born and raised in India, Dandekar has lived in Marion (Linn County) since the 1970s. She won a seat on the Linn-Mar School Board during the 1990s and was a Governor Tom Vilsack appointee to the Vision Iowa board in 2000. To my knowledge, Dandekar was the longest-serving Asian-American in the Iowa legislature, spending six years in the state House before winning a swing Senate district in 2008. The newspaper AsianWeek named her Asian Pacific American of the year in 2008, and she was a leader of the National Foundation for Women Legislators.

No Asian-American has served in the Iowa legislature since Dandekar resigned her seat in 2011 to accept Governor Terry Branstad’s appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board. She left that position in 2013 to run for Congress, finishing third in the 2014 Democratic primary to represent Iowa’s first district.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature (post-filing edition)

Now that the deadline to compete in the Democratic or Republican primaries has passed, the field of candidates is set in most of the 100 Iowa House districts and 25 Iowa Senate districts that will be on the ballot this fall.

It’s time for a first look at chances to increase diversity in the state legislature for the next two years. The proportion of white lawmakers is unlikely to change, while the proportion of women could move in either direction.

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Where are they now? Swati Dandekar edition

President Barack Obama has named former State Senator Swati Dandekar “to be United States director of the Asian Development Bank, with the rank of ambassador,” the White House announced yesterday. Created in 1966 and representing dozens of member countries, the bank had nearly $23 billion in operations last year. It “finances development in the Asia and Pacific region with the aim of reducing poverty” through “loans, technical assistance and grants for a broad range of development activities.”

After growing up and getting her education in India, Dandekar moved to Marion, Iowa with her husband during the 1970s. She became active in local schools while raising her children and served for six years on the Linn-Mar School Board before winning three elections to the Iowa House and eventually a 2008 election to the Iowa Senate. That last victory prompted the Asian-American newspaper AsianWeek to name Dandekar the Asian Pacific American of the year. During her years as a state lawmaker, Dandekar focused on many education and economic development issues; she was also involved in efforts to promote trade between Iowa and India. A past leader of the National Foundation for Women Legislators, Dandekar did not serve out her term in the Iowa Senate, accepting an appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board in 2011. She left that position in order to run for Congress in Iowa’s first district. Dandekar finished third in the 2014 Democratic primary behind Pat Murphy and Monica Vernon.

Dandekar disclosed earlier this year that she was considering running for Congress again. She confirmed by phone today that because of her new position, she has ruled out any election campaign. I doubt she will endorse a candidate in the three-way primary between Murphy, Vernon, and Gary Kroeger to take on IA-01’s Republican incumbent Rod Blum.

One pro-choice Democratic woman's question for EMILY's List

Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon was the first Congressional candidate endorsed this cycle by the influential political action committee EMILY’s List. The PAC’s mission is straightforward: “We elect pro-choice Democratic women to office.” EMILY’s List did not get involved in the 2014 primary to represent Iowa’s first district, in which three of the five candidates were pro-choice women. But the PAC’s leaders have signaled they will fight to help Vernon win the IA-01 nomination in 2016.

As in the last election cycle, Vernon’s main competition for the right to face Republican Rod Blum will be former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy. Even before Murphy officially entered the race last week, EMILY’s List took the first shot at the 2014 Democratic nominee. Cristinia Crippes reported for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier on July 20,

“Pat Murphy cannot be trusted to stand up for women and families across Iowa — just look at his long record of trying to restrict women’s access to health care and put politics in the middle of decisions that should be left between women and their doctors,” Emily’s List press secretary Rachel Thomas said in a statement.

On July 29, EMILY’s List fleshed out that case with a graphic I’ve enclosed below, highlighting Murphy’s “pro-life” votes and statements between 1996 and 2007.

This lifelong Democrat and third-generation supporter of reproductive rights in Iowa has one question for the EMILY’s List strategists: Do you really want to go there?

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Pat Murphy would enter this IA-01 primary as the underdog (updated)

Both Iowa Starting Line and Roll Call are reporting today that former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy is likely to run for Congress again in the first district. Murphy won the five-way 2014 primary with just under 37 percent of the vote.

Other Iowa Democrats have lost their first U.S. House race before winning a seat in Congress on the second try, including legends Neal Smith, Tom Harkin, and Berkley Bedell. Still, I am skeptical that northeast Iowa Democrats will want to give Murphy another shot at beating Republican Rod Blum.

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Ravi Patel exits IA-01 Democratic primary

Ravi Patel announced yesterday that he is no longer running for Congress in Iowa’s first district. I enclose below the full statement from the Patel for Iowa website, which says “it has become clear” that a “tough battle for the Democratic primary nomination” would “have diverted energy and resources that should be directed at changing the course of our nation.” Patel added that he will be able to have more influence on “public life in Northeast Iowa […] through the private sector.” He will offer full refunds to campaign contributors, who donated more than half a million dollars during the first quarter of this year alone.

I have no idea what prompted Patel’s decision. The stated reason makes no sense, as “it has been clear” for months that Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon was the front-runner in this primary, and that she would also raise significant campaign funds. Factor in Patel’s youth and the fact that he has mostly lived in IA-02, and there was never any reason for him to think winning the primary wouldn’t be a “tough battle.” Backers were allegedly getting ready to launch a super-PAC to support his candidacy, a move without precedent in this state.

Before we assume Patel still has a future in Iowa politics, let’s wait to learn more about why he quit this race. Pat Rynard cited a Dubuque Telegraph-Herald article from a few days ago, which showed that Patel “didn’t have much of an answer on some basic issues Congress would face, including the Renewable Fuel Standard and dealing with ISIS.” I find it hard to imagine any highly-motivated candidate would drop out because of some bad press nearly a year before the primary. Rynard speculated that Patel made a “mature” decision to end a candidacy with a low probability of success. If so, good for him, but count me among the cynics waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Patel’s exit leaves Vernon and Gary Kroeger as the only declared Democratic candidates in IA-01. Vernon will be heavily favored. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar, who finished third behind Pat Murphy and Vernon in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01, is considering a repeat bid here. Winning the Democratic nomination would be an uphill battle for Dandekar for various reasons.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. IA-01 Representative Rod Blum is widely considered to be one of the most vulnerable Congressional incumbents.

UPDATE: Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) endorsed Vernon on June 24: “She has proven that she is committed to improving the lives of Iowa’s working families. I look forward to having her in Congress along side of me, fighting for the people of Iowa.” Loebsack lived and worked in Linn County (now the most populous in IA-01) for most of his adult life and represented the county in Congress from 2007 through 2012, when it was part of the second district.

Added below statements from Vernon and Kroeger on Patel dropping out.

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IA-01, IA-03: Poll finds so-so ratings for Rod Blum and David Young

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) as “one-term wonders.” Public Policy Polling’s latest Iowa survey will encourage them:

Rod Blum has a 31/31 favorability rating in his district, with a 38% plurality having no opinion one way or the other. David Young is worse off with a 24/35 favorability rating and 41% having no opinion about him. Both of these folks’ fate will probably be up to which way the political winds are blowing next fall.

Full results from the PPP poll are here. The margin of error for subsamples in a single Congressional district will be larger than for the full sample of 1,219 Iowa voters surveyed between April 23 and 26.

Three Democrats have entered the race in IA-01: Monica Vernon, Ravi Patel, and Gary Kroeger. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar is considering a challenge here too. The district is the most Democratic-leaning in Iowa. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, IA-01 contains 154,096 active registered Democrats, 133,458 Republicans, and 189,153 no-party voters.

No Democrats have announced candidacies in IA-03. Several are considering the race, including State Senator Matt McCoy. Former State Senate candidate Desmund Adams has been touring the district talking with Democratic activists over the last couple of months. At this writing, IA-03 contains 150,975 active registered Democrats, 162,894 Republicans, and 160,498 no-party voters.

Any comments about Iowa’s Congressional races are welcome in this thread.

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Iowa Congressional 1Q fundraising news roundup

First-quarter financial reports are up for all U.S. House candidates at the Federal Election Commission’s notoriously user-unfriendly website.

The big news came from IA-01, where a newcomer to campaigning pulled in one of the biggest single-quarter hauls by a non-incumbent in Iowa history. To my knowledge, the only Iowa challenger who has raised more for a U.S. House race in one quarter than Ravi Patel just did was former First Lady Christie Vilsack in her 2012 marquee race against Representative Steve King. I believe that King is the only Iowa incumbent who has raised more than half a million dollars for a U.S. House race in one quarter; he did it twice during that re-election campaign against Vilsack in a redrawn IA-04.

