For the first time in his political career, Congressman Dave Loebsack has to adapt to a new Congressional District. Gone is a district that included Johnson and Linn Counties, which provided him huge margins in his first two re-election campaigns. Now he has to campaign in places like Clinton and Scott Counties in eastern Iowa, and Marion, Mahaska, and Jasper Counties in the western part of the district.
The newly reconfigured 2nd Congressional District is still the most Democratic leaning district in the state, but the larger district and the new territory gives Republicans a much better shot at unseating Loebsack than ever before. Republicans have two quality candidates campaigning for the nomination with deep roots in the eastern part of the district. Whoever emerges should be able to mount a serious campaign against Loebsack in the fall.
The Republican prospects on the race got an unexpected boost last week when State Senator Joe Seng announced that he will primary Loebsack. Seng, a veterinarian from Scott County, is well known in the Quad Cities and easily won and held on to his district over the last decade. Seng has averaged over 60 percent of the votes in all of his elections.
Seng’s candidacy is problematic for Loebsack for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Seng’s candidacy will hurt Loebsack’s ability to build relationships with community leaders and activists in the most populous county in the new district. Being an incumbent running in a new district is already difficult enough since an incumbent must spend the bulk of his or her time in the nation’s capital, but having a primary opponent who can devote a significant amount of time to campaigning makes a bad situation worse.
Secondly, as an incumbent, Loebsack could have positioned himself as a more moderate or centrist Democrat in the new district, but now he runs the risk of having to reach out to the liberals in the Democratic Party to win a primary. Not only will that hurt him in the general election, but he’s also going to have to spend time talking about gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues. There are a number of differences between Seng and Loebsack that could be discussed in the primary that might make for good Republican fodder in the general election.
The Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) was quick in reacting to the news about Seng’s candidacy. They called into the district on Monday night to gauge the favorability and support of both Congressman Loebsack and Seng. They also asked for reaction on the issues of access to contraception and religious freedom. Seng, a Catholic, is more moderate on social issues than the liberal Loebsack.
When asked about the ramifications of Seng’s candidacy, Steve Grubbs, a former Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa and longtime political consultant said, “The primary challenge is good and bad for Loebsack, but more bad than good.” Grubbs and his Davenport based firm, Victory Enterprises, are advising Republican candidate John Archer in the race.
Grubbs suggested that the biggest impact of a Democrat primary in the 2nd District might be to make it a more fair fight for Republicans in the general election. “It will cause Loebsack to use valuable resources he wanted to save for the Republican nominee and could also lead to a schism between Loebsack and Democrats in the center. His ideal game plan would be a bruising GOP primary and then come out blasting right after the primary when the candidates were broke. Now, both parties will start the general election on a roughly equal footing financially,” Grubbs said.
“The only real benefit, is that it will force Loebsack to build an organization and raise his name identification in the eastern part of the district immediately, which could benefit him some in the long run,” Grubbs added. Still he believes that Democrats would have preferred avoiding a contested primary. “I’m sure the Loebsack camp is sitting over there in Johnson County cursing their bad luck,” Grubbs concluded.
John Deeth, a Democrat blogger and activist from Johnson County, indicated that the frustration with Loebsack stems from his unwillingness to “stand down” and allow former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack run in the district. “The Iowa-Mississippi no women [ever elected to congress] thing is HUGE for Democrats, and that he doesn’t vote exactly like Dennis Kucinich [is also an issue],” Deeth wrote in response to a recent article on TheIowaRepublican.com. “A primary challenge from the RIGHT by a MALE isn’t where the niche, if there ever IS one, would be,” Deeth concluded.
If anything, Seng’s candidacy just made the 2nd Congressional race far more interesting. As Deeth suggested, Democrat activists should easily rally around Loebsack because he is the more liberal of the two candidates. The actions by the DCCC also indicate that Seng is not going to get any help from power players in the Democratic Party. All that said, Seng’s more moderate views may be an advantage in the new parts of the district that are not a hot bed for liberal activism like Johnson County where Loebsack is strong.
Seng does have one major obstacle to overcome in the next few weeks. To get on the ballot, he will need to submit no fewer than 1,277 signatures, and he must collect more than the required minimum number of signatures in twelve of the districts 24 counties. It’s far from impossible, but the deadline to submit the signatures is March 16th.
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