This past weekend provided an excellent opportunity to hit the road and follow the candidates seeking the Republican nomination in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District. On Friday afternoon, six of the seven candidates on the ballot participated in a candidate forum sponsored by IowaPolitics.com. The only candidate who did not attend was Jason Lee Welch.
TheIowaRepublican.com then followed the 3rd District candidates to Ames for the Iowa Federation of College Republicans’ annual convention on Saturday morning, and ended the weekend by attending the Mahaska County GOP fundraiser where five candidates and one surrogate speaker addressed the 200 plus in attendance. A fourth event was held in Knoxville in the afternoon, but TIR did not cover that event.
Only two of the seven candidates attended all four events, Jim Gibbons and Dr. Pat Bertroche. Dave Funk was only able to attend the Iowa Politics forum. He spent the rest of the weekend at the Safari Club of Iowa banquet. Funk is the President of the Iowa chapter. State Senator Brad Zaun was busy during the closing hours of the legislative session. Still, Zaun was able to attend the forum and the events in Knoxville and Oskaloosa.
The following is a brief synopsis of how each candidate faired on the trail this weekend.
State Senator Brad Zaun:
Zaun is well liked and known as a tenacious campaigner. At the Iowa Politics forum and the Mahaska County GOP dinner, Zaun mentioned that he’s been out door knocking, even though that’s an activity that congressional candidates typically don’t do. Of all the candidates in the race, only Zaun’s name has appeared on a ballot before. In addition to being a State Senator, Zaun works in the commercial real estate business.
Zaun was on top of his game at the Iowa Politics forum on Friday. His personality and common sense approach showed every time he answered a question. Zaun’s engaging personality and well known work ethic serve him well on the campaign trail. Zaun could be seen talking to himself while other candidates were giving their answers. Whether he was formulating his answers or making mental notes, it’s something that will not be overlooked in a debate with Congressman Leonard Boswell.
Zaun was able to use the Iowa Politics forum to further develop the theme of his congressional campaign. Instead of focusing in on particular issues, Zaun is making the case that Boswell and other members of Congress refuse to listen to the people that are supposed to represent. Zaun’s populist message is appealing and makes a lot of political sense. It has allowed Zaun to position himself as a frustrated outsider instead of a political insider who already holds political office himself.
Zaun was unable to attend the College Republicans convention, but his surrogate, Adam Kaduce, did a great job in his place. Kaduce, a former College Republican himself, gave a very passionate speech on why he is supporting Zaun’s campaign for congress. While Zaun was on his game on Friday afternoon, he seemed a bit off in Oskaloosa on Saturday night. Missing from Zaun’s speech was his passionate insistence that Boswell isn’t listening to his constituents, and in its place was more of a legislative update. In Zaun’s defense, he did need to leave and head back to the State Capitol for votes later that evening, so he could have been a bit flustered.
Gibbons got a chance to see what it’s like being the frontrunner in the race at Friday’s 3rd District forum. His primary opponents were asked about various issues of the day, but when it was Gibbons’ turn to get the first crack at a question, Lynn Campbell of Iowa Politics took Dave Funk’s attack on Gibbons for being supported by former Speaker Denny Hastert and asked about it herself.
Gibbons handled the question really well. He made no apologies for the support his campaign has received and noted that defeating Leonard Boswell will likely cost $2 million or more. Gibbons also showed some humor, he laughed as he said, “Some people have big oil or big drug companies behind them, I’ve got big wrestling.” Gibbons noted that he first met Hastert when the former Speaker of the U.S. House was a high school wrestling coach.
Zaun and Gibbons were the two candidates that most people thought did the best in the forum. While Zaun was passionate, Gibbons was thoughtful, continued to be the most issue oriented candidate, and seemed the most comfortable with who he is as a candidate. I spoke to a number of people following the forum who told me that Gibbons seemed the most congressional out of all the candidates.
While Gibbons tied with Zaun for the lead at the forum, he did a good job with the college Republicans on Saturday morning, and excelled in Mahaska County later that night. He seems to be a very observant candidate, always tweaking his message to best fit the crowd he is addressing. At the forum and at the College Republican convention, Gibbons focused on his 17 years as a financial planner. In Mahaska County, he highlighted his knowledge of rural issues. He touted his farm management degree from Iowa State University, and talked about how the cap and trade bill that Congressman Boswell supported would devastate the housing market and place an unnecessary burden on farmers.
