In 2008, Mariannette Miller-Meeks was considered the underdog in her bid for the Republican nomination in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Before running for Congress, her previous political involvement was intertwined with her profession as a physician. Miller-Meeks visited the halls of Congress to lobby for healthcare reforms through her work with the American Medical Association.
Many questioned Miller-Meeks’ ability to win the 2008 primary because she was from the southern part of the district, while her opponent was a well-connected Cedar Rapids businessman. She proved herself to be a tireless campaigner, an adequate fundraiser, and extremely knowledgably on a wide range of issues.
Miller-Meeks won that primary by a slim 214 votes. Her persistence on the campaign trail mirrored the hard work that it took her to become a successful opthamologist and the first female president of the Iowa Medical Society.
After the primary, Miller-Meeks continued to build a loyal following of Republican activists across the district, but couldn’t overcome what ended up being a great year for Democrats across the nation. Miller-Meeks lost to Congressman Dave Loebsack by a margin of 56,440 votes. Two counties, Linn and Johnson, made up over 47,000 of Loebsack’s 56,000 vote margin.
Miller-Meeks finds herself in a much different position in the 2010 primary. The most obvious difference is that she is the frontrunner in the race and, as such, is expected to win. The other difference is the field of candidates who are also vying for the Republican nomination is much stronger than the 2008 field.
The 2008 primary was essentially a two-person race between Miller-Meeks and Peter Teahen. The third candidate, Lee Harder was more of a nuisance than anything else, yet he did garner more than 10 percent of the vote. The current field of candidates is much stronger and better known to Republican primary voters in the district.
Along with Miller-Meeks, two of the three candidates who sought the 2008 nomination for the U.S. Senate are running for the 2nd District nomination. Steve Rathje is running what seems to me a more disciplined campaign than the one he ran in 2008. Rathje is running television ads and is counting on a strong showing in Linn County on primary day. Of the three candidates who were on the primary ballot in 2008, Rathje had the strongest showing in Linn County. In fact, he received 1,300 more votes in Linn County than Miller-Meeks did.
The other candidate who is on the ballot is Chris Reed, the 2008 U.S. Senate nominee. Rathje actually beat Reed in the 2nd District in 2008, but Reed was stronger in other parts of the state. Reed has appeal to the base of the Republican Party and did well in a lot of rural counties.
The forth and final candidate in the race is a newcomer, Rob Gettemy. Gettemy is an entrepreneur who also teaches a business course at the University of Iowa. Gettermy has proven himself to be a tough campaigner and has loaned his campaign enough money to lead all of the candidates in cash on hard numbers at the end of last month.
The crowded and more competent field of candidates means that this year’s primary in Iowa’s 2nd District will be much different than the one two years ago. In 2008, Miller-Meeks dominated her opponents in the rural part of the district.
Miller-Meeks garnered more than 50 percent of the vote in Appanoose, Davis, Jefferson, Johnson, Van Buren, Wapello, and Wayne counties. Had she not dominated those rural counties, there would have been no way that Miller-Meeks could have made up the 2500 vote margin that Teahen built for himself in Linn County
It will be extremely difficult for Miller-Meeks to once again deliver the large margins she was able to build up in those counties this time around. That makes doing well in Linn and Johnson counties a necessity for her if she wants to win the nomination outright. While she has spent a considerable about of time in the northern part of the district, it’s also where all of her opponents are from.
The other important factor to consider in the 2nd CD race is what turnout will be. In 2008, 17,601 votes were cast, which was low for a contested primary in the district. The average turnout for a contested primary in the 2nd District is around 23,500. If that is the number of voters who turnout on June 8th, Miller-Meeks would have to increase her support by 12% to surpass the 35% threshold to avoid a nominating convention. Turnout in the 2010 primaries could easily exceed the 23,500 level. If that is the case, then Miller-Meeks will have to perform even better.
The strategy that Miller-Meeks is using in her 2010 primary makes this even more fascinating. She has yet to run a TV ad, while both Steve Rathje and Rob Gettemy have been running ads for weeks now. TheIowaRepublican.com has been told that Miller-Meeks has opted not to run any TV ads during the primary. Instead, she is sending direct mail to voters.
Her strategy is risky. A mail program can be very effective, but it can be as costly as TV. The other factor one must consider is that the only people who see mail are the households that are mailed. On the other hand, TV ads cast a much larger net. If the Miller-Meeks campaign has a good handle on the make-up of the primary electorate, she should be fine. If she’s off, then Gettemy and Rathje are in a much stronger position than most people think that they are.
While Miller-Meeks is still the frontrunner for the nomination, she faces a much more difficult road to the nomination than she should have to deal with. As the frontrunner in the race, Miller-Meeks could have limited the size of the field by showing early fundraising strength. She failed to do that when Steve Rathje outraised her at the end of last year. That left the door open for newcomer Gettemy to enter the race. Gettemy has the difficult task of raising his name ID in a short period of time, but he has more financial resources at his disposal than any other candidate in the district, which means he could become a major factor in the race.
Miller-Meeks has also opened herself up to attacks from her opponents. Her recent statements about drugs and purity in the Republican Party were not necessary. Miller-Meeks should be commended for being honest with the voters, but she has been undisciplined in the delivery of her message.
It is likely that the 2nd District primary will end up being decided at a nominating convention. Miller-Meeks would be the favorite to win a convention unless one of the other three candidates beats her in the popular vote. If that happens it’s an entirely different ball game.
Five months ago there was nothing that would have indicated that Miller-Meeks wouldn’t win the nomination outright. I’m not quite sure about that now. It’s not because she isn’t an extremely hard worker. It’s because the strategy that the she has chosen to adopt is a risky one.
Photo by Dave Davidson
blog comments powered by Disqus