Follow me after the jump for highlights on fundraising in all four Iowa districts. Bonus points if you can guess which former Iowa Congressional candidate is still carrying debt from two campaigns ago.  

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Gary Kroeger claiming progressive niche in IA-01 Democratic primary

Gary Kroeger launched his campaign in Iowa’s first Congressional district a few minutes ago in Cedar Falls. His full official statement is after the jump, but here’s the “elevator statement” for his candidacy:

I am an unapologetic progressive, lifelong progressive and a proud lifelong Democrat. Many recognize the need for a new kind of leader in Washington yet rely on the same pool and the same candidate profile, while expecting to get different results. […]

As this primary moves forward it will become very clear that I am not a country club democrat.  I am a middle-class, progressive Democrat, and I’m running to represent our shared progressive Iowa Values in Congress.

That sounds like a direct challenge to Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who was a registered Republican until 2009. Several well-known progressive Iowa Democrats have already endorsed her, along with the pro-choice PAC EMILY’s List. But Vernon’s Republican roots and business-friendly image were an issue for some voters in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01.

Kroeger’s campaign logo includes the words PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRAT FOR CONGRESS, and his campaign website and Facebook page prominently feature the candidate’s policy stands.

The third declared candidate in next year’s IA-01 Democratic primary is Ravi Patel, who has reportedly raised more than $525,000 since launching his campaign in February. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar, the third-placed candidate in the 2014 primary (behind Pat Murphy and Vernon) is also considering this race.

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IA-01: EMILY's List backing Monica Vernon

A leading political action committee for pro-choice Democratic women has endorsed Monica Vernon in Iowa’s first Congressional district. EMILY’s List announced their support today in a statement I’ve posted after the jump. The PAC didn’t endorse any of the three women who sought the IA-01 nomination in 2014, but donated $10,000 and bundled another $233,283 to Staci Appel’s campaign in IA-03.

Vernon finished second in the 2014 primary and is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination this cycle. However, she may not be the only pro-choice woman in this race. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar, who finished third in last year’s primary, is considering another Congressional bid.

Please share any comments about the IA-01 campaign in this thread.

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IA-01 Democratic candidate news roundup

Another Democrat is moving closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa’s first district. The Daily Iowan reported several days ago that Ravi Patel “is assembling campaign operatives and meeting with influential donors in Eastern Iowa in preparation for the run.” He is best known as principal and president of Hawkeye Hotels, a fast-growing company his parents established. Pat Rynard wrote on the Iowa Starting Line blog that Patel “has built connections from holding many fundraisers for Democratic candidates” and is “an entrepreneur involved in many startup businesses.”

If he runs for Congress, Patel told the Daily Iowan that his campaign “would be data-driven and heavy on social media.” His biggest potential weakness would probably be his youth (current age: 29). Iowans have nominated some young candidates who faced competitive primaries against more experienced rivals, most recently Ben Lange, the GOP’s 2012 nominee in IA-01. But despite a lot of excitement on social media, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic didn’t make much headway with IA-01 Democratic voters, finishing fourth in the 2014 primary. Anecdotally, many Democrats liked Kajtazovic but questioned whether she had enough experience for the job she was seeking. Patel would also be competing against others who have more longstanding ties to the district. Although he owns a home in Cedar Rapids now, he has spent most of his life in either Burlington or Iowa City, which are located in the second Congressional district.

The front-runner in the Democratic primary remains Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who last week added her first labor union endorsement to the long list of sate legislators backing her second bid for Congress. After the jump I’ve posted the press release announcing the Teamsters Local 238 endorsement of Vernon. That local did not endorse in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01, but two other Teamsters locals backed the eventual winner Pat Murphy. Note: the press release mentions that Teamsters Local 238 has approximately 6,000 members. A representative for the union told me that between 2,000 and 2,500 of those members live in the IA-01 counties.

Other Democrats considering a bid in IA-01 include former Governor Chet Culver, former State Senator Swati Dandekar (who placed third in the 2014 primary), and former Saturday Night Live actor Gary Kroeger. His most recent blog post, which I’ve excerpted below, takes a quick look at the history of America’s major political parties with a view to reducing the “vitriol in our disagreements.” Kroeger posted today on Facebook that if elected to Congress, he would push for creating a national jobs program inspired by a non-profit foundation he profiled at his blog a couple of years ago.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Republican blogger Craig Robinson pointed out recently that GOP incumbent Rod Blum will benefit tremendously from having U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on the ballot in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that at least three and perhaps as many as six battleground Iowa Senate races will be located within IA-01 next year. State Senator Jeff Danielson will seek a fourth term in Senate district 30, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls; he faced well-funded challengers in his last two re-election campaigns. State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm won by just 126 votes in Senate district 26 in 2012. I expect the GOP to target that district, half of which is in IA-01 and half in IA-04. Republicans are less likely to mount a serious challenge against either State Senator Liz Mathis in Senate district 34 or State Senator Brian Schoenjahn in Senate district 32, but a surprise retirement would instantly make either of those races competitive. Meanwhile, Democrats are likely to target Senate district 28, where GOP State Senator Mike Breitbach won by only 17 votes in 2012. First-term Senator Dan Zumbach could also face a serious challenger in Senate district 48. After the jump I’ve posted a map showing all the Iowa Senate district lines. UPDATE: Perhaps I should also have mentioned Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders (SD-36) and Republican Tim Kapucian (SD-38), who will be up for re-election in 2016 as well in counties that are part of IA-01. I haven’t heard of potentially strong challengers in either Iowa Senate district, but that could change before next spring.

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IA-01: More than a dozen Democratic legislators endorse Monica Vernon

Some of the most prominent Democratic legislators living in Iowa’s first Congressional district have endorsed Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, a day after she announced she will run for Congress again in 2016. The group includes lawmakers from the three largest metro areas in IA-01:

Cedar Rapids (State Senators Liz Mathis and Rob Hogg, State Representatives Art Staed, Kirsten Running-Marquardt and Liz Bennett)

Waterloo/Cedar Falls (State Senator Bill Dotzler and State Representative Timi Brown-Powers)

Dubuque (Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum)

Support from Mathis is particularly noteworthy, because many Iowa Democrats encouraged her to run for Congress in 2014. Mathis endorsed Vernon shortly before last year’s five-way primary.

Former State Senator Jack Hatch and several current lawmakers who live outside IA-01 also endorsed Vernon today: State Senators Joe Bolkcom, Bob Dvorsky, and Rich Taylor, and State Representatives Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, and Sally Stutsman. All besides Taylor represent parts of Johnson County, which is part of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor.

The full press release from Vernon’s campaign is after the jump. It sends a strong signal to any other Democrats who may be considering this race, including former State Senator Swati Dandekar and Ravi Patel, the president of Hawkeye Hotels.

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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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IA-01: Who should run against Rod Blum?

Judging by the comments in this thread, Bleeding Heartland readers are eager to discuss who should take on Republican Rod Blum in the next election to represent Iowa’s first Congressional district.

Blum should be a one-termer. Unofficial results show he beat Pat Murphy by about 7,000 votes (51.2 percent to 48.7 percent) in a banner year for Iowa Republicans. Democratic turnout should be much higher for a presidential election than it was this year. Blum’s record in Congress will also make him an easier target for the next Democratic opponent. He didn’t campaign like an extreme right-winger, but he’s about to start voting like one, which will hurt him with independents. The next Paul Ryan budget (which Blum will support) will include big cuts to entitlement programs. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Blum help House Republicans shut down the federal government again.

Who should be the next Democratic nominee in IA-01? My first thoughts are after the jump.

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IA-01, IA-04: DCCC put Murphy and Mowrer in "Red to Blue" program

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included Pat Murphy (IA-01) and Jim Mowrer (IA-04) in the latest group of candidates promoted to the highest level of the “Red to Blue” program. (Staci Appel, the Democratic nominee in the open IA-03, was already promoted in the Red to Blue program earlier this year.) Mowrer is running in a tough district for any Democrat but raised more money than incumbent Steve King for the last three quarters. The DCCC had previously named IA-04 as an “emerging race.”

Murphy just won a five-way primary in the Democratic-leaning first district. His opponent will be Rod Blum. Technically, IA-01 isn’t a “Red to Blue” district because it’s not Republican-held now; it’s the open seat Bruce Braley is vacating in order to run for U.S. Senate.  

Red to Blue candidates are eligible for the highest level of support from the DCCC, although the committee won’t necessarily spend much money in every named district. Last week the DCCC reserved television air time in IA-03 and IA-04, though ad buys are subject to change. Details are after the jump.

