What's going on with Brad Zaun? This month he's stuck his nose into two Republican primaries that should be of little concern to a state senator from the Des Moines suburbs.
Zaun is up for re-election this year in the new Senate district 20, covering Urbandale, Johnston, and Grimes in Polk County. As in 2008, Democrats did not field a candidate against him. Without a competitive campaign of his own, I would expect Zaun to focus on helping Republicans win back the Iowa Senate majority. He has served as an assistant Senate minority leader since 2009 and was elected minority whip last November.
There are ten competitive Republican primaries for Iowa Senate seats this year. Click here (pdf) for the full candidate list. Two or more Republicans face off in the open Senate districts 4, 6, 10, 14, 42, and 48. In Senate district 22, two-term incumbent Pat Ward faces a primary challenger, Jeff Mullen. In Senate district 36, two Republicans are competing to face Democratic incumbent Steve Sodders. In Senate district 50, two Republicans are competing to face Democratic incumbent Pam Jochum. Republican incumbents Shawn Hamerlinck and Jim Hahn were thrown together into the new Senate district 46.
To my knowledge, Zaun has not endorsed a candidate in any of those Iowa Senate primaries. That makes sense, because a whip wouldn't want to burn bridges with anyone who might be in the caucus next year. Senate district 22 is unusual, in that one would typically expect the whip to support a fellow incumbent facing a primary challenge--all the more so since Ward and Zaun have served together as assistant minority leaders for years. On the other hand, both Zaun and Mullen endorsed Michele Bachmann for president in the summer of 2011. Side note: kudos to Zaun for sticking with Bachmann when her campaign was sinking, unlike State Senator Kent Sorenson, who bailed less than a week before the Iowa caucuses.
This month, Zaun took a stand in two Republican primaries far from his home base in northwest Polk County. He endorsed Ben Lange for Congress in Iowa's new first district. From a May 7 Lange campaign press release:
"At a time when so many Iowans are becoming disillusioned with the current crop of politicians in Washington, along comes a new breed of conservative leader like Ben Lange," Zaun said. "Ben has the political guts that the times require and Iowans are fortunate to have someone from a new generation who can bring a fresh perspective to Washington, something our country desperately needs."
"Ben works day in and day out with small business owners and he understands what it takes to grow the private sector economy. His principles haven't changed with the times and he hasn't been planning a run for office for his entire adult life. Ben is as authentic as they come and he's running for the right reasons. As we continue the fight for individual liberty in the Iowa Senate, we need more men and women like Ben Lange to carry the fight to Washington DC."
Lange expressed gratitude for Sen. Zaun's endorsement and his continued public service in the Iowa State Capitol. "I'm grateful to have Senator Zaun's voice of support as we continue our march towards fixing the national debt crisis, growing the private sector economy, and getting big government off our backs. He's been a consistent voice for common sense solutions and I hope to partner with him and other state legislators in the future to help solve problems that exist at the federal level."
In 2010, Zaun won a hotly contested primary election in Iowa's old 3rd congressional district. Four of the counties in the old IA-03 are included in the new IA-01, including Benton, Iowa, Poweshiek, and Tama counties. Zaun currently represents Iowa Senate district 32 in the Des Moines area.
Recap: Zaun defeated six other Republican candidates while winning the 2010 primary in Iowa's third Congressional district by a comfortable margin. The runner-up in that primary, Jim Gibbons, had raised more money (including from various major Iowa GOP donors), run more television commercials, and gained the confidence of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Ironically, Gibbons won far more votes than Zaun in Benton, Iowa, Poweshiek and Tama counties. Zaun won by dominating Polk County, the population center of the old third district. Click here (pdf) for the 2010 primary results by county. In the general election, Zaun outpolled incumbent Democrat Leonard Boswell in Benton, Iowa, and Tama counties (but not in Poweshiek).
Lange is up against Dubuque businessman Rod Blum in the first district primary. I find it hard to imagine that Zaun's support will be very significant, given that other counties in the new IA-01 have far more registered Republicans than Benton, Iowa, Poweshiek, and Tama.
At first glance, it's not clear why Zaun would want to get involved in the IA-01 race. Maybe he feels a bond with Lange, as both were GOP Congressional candidates who couldn't win in the massive 2010 wave.
Or perhaps Zaun wants to tap into the establishment support lining up behind Lange. Quite a few state lawmakers have endorsed Lange (though unlike Zaun, they live in the new IA-01). Lange has topped Blum in fundraising, a big reason the National Republican Congressional Committee deemed Lange a "contender" last week.
