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October 1st, 2009

Kiernan Lied about Top-Tier US Candidate to Challenge Grassley

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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Kiernan250Last week, Iowa Democratic Chairman Michael Kiernan said that Senator Chuck Grassley will “be in the race of his life.” Kiernan made the comments on IPTV’s Iowa Press program. He spent a considerable amount of his time on the show driving speculation on the mystery Democrat. Likewise, the news media quickly pounced on the idea of a serious challenge to Grassley. There is just one problem – no such candidate exists. Kiernan made it all up.

Two sources have told that Kiernan admitted to concocting the mystery candidate when top Democratic officials pressed their Party Chairman on who this big name candidate was who would instill fear into Grassley. Kiernan’s tall tale of a serious Grassley opponent might have helped get his name in the paper, but at the end of the day, his credibility with the media is now tarnished.

It is typical for party leaders to be vague or sound overly optimistic when pressed by the media, but Kiernan kept elevating the story during Iowa Press, which wasn’t necessary. The following is the transcript for Iowa Press.

Glover: I’m not denigrating them but in a first financial disclosure, Chuck Grassley said he had $3.8 million in the bank and the one of your candidates who has filed said he had $5,000 he has raised.

Kiernan: Well, you know, Doug Gross has gone and pulled out of retirement Terry Branstad to run for governor, so it got a lot of democrats thinking, including myself, maybe it’s time – and I’ll put this in a football analogy, since my counterpart owns a football team – that maybe it’s time to get a first-round draft pick. I’m going to tell you here today that Chuck Grassley will be in for the race of his life, that 2010 will be a tough race, and that person is – that person will announce.

Glover: Who have you drafted?

Kiernan: Well, you know, you’re just going to have to wait to find out. We want to wait until after, obviously, Terry Branstad announces his candidacy for governor.

Borg: Give us some of the characteristics of that phantom candidate.

Kiernan: Well, I can tell you this, that they’re – I’ll just wait for the announcement and you’ll be impressed.

Glover: Let’s say that you have Chuck Grassley out there running the typical campaign that Chuck Grassley runs, spending a few million dollars running up the score. How much of a problem is that for you down the ballot if you’ve got this behemoth at the top of the republican ticket piling up votes and a lot of independent and democratic votes?

Kiernan: Look, it doesn’t cut both ways, because what I hear from democrats is that we’re up 100,000 registered voters and that turnout is everything, driving young people out. Well, so when we talk about the election – and I’ve done past interviews where people have always said, well, Governor Culver will be the top priority. Well, like I said with football analogies, we’re going to call – there will be two top priorities in 2010. There will be a U.S. Senate race and Governor Culver, and that will drive turnout. If you look at it, we’re up over 100,000 registered voters.

Glover: But at what point do we just stop listening to this? Is another phantom candidate out there? I mean you’re about the fourth person that’s told me that and I have yet to hear a name.

Kiernan: What do you want me to do, start a 527 and start doing polling on this person?

Glover: Sure.

Kiernan: Like Doug Gross.

Glover: I know what Chuck Grassley is doing.

Kiernan: Look, I’m here to tell you today that it will be the toughest race that Chuck Grassley has faced since John Culver.
Glover: Okay, if you can’t tell me who it is, if you can’t tell me where they are, if you can’t tell me what they’re going to do, can you at least give me a timetable for when we’re going to learn this so I can make sure I’m not on vacation?
Kiernan: Very soon, but, you know, we’re still waiting for Terry Branstad to make the official announcement. So it will be very soon. But, you know, we don’t want to – we want to wait and see what Terry does here. Supposedly he’s going to make his formal announcement coming up.

The situation that Kiernan and the Iowa Democratic Party find themselves in is very similar to what Iowa Republicans went through in 2008. In that cycle, Republicans were looking for a candidate to run against Senator Tom Harkin. While there was interest by people who would have been more formidable than the candidates who actually ran, none of those people ever materialized into candidates.

One of the problems Republicans faced in 2008 was that the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) gave no indication that they would help a Harkin challenger if the race became close. The NRSC had limited funds, and they were forced to help defend incumbents like Norm Coleman, Elizabeth Dole, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, and Ted Stevens. While I’m sure the NRSC would have loved to play in Iowa, in actuality they knew there was little they could do and didn’t over-promise.

In 2010, it is likely that Democrats might have to focus more on protecting incumbents rather than trying to pull an upset in Iowa over Senator Chuck Grassley. Democrat incumbents like Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, and Arlen Specter are all vulnerable. Making matters worse, there are a slew of candidates who were appointed to fill out the remaining portions of terms for senators who either left the senate to take positions with the Obama administration, filled a vacancy created by a death or scandal, or the filled the seats that were once occupied by Obama and Biden.

For most of the summer, we have listened to Iowa Democrats repeatedly say that they will have a top-flight candidate to run against Senator Grassley. However, thus far, names like Fred Hubbell, Barry Griswell, and Tom or Christy Vilsack have not panned out. Instead, it is more likely that the Democrat nominee will be either Tom Fiegen or Bob Krause.

Kiernan’s insistence that Iowa Democrats can find a better candidate than what they currently have also creates a bad relation between the current candidates and IDP. Kiernan began to give the politically correct answer on Iowa Press. He said, “First off, we’ve got two amazing candidates that are running. They’re good people, they’re running, and they’re doing a great job out there.” However, when Mike Glover of the Associated Press pointed out that the only Democrat who has filed paperwork has onlyraised $5000, Kiernan quickly created his mythical candidate.

We now know that Kiernan was lying. There is no big-name candidate lurking in the shadows. Some have said that his tall-tail was designed to intimidate or influence Terry Branstad’s decision. If that was Kiernan’s intent, he did a poor job of scaring anyone. The more likely scenario is that Kiernan lied because he told his Democratic State Central Committee that he would recruit a top tier candidate to run against Grassley. The problem is that he can’t deliver on that promise.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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