To my knowledge, the DCCC hasn’t reserved any air time in IA-01 media markets. I doubt Murphy will need major independent expenditures to beat Blum. By the way, Murphy’s four rivals in the Democratic primary endorsed him in statements released by the Iowa Democratic Party today. I’ve enclosed that press release below as well.

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Iowa primary election results thread

Polls close at 9 pm, and I’ll be updating this post regularly with primary election results. Rumor has it that turnout was relatively low, even on the Republican side where there are hard-fought primaries for U.S. Senate and the third Congressional district. According to the Polk County Auditor’s office, as of this afternoon only 1,506 absentee ballots had been requested and 1,350 absentee ballots received for today’s GOP primary. Keep in mind that roughly half of all Republican voters in IA-03 live in Polk County, and six campaigns were competing for their votes. Not to mention that five U.S. Senate candidates should have been locking in early votes in Iowa’s largest county.

By comparison, 2,883 Democratic primary absentee ballots were requested in Polk County, and 2,296 of those returned by today. The lion’s share were from Iowa Senate district 17 in Des Moines, where three candidates are seeking to replace Jack Hatch (2,475 absentee ballots requested and 1,950 returned). Democratic campaigns have long pushed early voting more than Republicans, but still–that’s a shocking failure to GOTV by the various Republican campaigns.

Share any comments about any Iowa campaigns in this thread, as well as any interesting anecdotes from voting today.

UPDATE: Polls are now closed and updates will continue after the jump.

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Enter Bleeding Heartland's 2014 Iowa primary election prediction contest

I forgot to put up this year’s primary election prediction contest earlier this week, but better late than never. To enter, post your answers to the twelve questions after the jump as a comment in this thread sometime before 7 am central time on Tuesday, June 3. It’s fine to change your mind about some or all of your answers, as long as you post a comment with your new predictions before the deadline.  

Only comments posted in this thread will be valid contest entries. Predictions submitted by e-mail or twitter will not be considered. Please try to answer every question, even if it’s just a wild guess. We’re all guessing anyway, since few polls have been published about these races.

The winner receives no cash or other prizes–just bragging rights in the Bleeding Heartland community. Can someone stop ModerateIADem from “three-peating”? He won both the 2010 and the 2012 primary election prediction contests.  

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New polls show Pat Murphy, Rod Blum favored to win IA-01 nominations

Loras College has released its latest polls of the Democratic and Republican primaries in the first Congressional district. On the Democratic side, not much has changed the first Loras poll in April: State Representative Pat Murphy has a big lead and is close to the 35 percent he would need to win the primary outright on June 3. The latest poll memo is here, and full results are here (pdf). Among 300 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed on May 14 and 15, 34.7 percent plan to support Murphy, with 28.7 percent undecided. The next three candidates are still bunched close together: Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon and former State Senator Swati Dandekar both have 11.3 percent support, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic has 9.3 percent, and Cedar Rapids attorney Dave O’Brien has 3.3 percent. Some may argue that Loras doesn’t have a track record of Iowa polling. But it’s notable that first-quarter financial reports indicated that all of the Democratic candidates had paid for survey research, yet only Murphy’s campaign has released partial results from internal polling.

All five Democrats are running paid advertising and direct mail in the final weeks before the primary. Bleeding Heartland will survey the main messages from each candidate in a future post. The other candidates need to hope that no candidate wins 35 percent on primary day, though even in that scenario, I think the nomination would go to Murphy.

The latest Loras Republican poll in IA-01 shows a big shift toward Rod Blum since last month’s survey. Among the 300 Republican respondents surveyed on May 15, 48.7 percent are undecided, but Blum is knocking on the door with 31.4 percent support. Steve Rathje is far back at 15.6 percent, and Gail Boliver barely registers at 2.4 percent. For months, I haven’t doubted Blum’s ability to win the GOP nomination. He is the only candidate in  a position to run a strong district-wide effort, and the National Republican Congressional Committee recognizes that fact.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Most election forecasters, with one exception, see this open seat leaning Democratic. The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the 20 counties in the Congressional district contain 158,580 active registered Democrats, 133,229 Republicans, and 192,921 no-party voters.

If Blum and Murphy win their respective party’s nominations, the Dubuque area would be sending its first resident to Congress since Republican Tom Tauke (coincidentally a Loras College graduate) represented the area from 1979 through 1990.

Thoughts on the primary polls in IA-01, IA-02, and IA-03

Loras College in Dubuque released its first-ever set of polls on Iowa Congressional primaries this week. Click here for the polling memo and here (pdf) for further details, including the full questionnaires.

After the jump I’ve posted my thoughts on what these polls tell us about the front-runners (or lack thereof) in each primary. Unfortunately, a big methodological flaw makes it more difficult to interpret the results.

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IA-01: Is the Democratic primary Pat Murphy's to lose?

By some measures, the race for the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s first Congressional district looks wide open. All five candidates have raised enough money to run credible campaigns. None are rookie candidates: four have been elected multiple times to either local government or the state legislature, and the fifth has prior experience running for Congress.  

For various reasons, I’ve long felt that former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy was best positioned to win the Democratic nomination, whether it’s decided in the June 3 primary or at an IA-01 district convention (if no candidate wins at least 35 percent of the primary votes).

Last week Murphy’s campaign released partial results from an internal poll showing a “commanding lead” against his four Democratic rivals. I’ve enclosed the polling memo below, along with a few thoughts on its findings and the dynamic in this race going forward.

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Mid-week open thread: Stimulus anniversary edition

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? Here’s an open thread: all topics welcome.

Monday marked the fifth anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the federal stimulus) into law. Bleeding Heartland has long held that the stimulus mitigated the impact of the “Great Recession,” in part because the package saved Iowa and other states from enacting deep cuts in public services and . The stimulus had flaws, stemming primarily from the president aiming too low on the size of the package and concessions made to win a handful of conservative votes in Congress.

After the jump I’ve posted more links on the recovery act’s impact.

P.S. – The dumbest thing I’ve read this week was Kevin Hall’s comment for The Iowa Republican blog about former State Senator Swati Dandekar, a candidate for Congress in the first district. “Swati Dandekar is obviously an intelligent and accomplished woman. However, she speaks in broken English and I don’t think that translates very well to a wide electorate.” Reality: Dandekar’s English is very fluent. Having a noticeable accent is different from not speaking a language well. I would like to hear Hall try to talk in a non-native language.  

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IA-01 4Q fundraising news roundup

Last week I never got around to posting highlights from the year-end Federal Election Commission reports for candidates in Iowa’s open first Congressional district. Better late than never.

On the Democratic side, the money race remains highly competitive; all five candidates entered the election year with more than $100,000 to spend before the primary. The Republican race in IA-01 provided another reminder that establishment support does not necessarily translate into strong fundraising.  

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Weekend open thread: Jefferson-Jackson Dinner edition

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

The Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was an entertaining affair. I’ve posted some highlights after the jump. The “news” of the evening was Senator Chuck Schumer of New York endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, but for my money that wasn’t the most interesting part of his speech.

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IA-01: First labor endorsement for Anesa Kajtazovic, five more for Pat Murphy

State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic received her first labor endorsement this week in the Democratic primary to represent Iowa’s first Congressional district. The United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 431 and 1149 decided to support Kajtazovic because “she understands better than anyone the concerns of Iowa’s working families,” and “She shares the experience of arriving to Iowa as an immigrant with many of our members.” According to the press release I’ve posted after the jump, the UFCW Locals 431 and 1149 represent more than 2,500 workers living in IA-01.

Former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy had seven organized labor endorsements going into this week. Today his campaign announced that Murphy has the backing of five more labor unions: the Iowa State Association of Letter Carriers, the Iowa Statewide American Postal Workers Union, Iowa Statewide United Transportation Union (SMART Union), Statewide Ironworkers Labor Union Local 89, and the Teamsters Local 90. I enclose the full press release below. It does not mention the number of members who live in IA-01.

The Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council endorsed Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon last month. The other two Democrats running in IA-01 are Dave O’Brien, who supports organized labor’s agenda, and Swati Dandekar, who was not known as a pro-labor member of the Iowa House and Senate.

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Iowa Congressional 3Q fundraising roundup

All Congressional candidates had to file third-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission by October 15. After the jump I’ve posted details on the fundraising by Iowa’s candidates for U.S. House.

The Senate reports are not online yet at the Federal Election Commission’s website, so those numbers will come later.

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More Iowa Congressional voting and reaction to the government shutdown

It’s time for a new post on how Iowa’s representatives in the U.S. House and Senate are handling the ongoing shutdown of non-essential federal government operations. (Click here for details on Congressional votes and Iowa political reaction up to October 1.)

