While most Iowans are already focused on marquee congressional matchups that pit two incumbent congressmen against each other or an incumbent congressman versus a former first lady of Iowa, the Republican primary in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District should not be overlooked.
In 2008 and 2010 Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was the Republican nominee in the district. In 2008, she came out of nowhere to narrowly win the nomination, two years later, she ran away with the nomination despite being challenged by three other candidates.
In many ways, the 2012 primary in the second district reminds me a lot of the 2008 primary. Just as was the case in 2008, the primary is a contest between just two candidates, John Archer and Dan Dolan. Archer is from the most populated county in the district and has worked hard at building relationships with key activists. Archer is considered the frontrunner, but Dolan is mounting a bid for the nomination.
Dolan, a small businessman with ties to multiple counties in the district, calls Muscatine County home. Doland reminds me an awful lot of Miller-Meeks, whose campaign I joined at about this time in 2008. Like Miller-Meeks, Dolan is has an impressive background but is not your typical candidate.
Archer is considered the frontrunner because he’s been out pounding the pavement for quite awhile now. Archer, an attorney for John Deere, is more polished as a candidate than Dolan and really knows how to work a room. Archer’s big advantage is being from Scott County, but the newly reconfigured 2nd Congressional District provides a number of different routes that a candidate can take to securing the nomination.
In the 2008 primary, Miller-Meeks was forced to drive up turnout in the rural part of the district to compensate for Peter Teahan’s advantage in Linn County, the district’s largest county. Linn County is no longer part of the 2nd District. Archer probably has an advantage in Scott, but it’s nothing like the advantage Teahan had in Linn County in 2008. Teahan, a respected funeral home owner, was very well known in the business community. Archer likely doesn’t have that same level of name ID that Teahan had. So, despite Archer’s advantage with a number of activists, Dolan is going to be able to compete with him in Scott County and elsewhere in the district.
Archer has proven to be a little better as a fundraiser than his opponent, but Doland edged out Archer by raising 72,737.30 in the last fundraising quarter compared to Archer’s 71,233.42. Throughout the campaign, Dolan has shown the ability to give his campaign large infusions of money. To date, Dolan has loaned his campaign $75,000 and given it another $20,100.
The most important figure at this stage of the race is how much money each campaign has in the bank. In that department, Archer has a slight advantage. Archer has $127,206.89 cash on hand to Dolan’s $114,895.04. Neither candidate has the money to make TV buys in the three media markets that cover the district. It will be interesting to see the strategies that each campaign employs as the primary nears.
The biggest difference thus far in the campaign is how they have used their resources. Archer spends most of his money with Victory Enterprises, a Davenport based political consulting firm that has experience with a number of congressional campaigns in Iowa. In many respects, Victory Enterprises is functioning like Archer’s campaign staff.
Dolan, on the other hand, has spent his money hiring staff. The campaign has two full time staffers and two paid organizers. The general consultant for the Dolan campaign is the Voyageur Company, a Minnesota based firm that have done a lot of work in the Midwest. At this point in the campaign, Dolan has an advantage because he has staffers on the ground working the district.
Dolan’s consulting company is well respected, but this is the first time it has worked on a congressional race in Iowa. Archer’s consultant has had success in Iowa by helping Mike Whalen and Brad Zaun with their primaries in 2006 and 2010, but were not as lucky with Peter Teahan and Steve Rathje in 2008 and 2010.
No matter how you look at this race, it looks like it’s going to be the congressional primary in Iowa to keep an eye on. Either candidate would give Iowa Republicans a strong challenger to Congressman Dave Loebsack, who is trying to adapt to his new district and must deal with a primary challenge of his own.
If this race does end up mimicking the Teahan/Miller-Meeks primary from 2008, it’s going to be a nail biter.
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