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July 18th, 2011

Beholden to Whom? The People You Represent or Campaign Contributors?

Christie Vilsack will officially announce her campaign for Congress in Iowa’s new 4th Congressional District tomorrow in Ames.  Her announcement comes on the heels of posting an impressive fundraising haul for her campaign.  From April 1st to June 30th, Vilsack has raised over $420,000.  This is a staggering amount of money for any candidate, but it’s even more impressive for a candidate who has never held public office before.

Vilsack’s opponent, Congressman Steve King bought in a respectable $168,000. King is not known for his fundraising prowess, but Vilsack already leads him in the cash-on-hand race by $160,000.

Incumbents typically find it easier to raise money than challengers because of their ability to attract money from political action committees (PACs).  Thus far, that is not the case in this race.  King has only received $42,000 in PAC money this cycle, while Vilsack has raised $53,000.  To put King’s PAC contributions in perspective, Congressman Latham has already raised $697,000 from PACs, and Congressman Loebsack, who has raised the second lowest amount of PAC money in the Iowa delegation, has raised $149,000 from PACs.

Even though Vilsack’s fundraising has been impressive, it’s not as if she is finding much support in the district that she wants to represent.  Only about 30 donations came from the newly constructed 4th District.  Those contributions total just over $25,000, which is actually less than the money she received from donors in California.  Californians donated $29,000 to her campaign.

It has often been said that money is the mother’s milk of politics.  While that is true more times than not, the congressional district that Vilsack has moved into is the most difficult one in the state for a Democrat.  There are areas in the district in which she can probably do very well, but the large rural district houses some of the state’s most conservative voting blocks.  For Vilsack to be successful, she’s going to need to be viewed as a centrist alternative to the conservative firebrand that she is running against.

That might be easier said that done.  When Vilsack traveled the district earlier this spring on her listening tour, she refused to answer questions from wither potential constituents.  During her tour she said that she wanted her comments to reflect what she is hearing from the people.  However, seeing how her announcement is set after a record fundraising haul, it appears as if she is listening to the people who are writing checks instead of the people she wants to represent.

It’s hard to believe that the approach that Vilsack used with the people in the 4th District would work on the fundraising circuit.  Vilsack avoided sharing her views with people on the issue of abortion during her tour, but Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood both have already contributed to her campaign.  Vilsack also received $4000 from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a name that she will likely not embrace while campaigning in northwest Iowa.

The King/Vilsack race will likely be one for the ages.  It appears that Vilsack will have a fundraising advantage throughout the campaign, but King is tight with grassroots Republicans, and the district’s independents are much more conservative leaning than in other parts of the state.  However, that doesn’t mean that King can sleepwalk to a victory.

Vilsack is accumulating a campaign war chest to do one thing – damage Steve King.  Every controversial statement that King has made, as well as every disparaging thing that has been said of him, will be re-broadcast during the campaign.  If you thought the Boswell/Zaun race was nasty last year, the King/Vilsack race might make that one look tame.

As Vilsack now officially enters the race, let’s hope that she can be as upfront and honest with the people she hopes to represent as she is with the donors and special interest groups that are backing her campaign.

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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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