Thousands of Iowans who work for the federal government or serve in the National Guard still have no idea when they’ll receive their next paycheck. The best news I’ve heard all week is that an estimated 66,000 Iowa women and children who receive benefits through the WIC program will get their checks for October, at least.  

Although there has been no progress toward an agreement on a continuing spending resolution, I’ve noticed one big change in Iowa Congressional voting during the last few days. Whereas Representatives Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) were sticking with most of their fellow Democrats in earlier votes on federal spending, this week both Braley and Loebsack have joined House Republican attempts to fund the federal government in bits and pieces. Follow me after the jump for more details.

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Iowa Congressional voting and comments on the government shutdown

The 2014 fiscal year began at midnight. Congress is ringing in the occasion with the first partial federal government shutdown since the mid-1990s. The U.S. House and Senate have been unable to agree on a continuing spending resolution, because most House Republicans insist on defunding or delaying the 2010 health care reform law as a condition of funding most government operations.

Details on Iowa Congressional votes on budget resolutions are after the jump, along with comments from all the Iowans in Congress and many of the candidates for U.S. House or Senate.

Authorization for most federal agricultural programs also expired at midnight, and it’s not clear when Congress will be able to agree on a short-term extension or a new five-year farm bill. Toward the end of this post I’ve enclosed some comments on the failure to pass a farm bill.

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IA-01: Anesa Kajtazovic campaign rollout

State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic kicks off her Congressional campaign today with events in Marshalltown, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Dubuque. I enclose her campaign’s press release after the jump. Like rival first district candidate Swati Dandekar, Kajtazovic emphasizes her life story as an example of the American dream. Like outgoing U.S. Representative Bruce Braley, Kajtazovic lives in Waterloo, and she describes herself in today’s announcement as a “Bruce Braley Democrat” who “will grow on his progressive legacy” in Congress.

I will update this post later for clips from Kajtazovic’s events today. Earlier this month she launched her campaign website and completed a “listening tour” of all 20 counties in the first Congressional district.

I highly recommend watching KWWL journalist Ron Steele’s interview with Kajtazovic, which aired over the weekend: part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. The district leans Democratic with a partisan voting index of D+5. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, IA-01 contains 162,447 active registered Democrats, 136,290 Republicans, and 192,715 no-party voters. Kajtazovic will compete in the Democratic primary against former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque and three candidates from Linn County: former State Senator Dandekar, Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, and Cedar Rapids-based attorney Dave O’Brien.  

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Quick hits on the five Democratic candidates in IA-01

The Democratic primary in the open first Congressional district will be one of Iowa’s most interesting elections next year. In addition to separate posts on major developments in the race, I plan to update Bleeding Heartland readers periodically on how all five Democrats are campaigning. The winner of the primary will go into the general election as the slight favorite given the partisan lean of this D+5 district and the voter registration advantage for Democrats there.

Follow me after the jump for recent news about each of the contenders.

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IA-01: Anesa Kajtazovic launches campaign website, ActBlue page

I haven’t seen any official announcement or press release, but State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic has launched an Anesa for Iowa campaign website, as well as a fundraising page for a Congressional campaign on ActBlue. As of Friday evening, her Facebook page features a new photo of an Irish-themed “Anesa Kajtazovic for Congress” logo in honor of the Irish fest scheduled for this weekend in Waterloo.

Kajtazovic is the fifth Democrat seeking the nomination in Iowa’s first district, which Bruce Braley is vacating to run for the U.S. Senate. State Representative Pat Murphy was the first to declare, followed by Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, Cedar Rapids attorney Dave O’Brien, and former State Senator Swati Dandekar. 

IA-01: Patty Judge advising Swati Dandekar's campaign

Former Lieutenant Governor and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge is advising former State Senator Swati Dandekar’s campaign for Iowa’s first Congressional district, James Q. Lynch reports for the Cedar Rapids Gazette today. The article also includes comments from Dandekar and Judge on perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Dandekar’s candidacy: the perception that she risked the Iowa Senate majority in 2011.

After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from Lynch’s article and a few thoughts about why accepting a position on the Iowa Utilities Board will likely be a problem for Dandekar in the IA-01 primary.

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IA-01: Swati Dandekar launches campaign

Former State Senator Swati Dandekar launched her Congressional campaign yesterday in Marion, saying she is a “testament that the American dream is alive.” I’ve posted her official bio and news release after the jump; her campaign is online at Swati Dandekar for Congress. James Q. Lynch reported on yesterday’s event, where Dandekar emphasized her commitment to education and helping to create “jobs that pay living wages.”

Dandekar won multiple elections in swing Iowa legislative districts. While her moderate image may have crossover appeal, getting through the Democratic primary will be a major challenge. Dandekar said yesterday that she was encouraged by conversations with voters across IA-01. But key factions in the Democratic base resent aspects of her legislative record and the fact that she put the Iowa Senate majority at risk by accepting a position on the Iowa Utilities Board in 2011. Furthermore, the Democratic primary competition in IA-01 includes Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, a onetime Republican who will draw support from Linn County moderates.

Any comments about the IA-01 campaign are welcome in this thread.

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IA-01: Dave O'Brien joins Democratic field

Dave O’Brien launched his campaign for the open seat in Iowa’s first Congressional district this week. Speaking in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, O’Brien said he’s “sick and tired of playing defense” and ready to “go the on offensive with an aggressive and progressive policy agenda.” He called for policies oriented toward building the middle class and improving our infrastructure.

O’Brien’s campaign is on the web, Facebook, and Twitter. I’ve posted his campaign announcement and official bio after the jump. He emphasizes that he’s a “lifelong progressive Democrat”–an unspoken contrast with Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who was a Republican until 2009, and former State Senator Swati Dandekar, long known as one of the more conservative Democrats in the Iowa legislature. Vernon kicked off her Congressional campaign last month, and Dandekar appears likely to announce later this summer. Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy has been running for months, and State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic recently formed an exploratory committee.

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Department of short-sighted cheap shots

The typical division of labor in campaigns nowadays is for the candidate to stay mostly positive when communicating with voters, while political parties or outside groups do the hatchet work on opponents. That pattern is already developing in the race for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat. Democratic candidate Bruce Braley is touting his record and his stands on the issues as a way to get his name out and identify supporters. Meanwhile, the Iowa Democratic Party has taken a few shots at candidates seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

If future salvos look anything like the website the Iowa Democratic Party created to mock David Young, Braley might be better off without their help.

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IA-01: Swati Dandekar resigns from Iowa Utilities Board

Former State Senator Swati Dandekar has resigned from the Iowa Utilities Board, effective July 22. Her resignation letter (pdf) does not give any specific reason for the decision but thanks Governor Terry Branstad for the opportunity to serve. The governor accepted Dandekar’s resignation and will search for her replacement. Branstad appointed Dandekar to the three-member Iowa Utilities Board in September 2011, forcing a special election in her swing Senate district (suburban Linn County). Democrat Liz Mathis won that election and was re-elected to a four-year term in 2012.

Dandekar’s term on the utilities board was to run through April 2015. I assume she would not leave that position unless she has decided to run for Congress in the open first district. I am surprised that she seems ready to follow through, because there have been few public signs of life from her exploratory committee since it was created two months ago. For example, there have been no postings on Facebook or twitter since May 9, nor am I aware of any press releases. In my opinion, the Democratic primary will be an uphill battle for Dandekar.

Cedar Rapids attorney Dave O’Brien has events scheduled for July 10 in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo. Assuming he and Dandekar both announce candidacies in IA-01, that makes five Democrats seeking to replace Bruce Braley: three from Linn County (Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, Dandekar, and O’Brien), State Representative Pat Murphy of Dubuque, and State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic of Waterloo (in the exploratory committee phase for now). I believe at least one or two of those candidates will end up not filing for the ballot next March.  

IA-01: Anesa Kajtazovic forming exploratory commitee

Two-term Iowa House Democrat Anesa Kajtazovic announced today that she is exploring a run for Congress in Iowa’s first district. She plans a “listening tour” in the 20 counties. I haven’t seen a campaign website yet, but Kajtazovic has a Facebook page here. I’ve posted her official bio after the jump. Kajtazovic was first elected to an Iowa House seat covering part of Waterloo in 2010. Her primary challenge prompted then-incumbent State Representative Kerry Burt to retire under pressure. She has long been considered a “rising star” in Iowa Democratic circles. Running for Congress would mean that she cannot seek re-election in House district 61 next year. She tweeted on July 3, “‘Sometimes the riskiest decision we make can turn out to be the best’ a friend once told me……”

If elected, Kajtazovic would be one of the youngest members of the U.S. House (she turns 27 next year). She might also become the only Bosnia native in Congress. Her family fled the war in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, and she commented today, “I was always pasionate about policy, and just what goes on in the world around. I think I was influenced at a young age that it really does matter, after going through war.”

