With only three weeks until the June 5th primary, candidates are working overtime to convince voters that they deserve the nomination. Last night, the Muscatine County Republican Party hosted a candidate forum for candidates seeking the Republican nomination for congress, state senate, and county supervisor.
The race for the Republican nomination in the 2nd Congressional District features Bettendorf attorney John Archer and Muscatine homebuilder Dan Dolan. Both candidates are running radio and TV ads across the southeast Iowa district, yet with no public polling, where the race stands is anyone’s guess.
Muscatine and Scott Counties are also the home of another interesting primary battle. Redistricting caused incumbent State Senators Jim Hahn and Shawn Hamerlinck to be in the same district. Hamerlinck is from rural Scott County and was one of the rare senate Republican victors from the 2008 election. Hahn is from Muscatine and served in the Iowa House from 1990 to 2004, and has served in the Iowa Senate since 2005.
Both campaigns have been relatively quiet since none of the candidates have criticized their opponents in paid campaign advertisements. In both of these races, it’s impossible to know who benefits from the sleepy primary. In the State Senate District 46 race, Hahn brings a lot of experience and is an institution in Muscatine, but Hammerlinck has represented the Scott County portion of the District before and may be more willing to aggressively campaign across the district in the primary.
Below are my thoughts and impressions from last night’s forum.
2nd Congressional Primary – Archer vs. Dolan
Regardless of who ends up winning the primary in the 2nd Congressional District, Iowa Republicans are going to have a good candidate to run against Congressman Dave Loebsack this fall. As has been the norm in most Republican primaries this cycle, both Archer and Dolan have yet to really engage one another. In the Republican primary in the 1st District, Rod Blum and Ben Lange have not gone after each other either, but there is definitely plenty of tension between the two. In last night’s 2nd District primary forum, it was hard to detect any sort of tension between Archer and Dolan.
Not only do both candidates share the same temperament, but both are running on a similar platform. Dolan’s message focuses on job creation, deficit reduction, and a common sense domestic energy program. Archer focused on debt, deficit spending, regulatory and tax burdens, and the lack of a domestic energy policy. Where the candidates differ is in their backgrounds and knowledge base on certain issues.
I had the opportunity to interview Dolan before he officially announced his candidacy. I found him to be very impressive and passionate, but I thought that he needed to be more willing to share his beliefs on social issues. To my surprise, I thought Dolan came out on top in the forum with his answers on life and marriage. While both candidates hold conservative positions on these issues, Dolan was willing to devote more time at the forum to addressing them.
Dolan started off his introduction by saying that he was 100 percent pro-life. When asked about gay marriage, Dolan explained why he believes the issue is a state, not a federal issue. He also added that he feels the people of Iowa should have the right to vote on the matter. Archer, on the other hand, simply stated that he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that’s it. Both candidates could have offered more on the matter, the format of the forum didn’t allow for much back and fourth between the candidates on subjects.
Dolan was also strong on 2nd Amendment issues. A questioner asked the candidates to be specific about their support of gun rights, and then asked them to comment on national reciprocity legislation. Archer admitted that he wasn’t familiar with the topic, while Dolan explained that he would back a national concealed carry reciprocity bill 100 percent. Dolan also said that he supports constitutional carry laws.
Archer was at his best when talking about economic issues, which relate well to his business background. Archer made it clear that it’s not government’s role to create jobs, but it does need to create an environment which is suitable to creating jobs. He also noted that it’s the onerous regulations that stifle business growth in America. Archer, who is a part owner of Bettendorf-based Schebler Company, said that he is the best candidate on the jobs issues because of his work with John Deere, his involvement in a small manufacturing business, and his position as a school board member.
Archer also provided the audience with plenty of red meat. He advocated for the abolition of the Department of Energy and Department of Education. He also said that Congressman Steve King is one of the best members of Congress because he is a man of principle and conviction. Archer also advocated for major changes to entitlement programs like Social Security, where he supports raising the retirement age, implementing means testing, and educating future generations on how to save for their own retirement.
Stylistically, Archer comes off as being more polished than Dolan, but that can work both ways. One area that Archer’s confidence is a big asset is how he works a room. One of Archer’s biggest advantages is the shoe leather he has invested in getting to know key activists across the district. With both candidates advancing similar platforms, the primary may very well come down to personal voter contact and style. For almost two years now, Archer has been making the rounds in southeast and south-central Iowa. As the first candidate in the race, he definitely has an advantage.
Senate District 46 Primary – Hahn vs. Hammerlinck
The Republican primary in Senate District 46 is the only senate primary between two incumbents in Iowa. Senator Hahn and Senator Hammerlinck couldn’t have been more cordial to each other. On two different occasions, Senator Hahn talked about how being put in the same district as Hammerlinck was a tough pill to swallow.
Senator Hammerlinck referred to his senate collogue as a friend, and he stated that he doesn’t want to do anything in the primary to tarnish Hawn’s reputation. Both candidates made it clear that regardless of who wins the primary in June, Republicans must unite to maintain control the seat if they are going to have any chance at winning control of the chamber this fall. While neither candidate confronted the other on any issues, the forum did provide voters a stark difference between the two candidates.
The apparent difference between the two candidates is a generational one. Senator Hahn has been in the legislature for years, and he understands the importance of having a majority to move good policy through the legislature. Senator Hammerlinck, who is finishing up his first term in the senate, also spoke of the importance of having a Republican majority in the senate, but he also made it clear that he wants to lead that charge on a number of issues. Hammerlinck also put on an impressive display of knowledge on a wide variety of issues.
Question after question, Hammerlinck provided a tremendous amount of insight on the topics he was asked about. It didn’t matter if the question dealt with income taxes, property taxes, public safety, traffic cameras, education, internet gambling, or medical marijuana, Hammerlinck was incredibly knowledgeable on the subject and provided a tremendous amount of substance to the audience.
More impressive was Hammerlinck’s mindset. In his closing statement, Hammerlinck stated that this election provides an opportunity to push Gronstal aside. He then said that he wants to write the bills that tackle major issues in Iowa, but he also wants to be the guy who defends Republican ideology on the floor of the senate. He made it clear that, if elected, he wants to be a leader, not just a reliable Republican vote.
No offense to Senator Hahn who did an admirable job in the forum last night, but Hammerlinck’s knowledge and ability to articulate his positions was simply outstanding. In my opinion, Hammerlinck stole the show last night.
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