The current political environment may be the most favorable that Iowa Republicans have ever experienced. The last time Republicans had a favorable environment like this was in 1994. That year, they re-elected Governor Terry Branstad after a bitter primary with 57% of the vote, won 63 seats in the Iowa House, and elected two new members of congress – Dr. Greg Ganske and Tom Latham.
Once again, Iowa Republicans are in position to elect Terry Branstad and capture the majority in the Iowa House. The most difficult item on their to-do list will be picking up one or more congressional seats this fall.
Despite the good environment for Republicans, picking up congressional seats will be a difficult task. Part of the reason for that is the fundraising advantage that the incumbents have over their challengers.
Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) last week show that Iowa’s Congressional incumbents raised $580,000 compared to the $356,000 raised by their opponents. Further illustrating the up-hill battle that the challengers have is that the five challengers combined have $350,000 cash-on-hand compared to the almost $3 million that the incumbents have banked during the election cycle.
The good news for Iowa Republicans is that their three challengers have a reasonable chance of knocking off their Democratic opponents despite the fundraising disadvantage. The Democrats, on the other hand, have only recruited token opposition for Tom Latham and Steve King.
Most Republicans believe that Brad Zaun represents the best chance of knocking off a Democrat incumbent this fall. There are good reasons for that mindset as Zaun is an institution in Polk County, and he won a seven way primary by a convincing margin. Zaun also raised the most money of any congressional challenger, having raised over $119,000 in the first reporting period after the primary.
While Zaun took a significant step forward in the fundraising department, his victory in the seven way primary didn’t come without a price. Zaun has to contend with almost $50,000 in campaign debts and obligations from his primary campaign. That means Zaun’s actual cash-on-hand is really half of the $100,000 he reported to the FEC. Meanwhile, Congressman Boswell has nearly $740,000 cash-on-hand and Bill Clinton is coming in to do a fundraiser, which should net his campaign an influx of personal contributions.
In Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks raised $66,000 and reported over $100,000 cash-on-hand during the period. While Miller-Meeks’ fundraising numbers look like they are on par with the other Republican candidates, she loaned her campaign $120,000. Without this loan to the campaign, Miller-Meek’s would have appeared to be broke.
Like Zaun, Miller-Meeks had an impressive victory in a hotly contested primary defeating three opponents. Miller-Meeks is better known than she was during her last campaign, and she also won’t have to contend with the worst natural disaster in the state’s history. That, combined with the fact that Barack Obama will not be driving turnout, should give her a better chance of ousting Congressman Loebsack in November.
Surprisingly the candidate best positioned heading into this fall’s general election is Ben Lange, who is running against Congressman Bruce Braley in Iowa’s 1st District. Lange raised $108,000 and has $110,000 cash-on-hand. He has no debt heading into the general election. Lange actually out-raised Braley in the period, but Braley, who has $623,000 cash-on-hand, has a six to one money advantage over him.
Lange’s newfound fundraising ability is a great development for Iowa Republicans. With three separate urban areas, the 1st District is one of the best areas of the state in which to fundraise. While it can be tough for a Republican to win in a presidential year, the district has been a Republican stronghold for years.
There are a number of factors that point to Lange making this a competitive race with Braley. First, Chuck Grassley is on the ballot this year, and he lives in the district. Second, Terry Branstad has always run strong in eastern Iowa, just like he did in the June primary. If Grassley and Branstad provide any coattails this fall, Lange could very well be the biggest benefactor.
Republicans should feel optimistic about all of their congressional challengers, but the one who has flown under the radar thus far may be the one to keep your eye on. If Lange can continue to run a thrifty campaign and raise enough money to increase his name ID across the district, he may have a shot on November 2nd.
Donate to Brad Zaun’s Campaing by Clicking Here.
Donate to Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ Campaign by Clicking Here
Donate to Ben Lange’s Campaign by Clicking Here
Zaun Photo by Dave Davidson
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