Governor Branstad’s appointment of State Senator Swati Dandakar to the Iowa Utilities Board forced Iowa Democrats to come to grips with the possibility of losing control of the chamber earlier than anyone would have ever expected. Initially, Democrats appeared to have been caught off guard, but rebounded quickly when they recruited Liz Mathis, a well-known TV personality to fill the remaining year of Dandakar’s term.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Grontal and Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Sue Dvorsky have both made comments indicating that they view the upcoming special election as a referendum on collective bargaining and other pro-labor issues. Gronstal has stated, “We are Wisconsin now.” Dvorsky indicated that Iowa Democrats have a strong connection with Wisconsin Democrats. She also insisted that they have “a lot of friends who owe us one.”
Mathis is obviously a grade-A candidate, but it’s yet to be seen if she’s a good fit for Democrats who are laser focused on the labor union agenda. If the special election in Senate District 22 is indeed the Iowa Democrats’ “Wisconsin,” then why didn’t they select a union leader as their candidate? Surely there are plenty of firefighters or schoolteachers that would have fit nicely with Gronstal’s “We are Wisconsin” theme, but instead, they have are set to nominate a TV personality instead of labor leader.
While the selection of Mathis does and doesn’t make sense all at the same time, it’s the Democrat’s sudden cavalier attitude about their ability to hold the seat that truly boggles the mind. Much of that attitude is the product of the Democrats’ recruiting of Mathis combined with the inability of Governor Branstad to nominate his preferred candidate. However, what really matters is how Mathis matches up with the Republican nominee, Cindy Golding.
Underestimating Golding would be a huge mistake. While she might not have been the pick of the powers that be in Des Moines, Golding is a formidable candidate. Mathis will always have the name ID advantage in this contest, but Golding provides Republicans with a candidate who is well spoken, determined, and a perfect fit in the current political climate.
Here are just a few things that should have Republican’s optimistic about Golding’s chances.
Campaign Experience: Democrats have been quick to point out that Golding failed at her first campaign for the legislature. In doing so, they insinuate that she’s a poor campaigner. Golding lost in a primary to now Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen in 2002. Not only is that almost a decade ago, but losing in a primary is different than losing in a general election.
In talking to people who are familiar with Golding’s 2002 run, they indicated that she was trying to run a general election campaign in a primary, and it didn’t work. On the other hand, Paulsen focused entirely on constituencies that vote in primary elections, and as a result, Paulsen easily won the primary. Golding has already gotten through the primary stage this time around, and she did so with ease.
Secondly, a special election doesn’t allow any time for candidates to become seasoned campaigners. Instead they need to get up to speed quickly. Golding’s past campaign experience is an advantage, not a weakness. It’s also worth noting that Golding’s brother is a Republican state senator in Utah. It never hurts to have a member of the family to be able to bounce ideas off of or to provide a little advice.
Business Background: In a political environment where jobs and the economy are the top issues on voter’s minds, having a candidate like Golding who is a small business owner and who knows the ins and outs of making a payroll is a big advantage. Once you get past the presumed Democratic candidate’s name ID advantage, Golding matches up well in the current environment.
Former TV anchor Liz Mathis, who is expected to be Golding’s opponent, works for the state’s largest child welfare agency. That agency is a non-profit group and exists by the generosity of individual donors and government assistance. While Mathis has high name ID and is obviously involved in her community, Golding can talk about what she and her husband do to actually create jobs. She’s also capable of talking about the need to reduce regulations and property taxes on businesses in order to get the economy moving again.
Golding has also traveled to Des Moines to lobby legislators on behalf of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). So, not only does Golding have business experience, but she’s also actually advocated for pro-business policies, which is something that Mathis has never done. In short, Golding is a pro-business candidate in a political cycle where jobs are the number one issue. Advantage Golding.
Work Ethic: Golding displayed a number of qualities at the nominating convention last week, but maybe the most important one is her desire to succeed. Of the three candidates, Golding was the one who really worked the room before, during, and after the convention. In the question and answer segment, she not only proved that she was very knowledgeable, but she was also the most aggressive candidate.
When the candidates were questioned if they had ever donated to a Democrat, Golding quickly admitted that she had donated to Ed Fallon’s gubernatorial campaign in the 2006 primary. She then pointed out that another candidate had donated much more to a Democrat than she gave Fallon. While donating to a Democrat doesn’t sit well with Republican activists, she showed that she is willing to own up to her record, and in doing so, used it as an opportunity to differentiate herself from an opponent.
Too many times the powers that be focus too much on how the candidates look on paper and ignore other important factors like work ethic. In Golding, Republicans have nominated a candidate who will hard by knocking on doors, making phone calls, and doing whatever else is necessary to be successful.
Actually Earned the Nomination: Democrats view Golding as a weak candidate because she was not the preferred candidate of Governor Branstad and other GOP powerbrokers to win the nomination. The reality of the situation is that Golding was simply a superior candidate to Branstad’s pick, Mary Rathje. Rathje, a long time Republican donor, seemed like a fish out of water in the nominating convention. The delegates voted for the candidate who not only was the best communicator of the three, but they also selected the candidate that came across as knowledgeable and wanted it the most. With all due respect to the other two candidates, Golding gives Republicans the best chance to win the seat.
If the Senate District 18 Nominating Convention proved anything, it’s that nobody should underestimate Cindy Golding.
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