Endorsing Lange could help Zaun mend fences with other important voices in the Iowa Republican establishment. American Future Fund founder Nick Ryan did some work for the Gibbons campaign in 2010, and Gibbons raised money from Bruce Rastetter, one of the largest financial backers of Iowa Republicans as well as the American Future Fund. That 501(c)4 group spent around $1 million targeting Lange's opponent Bruce Braley in 2010, and will likely repeat the performance this year. Nick Ryan is from northeast Iowa and used to work for Representative Jim Nussle.
Along those lines, the Iowa Republican blog's coverage leans strongly toward Lange in the current IA-01 primary. That blog's publisher Craig Robinson was all-in for Gibbons and skeptical of Zaun during the 2010 IA-03 primary campaign.
Iowa House district 50
Zaun's latest foray into GOP primary politics happened last week, when he backed State Representative Annette Sweeney over fellow incumbent Pat Grassley in the new House district 50. That race will be the most closely-watched Iowa Republican primary next month. Sweeney's campaign sent out this e-mail from Zaun on May 17:
Iowans across the state will be heading to the voting booths in less than 3 weeks. We as a state face some very challenging times, and leadership is needed in Des Moines now more than ever. This is why I am writing you today, I have personally seen that leadership by Annette Sweeney.
I began working with Annette in 2009, when she was a freshman Representative and I was in State Senate. At the time Republicans were in the minority, and the Democrats controlled both chambers with sizeable majorities and the Governor's office. Yet during that time I witnessed Annette Sweeney's ability to work both parties in each chamber and the governor's office to pass some very important legislation that helped Iowa veterans apply and receive home loans. That legislation passed the Iowa House 100-0 and the Senate 50-0.
Annette's leadership and passion for this state is on display everyday when she is in Des Moines, at work in the district or leading a trade mission to South Korea and China. Annette saw an opportunity for Iowans and she took it. That trade mission led to the opening of those markets to Iowa's farmers and manufactures.
When House Republicans took the majority after the 2010 elections, we saw Annette become Chair of the House Agriculture Committee were she worked to promote rural Iowa and its family farms. She led the way to defend our farmers from some unscrupulous groups and actors. Annette's bill the Ag Protection Act not only passed both chambers with large bi-partisan support and signed into law; it has been duplicated and passed by 8 other states. However the most important achievements of Annette Sweeney happened this year. During the budget debates, Annette submitted an amendment that would end state funding for abortions and defend the unborn. This amendment became known as the Sweeney Amendment. Many in the past have tried to take on this challenge and they failed. Yet Annette was the only one in recent memory to have her Pro-Life amendment pass the Iowa House with bi-partisan support and force the Democrats who control the Senate be on record on this extremely important issue.
This is why I am endorsing Representative Annette Sweeney in this primary race. She has demonstrated over her career the leadership, passion and effectiveness that Iowans so desperately need. Annette just isn't going to Des Moines to pass the time, Annette Sweeney is going to Des Moines to make a difference. Annette wants to make Iowa great again, and with your support we will. I urge you to vote for Annette Sweeney on June 5th for House District 50.
Brad Zaun is former 2010 Republican nominee for Iowa's 3rd Congressional District and currently serves as State Senator from Urbandale, and is the Senate Republican Whip.
Sweeney and Grassley have strong anti-abortion voting records. For example, both supported an Iowa House vote on "personhood" in 2011. Sweeney's amendment to the health and human services appropriations bill did pass the Iowa House last month, but the restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion in cases of rape or incest was dropped in order to reach consensus with the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate.
Getting involved in the House district 50 primary is not an obvious play for the Senate Republican whip. Very few GOP elected officials have endorsed a candidate in that race. Still, I can think of a few reasons Zaun might favor Sweeney over Grassley.
For one thing, Sweeney and Bruce Rastetter are old childhood friends. If I were an Iowa Republican politician, I'd rather not annoy a major donor. Senator Chuck Grassley is a powerful figure in Washington, but Rastetter gives far more money to GOP state legislative campaign efforts. Anyway, it's not as if the elder Grassley lifted a finger for Zaun during his 2010 campaign against Boswell.
Ending the Grassley family dynasty now has other potential benefits. Someday Chuck Grassley will retire, and upwardly-mobile Republicans will want a shot at the U.S. Senate seat without the senator's grandson in the way.
Zaun's probably not going to get another chance to run for Congress, unless Boswell defeats Representative Tom Latham in IA-03 this year. I doubt Zaun's looking to stage a coup in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. He wouldn't have been named whip if he hadn't backed Jerry Behn in last November's leadership election.
Could Zaun's GOP primary endorsements reflect a desire to run for U.S. Senate or some other statewide office in the future? Or have I left out other ways Zaun might benefit from backing Lange and Sweeney?
Spin your own scenarios in this thread.