Gibbons also is not afraid to talk about his faith. The Mahaska County event was held at the Oskaloosa Christian School. Gibbons was the only candidate to take note of the hundreds of footprints with the names of students on them that surrounded the room. Gibbons told the crowd that he had served six years on the education board for a parochial school in Perry, Iowa. When referencing the footprints again, he made a point to tell the audience that the current generation of political leadership is saddling the next generation with $60,000 per child.
Dave Funk was at a disadvantage because he was only able to attend the Iowa Politics forum. The forum got off to a bad start for Funk. After the first question round, the moderator asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would vote to repeal the healthcare reform act that had just passed in the United State House of Representatives. Everyone but Funk raised their hands. Funk said, “I refuse to raise my hand like this is the second grade.” He went on to agree with the others who raised their hands.
Funk’s stunt was reminiscent of Fred Thompson refusing to raise his hand in the Des Moines Register’s debate before the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. While Thompson was able to pull it off, Funk’s attempt fell flat. Many in the room groaned, and Des Moines Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich admitted to rolling her eyes. After refusing to raise his hand, Funk came off as the angry candidate, which probably skewed people’s opinion of him throughout the forum.
Funk’s campaign manager Ryan Rhodes spoke for him at the College Republican convention in Ames. At the Mahaska County GOP event, Brent Rodgers spoke on Funk’s behalf. Truth be told, of all the 3rd District speakers at the Mahaska County event, Rodgers did a better job than all of them except for Gibbons. Still, not being in Mahaska County in person is a missed opportunity for Funk.
Funk is quickly becoming the angry constitutionalist in the race. While his speaking ability has improved dramatically since I first met him last summer, coming off as an angry candidate might not get you very far, even in a Republican primary.
Rees had an interesting week. His appearances on Jan Michelson and Steve Deace’s radio programs will not help him get many votes. Michelson was almost like a cat that caught a mouse, but instead of eating it, he chose to play with it for a while. While conservative radio didn’t work, Rees showed that he belonged at Iowa Politics forum. If you are looking for candidates who have a good understanding of the issues facing Congress today, Rees and Gibbons provided the most knowledge at the forum.
For the most part, Rees proved to be a deep thinker who was pretty much in-line with the other candidates except on the issue of cap and trade. While the other candidates discredited global warming, Rees admitted that he was concerned about it. Rees isn’t exactly supportive of the cap and trade bill that Boswell voted for, but compared to his other opponents he might as well be.
Rees also attended the Mahaska County GOP event. Again, Rees comes off as a very intelligent person and nice man, but his lack of passion and personality hurts him on the campaign trail. In Oskaloosa Saturday night, Rees made the pitch that the conservatives who Republicans have ran against Boswell have all failed, so nominating another conservative wouldn’t be wise. That’s not going to go over well in Mahaska County, or anywhere else in the Republican primary for that matter.
Dr. Pat Betroche
Betroche made it to all four events in the district this weekend. He is a nice enough guy and his outgoing nature allows him work a room well. As the only physician running, Bertroche does provide some interesting commentary on healthcare issues.
One area that Betroche might want to brush up on is campaign finance law. At a couple of the events, Betroche lamented about the unlimited amount of money that corporations can give to candidates. He then proudly says that he his campaign refuses to take any corporate contributions. This sounds great, but under federal law, all congressional candidates are barred from taking corporate contributions. They can take money from PACs, but it is limited to $5000 per election. Bertroche simply doesn’t know what he is talking about.
I’m sure Mr. Batcher is a nice enough guy, but it’s clear that he is not a formidable candidate. Batcher seemed overwhelmed at times at both the Iowa Politics forum and the Mahaska County GOP event. While I do believe he is an intelligent individual, running for public office might not be the arena that best suits him.
After seeing some of the candidates speak in different venues over this past weekend, the 3rd CD race is starting to take shape. While there might be seven candidates on the ballot, only four of them have any real shot at being the nominee. Funk, Gibbons, Zuan, and Rees all have paid staff and offices, the others do not.
It will be interesting to see how each of these campaigns develops in the next month or so. Gibbons has shown the ability to raise money and articulate a clear vision, yet questions remain on whether or not he can build a viable grassroots organization across the district. Zaun, on the other hand, has a loyal following of supporters but needs to show the ability to raise the necessary funds that would allow him to wage a multifaceted campaign.
Gibbons probably had the best weekend followed by Zaun. Funk being tied up at the Safari Club of Iowa banquet isn’t all bad either. He could have very well used that event to raise some necessary money for his campaign. Rees showed that he is a critical thinker, but a moderate in Republican primary is going to be a tough sale. Still, just showing that he belongs by contributing to the debate and showing knowledge on the issues is a good thing for his campaign.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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