The other declared Democratic candidates in IA-01 are former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque and Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon. I haven’t seen much sign of activity from former State Senator Swati Dandekar’s exploratory committee. State Representative Tyler Olson hasn’t ruled out running for Congress yet, but most expect him to announce a gubernatorial campaign soon. Like Vernon, Dandekar and Olson are from Linn County. Kajtazovic’s home county, Black Hawk, is the second-largest by population in IA-01, followed by Dubuque.

John Deeth is on board with Kajtazovic already. I’ll be happy to see any strong candidate emerge from a clean, competitive primary. It can’t be bad to have several Democrats pounding the pavement to ID supporters next spring. IA-01 leans Democratic but isn’t a safe seat, especially in a midterm election year. As of July 2013, the 20 counties contained a total of 162,549 active registered Democrats, 136,259 Republicans, and 192,142 no-party voters. UPDATE: Added Kajtazovic’s official announcement below.

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State Senator Jeff Danielson not running in IA-01

State Senator Jeff Danielson e-mailed supporters Monday evening to announce,

I will not be seeking any office during the 2014 elections. I’ve received tremendous support and encouragement by Iowans from all walks of life to run for either Congress or statewide office. It’s been overwhelming for an Iowa kid from humble beginnings.

I have obligations to family, work and community here in the Cedar Valley that I enjoy and want to devote my energy to at this moment in time.

Thanks again for your continued support and I look forward to working with you to keep Iowa pro-growth & progressive for years to come.

Iowa’s first Congressional district covers 20 counties, including the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area in Black Hawk County. State Representative Pat Murphy of Dubuque was the first Democrat to announce his candidacy in that district, left open when Representative Bruce Braley decided to run for U.S. Senate. Cedar Rapids City Council Member Monica Vernon is a likely Democratic candidate, and former State Senator Swati Dandekar, also of Linn County, has formed an exploratory committee.

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IA-01: Jeff Danielson still considering it

Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson told the Des Moines Register this week that he will not run for governor in 2014. I asked Danielson today whether he is still considering running for Congress in the open first district. Having just been re-elected to a four-year term in Iowa Senate district 30, Danielson could run for higher office next year without giving up his Senate seat. Regarding the IA-01 race, Danielson responded,

I have not made a decision. I have no timeline. My decision will be independent of who’s in or who’s out on either side of the ticket.

State Representative Pat Murphy of Dubuque was the first Democrat to announce his candidacy in IA-01. Cedar Rapids City Council Member Monica Vernon is planning to run, and former State Senator Swati Dandekar, also of Linn County, has formed an exploratory committee. No Democrat from Black Hawk County has entered the race. The Waterloo/Cedar Falls area, where Danielson lives, is the second-largest metro area in IA-01.

After the jump I’ve posted voter registration totals for all 20 counties in the first Congressional district. Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread.

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New IA-01 candidate speculation thread

It’s time for a new thread on the open first Congressional district seat. So far former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy is the only declared Democratic candidate. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar formed an exploratory committee last week. State Senator Jeff Danielson of the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area has said he’s keeping his options open. I expect a decision relatively soon after the legislative session wraps up.  

Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon “is nearly ready to announce” her candidacy, Rick Smith reported. She was first elected to the council in 2007, switched parties in 2009, and was re-elected in 2011. Cedar Rapids plaintiff’s attorney Dave O’Brien may also run, Jennifer Jacobs reported. O’Brien’s background is similar to Bruce Braley’s before his first campaign in 2006.

State Representative Tyler Olson, who also chairs the Iowa Democratic Party, hasn’t ruled out running for Congress, but some Polk County Democrats believe that if he runs for higher office next year, it will be against Governor Terry Branstad.

On the Republican side, Cedar Rapids business owner Steve Rathje and Dubuque business owner Rod Blum are already seeking the nomination in IA-01. Once the legislature adjourns for the year, my hunch is that a Republican lawmaker will join the race. State Representative Walt Rogers of the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area confirmed earlier this year that he’s thinking about it.

The Iowa Republican’s Kevin Hall reported last month that former Secretary of State and Cedar Rapids Mayor Paul Pate is “90 percent” likely to run for office in 2014. I think Pate would be a strong general election candidate but might have trouble winning an IA-01 GOP primary. It’s also possible that he may run for Secretary of State again if Matt Schultz goes for the open U.S. Senate seat.

Current Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is running for re-election and seems to have ruled out the IA-01 race, judging from his recent comments to Todd Dorman.

After the jump I’ve posted the latest voter registration numbers for the 20 counties in IA-01. Linn County is the largest by population, but it doesn’t dominate the district. About 30 percent of the registered Democrats, 28 percent of the Republicans, and 27 percent of the no-party voters in IA-01 live in Linn County.  

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IA-01: Don't freak out, organize

Apparently there was some contentious Facebook discussion about whether the Iowa Democratic Party would or should support Swati Dandekar if she wins next year’s primary to represent Iowa’s first Congressional district.

What a waste of energy.

I am not convinced Dandekar will run for Congress, and if she runs, I doubt she will win the IA-01 primary. Several core Democratic constituencies have a problem with her, and I don’t see any outpouring of support. At this writing, six days after Dandekar confirmed that she is considering the race, the Facebook page for her exploratory committee has only five “likes.” I don’t see her path to beating Pat Murphy or some other Democrat who may join the race later. Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon is leaning towards running, Rick Smith reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Instead of fretting over an unlikely scenario in IA-01, progressives with a grudge against conservadems should recruit a strong primary challenger to Joe Seng in Iowa Senate district 45. His voting record is worse than Dandekar’s, and he’s gotten some horrible legislation passed. Senate district 45, based in Davenport, is safe for Democrats in the general election.

IA-01: Swati Dandekar forms exploratory committee (updated)

Former State Senator Swati Dandekar confirmed today that she is considering a campaign in Iowa’s open first Congressional district. State Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids and Tina Patterson of Marion will co-chair her exploratory committee. Dandekar expects to decide this summer whether to run for Congress. In the meantime, she will continue serving on the Iowa Utilities Board but will “not participate in decisions of any contested matters before the board.”

Bleeding Heartland discussed Dandekar’s potential strengths and weaknesses as a candidate here. I remain skeptical that she would win a Democratic primary, because of her legislative voting record and her decision to put the Iowa Senate majority in jeopardy in 2011, when she accepted Governor Terry Branstad’s appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board. Dandekar emphasized in a statement today, ” I know it is important to the people living in Northeast Iowa to continue the strong representation established by Congressman Bruce Braley. We must keep this seat in Democratic hands.”  

So far State Representative Pat Murphy is the only declared Democratic candidate in IA-01. Any comments about this race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added reaction from Murphy, details about the online presence of Dandekar’s exploratory committee, and the potential candidate’s official bio after the jump.

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The most brilliant Iowa political moves of 2011

It’s the most list-making time of the year. Let’s start talking about Iowa political highlights of 2011.

This thread is devoted to master strokes. I don’t mean our elected officials’ wisest actions, or the policy choices that affected the greatest number of Iowans. I mean acts of such skill that even opponents had to grudgingly acknowledge their brilliance.

My top picks are after the jump. Tomorrow Bleeding Heartland will review the year’s most bewildering acts of incompetence. On Thursday we’ll look at the events that are likely to have the greatest long-term impact on Iowa politics.

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Liz Mathis still has early vote edge in Iowa Senate district 18 (updated)

UPDATE: More recent absentee ballot numbers are here, and a precinct-level analysis of the early voting is here.

Absentee ballot requests and returns continue to favor Democrat Liz Mathis over Cindy Golding, her Republican opponent in the Iowa Senate district 18 special election.

The latest numbers from the Linn County Auditor’s Elections office are after the jump, along with recent comments about marriage equality by the Senate district 18 candidates.

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Iowa Senate district 18 Democrats formally nominate Mathis (updated)

Democratic delegates in Iowa Senate district 18 nominated former television news anchor Liz Mathis last night for the November 8 special election. No other candidate sought the nomination. Republicans picked businesswoman and Linn County GOP co-chair Cindy Golding in a three-way nominating contest last week.

Both Mathis and Golding indicated yesterday that they will focus on jobs and the economy rather than social issues during the short campaign.

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Dandekar will easily be confirmed to Iowa Utilities Board

At the Moving Planet climate change event in Des Moines on Saturday, I heard a few activists talk about organizing against former State Senator Swati Dandekar’s confirmation to the Iowa Utilities Board. The Iowa Senate will consider her nomination during the 2012 legislative session.

