Just over a decade ago, Republicans held eight of the nine legislative seats in Scott County, today Republicans only control three of those seats. The difficulties that Republicans have recently experienced in Scott County are not confined to one county; it is something that ails Republicans in all of eastern Iowa. Currently, Republicans control only five senate seats and sixteen house seats east of Polk County. If you want to understand why Republicans have lost their majorities, one need to look at what has happened to the state of the Republican Party in eastern Iowa.
In January of 2000, there were almost 5,000 more registered Republicans in Scott County than there were registered Democrats. Today, Democrats enjoy a registered voter advantage of 8,622 over Republicans. The 13,000 person swing in registered voters explains why Republicans have struggled to win elections in Scott County, the first congressional district, and statewide.
In the late 1990’s, Republican statewide candidates could win if they were able to perform reasonably well in Polk County. Many times, western Iowa counties as along with eastern Iowa Republican strongholds like Scott County could offset the margin that Democratic candidates could build in Polk and Johnson counties. Unfortunately, those were the glory days of Republican politics. In recent years, the only area of the state in which Republicans can build significant margins over Democrats is in northwest Iowa.
The good news for Republicans is that recent elections have shown that good candidates can win in eastern Iowa. Nick Wagner and Renee Schulte were able to win two urban Linn County seats in the Iowa House in 2008, and Shawn Hamerlinck was able to win a Scott County Senate seat that year as well. Hamerlinck’s victory doubled the number of Republican state senators in the 1st Congressional District from one to two.
Another important development in terms of the Republican recovery in Eastern Iowa is the resurgence of the Scott County Republican Party. While Scott County has always enjoyed great activist support, they are now ramping up their fundraising efforts, which will allow them to have a greater impact on the 2010 elections. If successful, what is happening in Scott County should be implemented in every other urban county in the state.
Helping to lead the way for the Scott County GOP is former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman, Brian Kennedy. Kennedy, who ran for congress in 2006, has signed on to serve at the Scott County Republicans’ Finance chair. Kennedy’s first course of action was to develop and implement a major donor program. Raising money for county party organizations is not easy work. For most counties, Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses allow them to raise significant money to fund their efforts. Additionally, many counties also have a Century Club which solicits $100 donations.
Kennedy’s more aggressive fundraising approach has the Scott County Republican Party raising money more like the state party does. Instead of individual ticket sales and $100 contributions, the Scott County GOP has a Lincoln Club, which asks supporters for large yearly donations in return for tickets to all of their events and quarterly briefings from influential politicos. The Scott County GOP’s first quarterly briefing featured Gentry Collins, the current political director for the Republican National Committee. Collins, a native Iowan, met with members to give them an update about what RNC is currently working on.
Kennedy believes that eastern Iowa will play a critical role in next year’s Republican primary and general election. Five of the six current gubernatorial candidates all call western or central Iowa home. The only candidate from eastern Iowa is Cedar Rapids businessman Christian Fong. With no candidate having a geographical advantage in Scott County and the other river counties on the eastern side of the state, it is likely that the Republican primary will be determined by who is able to garner the most support in those counties.
Eastern Iowa also likely holds the key to defeating Governor Chet Culver. In TheIowaRepublican.com poll, the only candidate who was able to beat Governor Culver in a head-to-head matchup was Terry Branstad. The reason why Branstad was able to soundly defeat Culver is because of how well he did in eastern Iowa. For any candidate to be successful against Culver, he will have to perform well in eastern Iowa.
Kennedy believes that the message that will resonate with eastern Iowa voters should focus on job creation and the economy. Data from the Iowa Workforce Development office shows that the unemployment rate in Scott County is currently at 7.3 percent, four points higher than it was when Governor Chet Culver took office in January of 2007. The 1st congressional district has historically been considered to be a Democrat-leaning district because it contains blue-collar towns like Davenport, Dubuque, Clinton, and Waterloo. However, before the 2006 elections, the district was represented by Republicans for more than 20 years.
The 2010 elections should bring a lot of opportunities for Iowa Republicans to pick up legislative seats and win statewide contests. However, if Republicans are going to be successful, they must build the grassroots organization necessary to turn out enough votes on Election Day. That takes a lot of money, and that is why Brian Kennedy and the Scott County GOP should be commended for their hard work and dedication to help elect Republicans.
The Scott County GOP will hold its first annual Reagan Dinner next Tuesday. The event will feature the Republican candidates for governor, as well as former New York Governor George Pataki. The event will be held at the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center at 5:15 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here. TheIowaRepublican.com will be in Scott County to cover the event next week.
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