There are many backstories within the Iowa Senate District 36 primary competition between Larry McKibben and Jane Jech. There’s a former high-ranking legislator attempting to return to the State House. There’s a two-time unsuccessful Iowa House candidate hoping to break the string in a bigger election. There’s Governor Branstad’s handpicked candidate facing one endorsed by nemesis Bob Vander Plaats.
Larry McKibben stepped down from the Iowa Senate in 2008 after three terms. He was the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. McKibben believed he was done with politics. Then, an old friend called and convinced him to return. Since McKibben was one of the people who persuaded Terry Branstad to return to politics two years ago, he had a hard time turning down the same request from the Governor.
“He was in town last week at a fundraiser and toured a plant here in town,” McKibben said. “I think primarily, he’s on the record in his press conference that one of the reasons that he asked me to run again was that I defeated an incumbent Democrat when I first got in and I won all three of my races in a swing district.”
There is one roadblock in McKibben’s attempt to return to the State House. Republicans already had a candidate running in Senate District 36, which includes all of Marshall and Tama Counties and a portion of southern Black Hawk County. Jane Jech announced her candidacy a year ago. She says McKibben told her he was not interested in running for elected office.
“Last year, I was being encouraged by local Republicans to run for the Senate,” Jech said. “I had strong grassroots support. I asked several individuals that I thought might be interested in running, including Larry McKibben, and he said he wasn’t. He called me back up in November and then December and basically tried to talk me out of running. And then January rolled around and he announced he was getting in the race.”
Jech adds that Larry McKibben encouraged her to run for the Iowa Senate in 2008 when he was stepping down. At that point, Jech was already committed to campaigning for the Iowa House. Now, the two Marshalltown natives are going head-to-head for the opportunity to take out incumbent Democrat Steve Sodders (D-State Center) in November.
“I think it’s going to be a competitive primary,” McKibben said. “She started much earlier in the campaign than I did. Obviously, I think she had a jump on things when I entered in late January. The thing that I really like is we just got our campaign report and we’ve raised well over twice what she raised. Our broad based support throughout the district looks solid.”
McKibben raised $30,225 during the last filing period, and still holds $14,549 cash on hand. Comparatively, Jane Jech raised $13,251 for Jech and has only $3,113 remaining.
“I have spent the vast majority of my time going directly to the voters,” Jech said. “At this point we’re going to consider ourselves underdogs and we’re going to work like crazy these final two weeks. In our one-on-one voter contact, we’re feeling very positive about the response we’re getting.”
Both candidates are longtime residents of Marshalltown. However, their backgrounds are very different. Jane Jech is a substitute teacher and pastor’s wife who is active in the Marshall County GOP central committee. Larry McKibben works as a business and tax attorney. She is more likely to appeal to social conservatives and Republicans who prefer “new blood” in the legislature. McKibben clearly comes from the Branstad wing of the Republican Party.
“I can hit the ground running and be part of the team immediately in January,” McKibben said. “I served on the Marshalltown school board and education reform is a very important issue to me. Bringing Iowa back to the top in the country in education is one of the main things that matters to me. I think I have the background to do that.”
Jech counters that her differences with Governor Branstad might be one of the reasons he lured Larry McKibben out of retirement. “I have a lot of questions about his education reform plan and he knows that I’m not a rubber stamp,” Jech said.
Jane Jech believes the support of The Family Leader organization will provide a boost to her hopes on June 5. “The existing State Senate has not done an adequate job of fighting for these pro-family issues and we believe Jane will help reverse this trend,” said The Family Leader Vice-President Chuck Hurley in a press release. “Jane best understands the values of her district and will work hard to champion pro-family values of Iowans in her district.”
Meanwhile, Larry McKibben is thrilled to have the support of Governor Branstad. “Larry is a proven worker, leader and a guy that knows how to get things done,” Branstad said during a news conference last week. “And that’s the reason why I encouraged him to run again.”
Despite each candidate having the support of powerful surrogates, the Senate District 36 primary will be decided by which candidate does the best job at turning out their supporters on June 5. McKibben is anxious to get past the primary and focus on returning to the State House.
“I’d watched the Culver/Gronstal/Sodders administration over the last four years of his term before Governor Branstad took over and saw us backsliding on a lot of the gains we made when I was in there,” McKibben said. “Now, the senate blocks a lot of the legislation that would turn this state around. At the end of the day, I thought we could make a difference and that’s why I’m running again.”
Larry McKibben might be the more electable Republican candidate in the November general election, but he has to make it there first. Jane Jech will not lose the primary race without a fight.
“It’s going to take a whole lot more than money to win this race,” Jech said. “I hope that voters will see that I will work hard enough. I’m the type of candidate that will do that one-on-one voter contact. Before this primary is over I will have personally called over 4,000 voters.”
This primary contest might benefit the eventual GOP nominee. It has forced both candidates to get organized quickly and strengthen their base. Whoever emerges victorious will face a tough election in November. Republicans hold a registration edge of slightly over 700 voters in Senate District 36.
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