I would advise environmentalists not to waste their time on that particular hopeless cause. Senate Democrats may be unhappy that Governor Terry Branstad jeopardized their control of the chamber by nominating Dandekar, but they are not going to block her confirmation.

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Republicans nominate Cindy Golding for Iowa Senate district 18

Linn County Republican Party co-chair Cindy Golding won the GOP nomination for the November 8 special election in Iowa Senate district 18 tonight. To my surprise, Golding won enough votes on the first ballot against Mary Rathje and Matt Dummermuth.

UPDATE: Republicans will need a new candidate for the Cedar Rapids suburban swing district in 2012, even if Golding wins this year’s special election. Details are at the end of this post.

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Swati Dandekar resigning, forcing Iowa Senate district 18 special election

Democratic State Senator Swati Dandekar is stepping down from the legislature in order to accept an appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board, the Des Moines Register reported today. Her resignation forces a special election this fall in Iowa Senate district 18, which covers suburban and rural areas in Linn County.

Democrats currently hold a 26-24 Iowa Senate majority, so a Republican victory in the special election would deadlock the upper chamber for the 2012 legislative session. Follow me after the jump for a district map and first take on the race to replace Dandekar.

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Pro-nuclear bill bad for consumers, job creation

Legislation aimed at encouraging the expansion of nuclear power in Iowa is “a bad idea that gets worse by the minute,” according to a new report by Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic analysis at the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility commissioned the report, and Cooper summarized its conclusions at a Des Moines press conference today. He analyzed the nuclear industry as a whole and lessons learned from states that have adopted legislation similar to Iowa’s House File 561 and Senate File 390.

Cooper’s report focuses on the immense costs that this legislation would impose on customers of MidAmerican Energy, even if no new nuclear facility is ever built. The average MidAmerican customer may see utility bills go up $50 per month before any nuclear reactor comes online. MidAmerican President Bill Fehrman told Iowa lawmakers yesterday that nuclear power is less expensive than pursuing other methods of generating more electricity, such as solar power and natural gas. Perhaps he was unaware of recent comments by Exelon CEO John Rowe, who runs the largest nuclear plant operator in the U.S. Rowe is convinced that

“At the present time in the United States, new nuclear power reactors are not economical anyway with low load growth and very cheap natural gas. Natural gas generation is now the economic way of choice for low-carbon electricity and that will be true for at least a decade,” he said.

Cooper’s report demonstrates that nuclear power is not competitive with any other major method of producing electricity in terms of cost or efficiency. Massive up-front costs are one reason why nuclear projects in other parts of the U.S. have gone nowhere despite federal loan guarantees (see also here). Building nuclear power plants will only become more expensive in light of the ongoing disaster at Japan’s Fukushima facility.

Nuclear power projects also create relatively “few jobs per dollar invested,” “drain resources from household budgets,” “raise the cost of doing business” and primarily benefit foreign equipment vendors. Because the licensing and construction process for nuclear power plants is so slow, Cooper writes, “choosing nuclear reactors over efficiency and renewables not only produces many fewer local jobs in the aggregate, but takes much longer to get those jobs.”

For decades, activists opposed to nuclear power have focused on health and security concerns, such as the lack of appropriate long-term storage for nuclear waste, or the potential for an accident or terrorist attack to release large amounts of radiation. Cooper’s report shows that even if one sets aside all health and environmental concerns, nuclear power is a raw deal for consumers. MidAmerican ratepayers are unlikely ever to break even on this deal. The American Association for Retired Persons has been trying to get legislators to view the proposed bills from this perspective as well.

Governor Terry Branstad’s mind appears to be made up: he supports anything MidAmerican wants to help it build a nuclear power plant, because “we really can’t do it all with renewable.” I reject Branstad’s premise that efficiency measures and renewable energy projects can’t meet Iowa’s baseload electricity needs, but even if that were true, new natural gas-powered plants would be a far better use of resources than nuclear.

House File 561 has already cleared the Iowa House Commerce Committee and probably will pass the House easily. Senate File 390 is still being considered in subcommittee, and nine Democratic senators have urged their colleagues to shelve the proposal. (Cooper notes that other states that were considering similar legislation have put it on hold following the crisis in Japan.) Senate Commerce Committee Chair Swati Dandekar has scheduled a subcommittee meeting on this bill Monday, March 28 from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm in room 116 at the state capitol. Opponents of this bill should contact their representatives and senators, and members of the Senate Commerce Committee in particular.

After the jump I’ve posted today’s release from Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility and several longer excerpts from Cooper’s report on advanced cost recovery for nuclear reactors.

UPDATE: MidAmerican disputes Cooper’s estimates on how much the average ratepayer’s utility bill would go up. I don’t put much stock in estimates from a company whose president claims nuclear power is less expensive than natural gas.

SECOND UPDATE: Paul Deaton of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility discusses MidAmerican’s shifting cost estimates and argues, “no single document lays out all of the impacts of HF 561 and SF 390 to consumers and that’s the point. The Iowa legislature needs to slow down, get the facts and then make a decision about nuclear power.”

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Iowa reaction to crisis at Japan nuclear facilities (updated)

Several Iowa elected officials commented on expanding nuclear energy production Monday in light of the deteriorating situation at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. Two Iowa Republicans and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal indicated that they don’t want the cascade of events at Fukushima to derail efforts to build new nuclear power plants in Iowa. However, Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom called for a “pause” to more closely scrutinize the impact of a nuclear energy bill that has been on a fast track in the Iowa House and Senate.

Details and context are below, along with Representative Steve King’s comments about federal policy on nuclear power.

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Iowan Swati Dandekar to lead national women legislators' group

The Iowa Senate announced today that Senator Swati Dandekar has been chosen as chair of the National Foundation for Women Legislators and as president of the organization’s membership arm. The foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a mission to “provide strategic resources to women leaders for leadership development and effective governance through conferences, seminars, education materials, professional and personal relationships, and networking at both the state and federal levels.” The group organizes an annual conference and policy committees aimed at “helping women legislators become effective lawmakers.”

The National Foundation for Women Legislators’ president and CEO, Robin Read, will swear Dandekar in for her new positions on February 23 at the Iowa capitol. In a statement that I’ve posted after the jump, Read praised Dandekar’s “commitment to creating higher standards for public schools, re-energizing local economies through innovative community and state initiatives, investment in strengthening telecommunications, developing clean and renewable energy technologies, and access to healthcare […].” Dandekar’s numerous awards and recognitions attest to her civic involvement in those areas.

Dandekar was elected in 2008 to Iowa Senate district 18, including suburban and rural areas in Linn County. She previously served on the Linn-Mar Community School Board and represented Iowa House district 36 for six years. She is considered one of the more conservative Democrats in the Iowa legislature and has attracted crossover support from Republicans in all of her campaigns. Dandekar backed Republican Ron Corbett in the 2009 Cedar Rapids mayoral election.

UPDATE: Paul Deaton discusses Dandekar as a “swing vote” in the Iowa Senate and mentions that some of her top campaign donors typically give to Republicans.

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Events coming up this week, with a few job openings

I haven’t posted any job listings here in a while, but I recently learned of a few opportunities in the environmental area. Those are posted below. If you know of political or progressive advocacy jobs available, feel free to send details to me (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com), and I will try to spread the word.

The big political event this week is the March 19 deadline for Iowa candidates to file nominating papers for statewide and federal offices. John Deeth has been covering the filings so far at his blog. Follow me after the jump for details on other things going on around the state, and post a comment or send me an e-mail if you know of something I’ve left out.

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Congratulations to Swati Dandekar

I saw at Iowa Independent that the Asian-American newspaper AsianWeek named Swati Dandekar the Asian Pacific American person of the year for 2008:

[I]t was hard to decide who should be the APA Person of the Year in 2008. When looking at the future of Asian Pacific America, however, and thinking about the community’s growth out of the comfort of urban enclaves and into suburban and even rural America, the answer became clear: Swati Dandekar.

Dandekar, a Democrat born and educated in India, has been living in Iowa for over thirty years and has served three terms as a member in the Iowa House of Representatives. In 2008, she threw her hat in the ring to run for an Iowa state Senate seat that had voted Republican for almost 20 years. Reaching out to many rural Iowans with a platform based on education, quality health care, renewable energy and economic growth, she won 54.3 percent of the vote and is seen as a rising star of Iowa politics.

Swati Dandekar could have played it safe and stayed in her House seat because most incumbents are re-elected. Instead, she chose to reach for a higher office that required her to knock on doors in areas where she had not represented the people and where knowledge of Asian Indian Americans may not have been high. As a result of her successful gamble, however, she now has added clout as she battles for educational opportunity and other key concerns. And APAs now have a state Senate-level standard-bearer in a state not know for its high percentage of APAs.

I echo the newspaper’s statement that Dandekar took a big risk in running for Senate district 18. Even though she has attracted a lot of cross-over Republican voters while representing Iowa House district 36, seeking the Senate seat long held by Mary Lundby (who retired) was no sure thing.

Congratulations to Dandekar for picking up a Senate seat for Iowa Democrats while making Asian Pacific Americans across the country proud.

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Obama's prime-time special, Des Moines rally and other events coming up this week

It’s hard to believe that this election is less than a week away. GOTV!

Tuesday, October 28:

KCCI-TV (Channel 8) in Des Moines will broadcast an interview with fifth district Congressional candidate Rob Hubler at 10 p.m. I will update with a link to the station’s website if they make the video available there.

Wednesday, October 29:

Barack Obama has purchased a half-hour of prime-time on CBS and NBC, which will air at 7 pm central time.

Fourth district Congressional candidate Becky Greenwald will run a one-minute ad just before Obama’s special on KCCI and WHO-TV in Des Moines and KIMT and KTTC tv in Mason City. She will preview the contents of that commercial at a 1 pm press conference at her campaign headquarters in Waukee:

“With just one week to Election Day, when voters will tune in to hear Senator Obama’s plans for change, they deserve to know Tom Latham’s real record in Congress of voting more with President Bush than John McCain. He won’t support Barack Obama in Congress,” said Becky Greenwald. “I will work with Barack Obama to make a real difference for the 4th District.”

Rob Hubler will be in studio at KCCI doing a live interview on their Early Morning Show at 6:40 a.m.  Then he will be on the Des Moines Register website for a live chat from 12 noon to 1 p.m.  

Tom Harkin will campaign for Obama in eastern Iowa:


2:30 PM

Senator Harkin to Drop By a Phone Bank

Obama Iowa Campaign for Change Office

819 Avenue G

Fort Madison, Iowa

4:00 PM

Senator Harkin to Drop By a Phone Bank

Obama Iowa Campaign for Change Office

414 N. 3rd Street

Burlington, Iowa

Congressman Leonard Boswell and Republican challenger Kim Schmett will appear jointly on Iowa Public Radio at 10 am.

Chet Culver will headline GOTV events for several legislative candidates:

Marshalltown – 10:30 AM


Marshall County Democratic Headquarters

12 West Main Street

Marshalltown, Iowa

Tama – 11:30 AM


Tama County Democratic Headquarters

128 3rd Street

Tama, Iowa

Davenport – 1:45 PM


Scott County Democratic Headquarters

1706 Brady Street, Suite 206

Davenport, Iowa

Clinton – 3:00 PM


Clinton County Democratic Headquarters

224 22nd Place

Clinton, Iowa

Cedar Rapids – 5:00 PM


Linn County Democratic Headquarters

1229 1st Avenue, Southeast

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Thursday, October 30:

Harkin will campaign for Obama again:

2:15 PM

Senator Harkin to Kick Off a Canvass

Obama Iowa Campaign for Change Office

207 1st Ave. W

Newton, Iowa

5:00 PM

Senator Harkin to Kick Off a Canvass

Obama Iowa Campaign for Change Office

500 Jefferson Street

Waterloo, Iowa

Congressional candidate Becky Greenwald and Doug Thompson, Democratic candidate in Senate district 6, will hold an event with the Campus Democrats of Waldorf College at 5.30pm in the Campus Center at Waldorf College in Forest City. The Campus Center is located on South 8th Street. Please come and bring friends.

Friday, October 31:

Obama will hold a rally in downtown Des Moines:


Western Gateway Park Between 12th St. and 13th St., Grand Ave. and Locust St.  

Gates Open/Media Access: 9:30 AM

Program Begins:  11:30 AM

The event is free and open to the public.  Tickets are NOT required, but an RSVP is strongly encouraged.  To RSVP, please visit iowa.barackobama.com. Space is available on a first come first serve basis.

Public Entrance: Walnut St. and 12th St.

Parking is limited; car pooling and public transportation are recommended.  The free Downtown Shuttle will be available from any of the Des Moines parking facilities. More information is available at http://www.dmmta.com/downroute…

Rob Hubler will be on Iowa Public Radio at 12:35 pm, which is aired statewide on all NPR affiliates.

From Polk County Democrats:

Pollwatcher and Precinct Reporter Training for Election Day, Friday, October 31st at 6:00 PM at the Campaign for Change, 1408 Locust, Des Moines. With Special guests Secretary of State Michael Mauro and Congressman Leonard Boswell, who will auction off a surprise item.

The Tallgrass Bioneers Conference begins in Grinnell and runs through November 2:

Are you tired of partisan bickering over banker bail-outs, expensive wardrobes, and Joe the plumber?  Ready for a breather before election day and a respite from economic doom and gloom?

Why not take a break this weekend, enjoy the fall weather, get together with friends and come to Grinnell for the 2008 Tallgrass Bioneers Conference. We won’t be hearing politicians promises – just hearing from some great local and national speakers who have gotten past all of

the talk to make a real difference in their communities and the world.

The conference starts on Friday, October 31st and runs through Sunday. Friday features a keynote address by Chad Pregracke, a young guy who

has dedicated his life to cleaning up his beloved Mississippi river, and has lead others to adopt their own local waterways. Friday afternoon features an opening of still/LIFE – an amazing art

installation by Dallas environmental artist Tracy Hicks sponsored by the Faulconer Gallery.  Friday also features live workshops on community renewable energy projects, immigration and local water quality efforts. In the Harris Cinema, we will be showing pre-recorded presentations from the national Bioneers conference, including Ray

Anderson and Alexandra Cousteau.

Saturday features a walking tour of a restored prairie, a tour of Iowa’s first LEED gold certified “green building”, a discussion on

climate and adaptation by survivors of Katrina and the Cedar Rapids floods, a hands-on workshop with Tracy Hicks, and more.  Pre-recorded speakers include Janine Benyus, Bill McKibben and David Orr. Our Saturday keynote is by Alison Gannett – a world champion skier and climate change activist who has converted the world’s first 100mpg

solar SUV hybrid and built the first straw-bale home in a national historic district. The day will be topped off by a local food banquet prepared by Chef Kamal Hammouda of the Phoenix Cafe,  and a dinner speech by organic dairy farmer Francis Thicke.

Sunday, we round out the weekend with a lake clean-up at Rock Creek Lake, a tour of a local sustainably operated farm, historic walking

tour, an intergenerational art workshop,  pre-recorded presentations by Naomi Klein, Rebecca Moore,  Rick Reed and more.

It’s going to be a great weekend of big picture ideas and hands-on experiences, so please join us!

For more information, please visit:


(a link to google map and driving directions is at the top of the page)

To pre-register, visit:


Complete schedule:


October 31 is the deadline for early-bird registration for the Center on Sustainable Commmunities’ ‘Building a Sustainable Iowa’ workshop being held in Cedar Falls, Ankeny & Fairfield on November 10-15. This course is recognized by the building community as the most comprehensive residential green building training course offered in the state! COSC’s 4th Bi-annual Building a Sustainable Iowa Professional Training workshop will be held the week of November 10th through 15th in Cedar Falls, Ankeny and Fairfield. Each location will host the two day course with Marc Richmond, a nationally recognized green building consultant and educator, as the main presenter. We also bring in local experts as guest speakers. A two-hour homeowner class followed by an exhibit and networking social will be held at each site as well. Registration and agenda details available at www.icosc.com. Scholarships are available through the Iowa Department of Economic Development! Click here for an application. There are only 16 available, so apply now!

Saturday, November 1:

If you’re not attending the Tallgrass Bioneers conference, volunteer for Democratic candidates, wherever you are!

Tom Harkin kicks off his Get Out the Vote Bus Tour. Go here to RSVP for any of these events:

The Cardinal Room

Iowa State Memorial Union

2229 Lincoln Way

Ames, Iowa, 50014

8:45 AM – 9:45 AM

Moos Lodge

200 East 5th Street

Carroll, Iowa, 51401

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Campaign for Change HQ

805 Flindt Drive, Suite 2

Storm Lake, Iowa, 50588

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Fort Dodge Public Library

424 Central Avenue

Fort Dodge, Iowa, 50501

3:15 PM – 4:15 PM

Berte’s Back Nine

216 East State Street

Algona, Iowa, 50511

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Chicago Dawg Restaurant

687 South Taft Avenue

Mason City, Iowa, 50401

7:00 PM – 8:00 PM

For more information on these great events please call the campaign HQ at 515-277-9966 or email Alissa brammer at Alissa@tomharkin.com.

Sunday, November 2:

It’s the second day of Harkin’s bus tour. Go here to RSVP for any of these events:

Jameson’s Irish Pub

310 East 4th Street

Waterloo, Iowa, 50703

11:45 – 12:45 PM

Labor Temple

1610 Garfield Avenue

Dubuque, Iowa, 52001

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Clinton Community College Auditorium

1000 Lincoln Boulevard

Clinton, Iowa, 52732

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM

United Steelworkers Local 105

830 Devils Glenn Road

Bettendorf, Iowa, 52722

5:30 PM – 6:30 PM

Machinist Local 831

222 Prospect Place

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 52404

7:45 – 8:45 PM

For more information on these great events please call the campaign HQ at 515-277-9966 or email Alissa brammer at Alissa@tomharkin.com.

Monday, November 3:

It’s the last day of Harkin’s bus tour. Go here to RSVP for any of these events:


118 East College Street

Iowa City, Iowa, 52240

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Port of Burlington

400 North Front Street

Burlington, Iowa, 52601

12:15 PM – 1:15 PM


1305 East Mary Street

Ottumwa, Iowa, 52501

2:30 PM – 3:30 PM

UAW Hall

411 Iowa Avenue W

Marshalltown, Iowa, 50158

5:15 PM – 6:15 PM

Campaign for Change Office (Chet Culver and Leonard Boswell will also be at this event)

1408 Locust Street

Des Moines, IA, 50309

9:00 PM – 10:15 PM

For more information on these great events please call the campaign HQ at 515-277-9966 or email Alissa brammer at Alissa@tomharkin.com.


“The global climate is changing. We know that humans are responsible for a large portion of that change, which will have implications for Iowa.”

That is the central theme of a public forum set for Kirkwood Community College Monday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. Kirkwood and several other colleges and community groups will host a “Connections” program in Ballantyne Auditorium on the main Kirkwood campus.

The free forum will feature Dr. Jerald Schnoor of The University of Iowa, speaking on “Mitigating and Responding to Climate Change in Iowa.”  Schnoor is the Allen S. Henry Chair and professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.

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Don't forget about our good statehouse candidates

Barack Obama may be crushing John McCain in Iowa, but that is no excuse for you to slack off.

In July I wrote about five reasons to get involved in state legislative races. My reasoning was:

 1.  The 2010 census looms, to be followed by redrawing Congressional districts in most states.

  2. Many policy matters are determined at the state level.

  3. Getting progressive Democrats elected to state legislatures will build our bench for future House, Senate or gubernatorial races.

  4. You probably can find a competitive statehouse race near you, no matter where you live.

  5. Your individual actions are more likely to make a difference in a statehouse race.

In addition to donating directly to good state legislators and legislative candidates, I give to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which supports statehouse candidates across the country.

I was pleased to learn on Friday that the DLCC is accepting nominations for candidates to be included in its “40 essential races” program.

Dear [firstname]:

It is no easy task to pinpoint a handful of essential candidates among the thousands of competitive legislative races this year, but that is exactly is what we at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee intend to do over the next three weeks.

Using the information and resources we’ve gathered so far this cycle, we will identify 40 candidates in top races all across the country who need help in this election. For our part, we will provide these candidates with strategic support and promote their races among our partners and allies.

We also know that there are plenty of strong Democrats throughout the country with the potential to win important districts whose races are just emerging — so we are asking for your help to find them.

While we reveal the list of our targets, we will also accept nominations for an additional 10 candidates to go on our essential races list. Please submit a name:


And while you’re on our site, will you also take a minute to make a contribution of $25 or more?

Every dollar that you give will go directly into taking the fight to the Republicans who want to control our state houses. With your help, we will elect leaders who won’t let the GOP pass their radical policy agendas or redraw districts to create a permanent conservative majority. Can you support us today?


The DLCC is committed to electing Democratic majorities all across the country, but in order to win in competitive states, we need support from friends like you.

Thank you for all that you do,

Michael Sargeant

Executive Director

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee

I asked someone at the DLCC whether these “essential races” will mostly feature challengers or incumbents. I was told that most of the targeted races involve Democratic challengers trying to take Republican-held seats. However, some will be incumbents, and some will be challengers trying to hold Democratic seats.

I encourage progressives to get informed about the key races in your state, then go to the DLCC site and nominate the candidate of your choice for this program.

For example, strong Democratic challengers seeking Republican-held seats in Iowa include Jerry Sullivan in Iowa House district 59 and Swati Dandekar in Senate district 18 (both seats are open because of Republican retirements).

A good candidate trying to hold the open Iowa House district 29 is Nate Willems, a former regional director for Howard Dean and occasional contributor to MyDD.

Incumbents being targeted this year in Iowa include Eric Palmer in House district 75, Elesha Gayman in House district 84,  and Tom Rielly in Senate district 38.

Please let the good candidates in your state or region know about the DLCC program.

You can also set up your own ActBlue page to raise money for your favorite candidates, whether or not they are named an “essential race” by the DLCC. Century of the Common Iowan blogger noneed4thneed created this page to support Tim Hoy in House district 44, Sharon Steckman in House district 13, Gayman, Palmer, and Sullivan.

Vox Populi provides information about three good Indiana House candidates on this ActBlue page.

Remember, even if your state is not competitive in the presidential campaign and your representatives in Congress are safe incumbents, you can probably find a swing statehouse district not far from where you live.

We can’t afford to neglect those down-ticket races. Donate, volunteer, and spread the word.

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Pull over before taking that call

Driving while talking on a cell phone may be as dangerous as driving drunk, according to an article in Salon today:

For years, psychologists who study driving and attention have argued that switching to “hands free” is not a real solution to the hazards caused by yakking on the mobile in the car. “The impairments aren’t because your hands aren’t on the wheel. It’s because your mind isn’t the road,” says David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, whose research has found driving while talking on a cellphone to be as dangerous as driving drunk.

Now neuroscience is showing your mind literally isn’t on the road. The overtaxed driver’s poor brain doesn’t distinguish between a conversation that takes place on an iPhone or a Bluetooth headset. In both cases, the chatting driver is distracted, putting herself, her passengers, other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians at risk.

Say there’s an 18-wheeler to your right, an R.V. to your left, and suddenly a call comes in from that motormouth client in Kansas City. As the client’s voice starts buzzing in your ear, the activity in the parts of your brain keeping your car in your lane declines.

“Forty percent of your attention is drawn away when you’re on the phone,” says Marcel Just, a psychologist who directs Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging. That goes for you too, Mr. Multitasker.

In one experiment at the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, a test subject lies down inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, and uses a simulator to drive a car along a winding road, like playing a video game. While steering, the driver hears a voice in his earphones making statements, and has to decide whether they’re true or false, while continuing to pilot the car. Listening and driving make demands on different parts of the brain. Yet, apparently, there are finite resources to go around. “You have two moderately automatic tasks, executing concurrently and drawing on the same resource pool,” explains Just.

When the voice in the headphones starts talking, researchers can see the parts of the brain devoted to driving get distracted. One part of the brain that’s important for driving is the parietal lobe, which, for instance, helps a driver make the car’s trajectory fit the curvature of the road. “There is much less activity if someone is talking to you, so you take the curve less precisely and less well,” says Just. A similar reduction in activity occurs in the visual cortex, which helps a driver analyze how fast things are going by and see what’s coming up ahead. When that voice chimes in on the headphones, “your analysis of the visual scene is less thorough. You’d be more likely to miss a sign, or not as quick to read a complex sign,” says Just.

A bill proposed by Swati Dandekar to ban the use of cell phones while driving went nowhere in the Iowa House this year, but I would like to see it revived in the legislature next session. I see a lot of dangerous driving by people who are talking on their cell phones.

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Five reasons to get involved in state legislative races (w/poll)

cross-posted around the blogosphere

On July 4 I marched with volunteers and staff for Jerry Sullivan, Democratic candidate in Iowa House district 59.

We don’t hear much about state legislative races on national blogs, because it would be overwhelming to keep up with what’s going on all over the country.

But you should get involved on behalf of a good Democrat running for your state’s Assembly, House or Senate. Five reasons why are after the jump.

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Please, ban cell phones while driving

This probably won’t be popular with many blog readers, but I am 100 percent behind Representative Swati Dandekar’s proposal to ban the use of cell phones while driving. Like she says, it’s a public safety issue. If you need to make a call, pull over, park and make your call.

I can’t remember where I’ve seen it, but research has shown that drivers are more distracted when talking on the phone than they are by talking to another person sitting in the car with them.

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