photo illustration by TheIowaRepublican.com
DES MOINES—Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) knows how to stage a media-friendly event.
Monday’s afternoon press conference at the State Capitol featured the politician in fine form: seven kids from Des Moines’ Merrill Middle School as a backdrop, two earnest cancer victims delivering testimonials and one Iowa lobbyist for the American Cancer Society as an expert back-up. Smiling cupcake-makers stood outside the press conference offering state lawmakers and lobbyists a sugar rush for their urgent attention to radon-related legislation.
Television, radio and print reporters dutifully listened to Braley pitch his plan for dealing with radon exposure in Iowa, which ranks first in levels of the cancer-causing chemical. But it only took about four minutes for a KCCI-TV journalist to ask about the donkey in the room—the Des Moines Register published an “exclusive” in its Sunday edition hyping rumors that Braley is weighing a bid for governor against incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) in 2014.
KCCI journalist: “Congressman, can you talk about the comment that you possibly might run for governor?”
Braley: “Well, there’s nothing to talk about. Out of respect to Gail [Orcutt, a lung cancer survivor] and Stephanie [Langstraad, a principal at Prairie City Middle School battling lung cancer] and the American Cancer Society, the whole focus on this event is to talk about radon mitigation and public safety issues. It’s a long time—we’re tired of politics in this state. It’s the beginning of a new day in the legislature. A lot of people are focused on the future, and there will be plenty of time for talking about that later.”
James Lynch, a reporter for the Cedar Rapids Gazette (the largest newspaper in Braley’s northeast Iowa congressional district) didn’t let the response slide, and mentioned that Braley held a press conference at the start of the 2012 state legislative session.
Lynch: “There seems to be sort of a pattern here, are you looking for something more permanent?”
Braley: “Part of the matter is, is that this is the place to be talking about the need to improve public safety of our schools in the opening day of the Iowa legislature… [Kids] go to school every day in buildings where we have no idea what the level of radon is and what health risks they are facing. So, that’s why I’m here today, to put a public face on this issue…”
The Des Moines Register’s Bill Petroski, who covers the state senate, asked Braley if the kids standing behind him had any comment.
Petroski: “Did they study this issue?” [terrified looks on kids’ faces and mouthing of ‘no.’]
Braley: “I think you got a really honest answer there.” [audience laughs]
Braley used the setting to announce that the bill, which he introduced last Sept., will be his first file in the hopper for the 113th Congress. For more information, visit Braley’s website to read the official press release.
For the rest of you political junkies, it’s interesting to note that another talked about candidate for the Democratic primary for governor attended the press conference: state Sen. Jack Hatch (D-Des Moines). Hatch snapped photos on his iPhone and chatted up Braley after the event. Perhaps a Braley-Hatch ticket is the Democratic dream team?
The Register also mentioned former Gov. Chet Culver, state Rep. Tyler Olson (D-Cedar Rapids), state Sens. Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs), Jeff Danielson (D-Waterloo) and Liz Mathis (D-Robins). By the way, who mentioned Mathis as a serious gubernatorial candidate to Register political reporter Jennifer Jacobs—maybe Mathis herself? Democrats would be better served by considering Swati Dandekar, a business-friendly former Democratic lawmaker who Mathis replaced after Branstad appointed Dandekar to the Iowa Utilities Board. Thankfully for Republicans, Democrats remain cold toward Dandekar for ditching their caucus after Gronstal consistently blocked energy legislation that she championed. She’s also got a great gig at the state utilities regulator until 2015.
The Register story has the hallmarks of Braley’s political allies releasing a trial balloon to test the waters for governor after his mentor, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), signaled a run for reelection in 2014. The story quotes former Iowa Democratic Party chairmen Rob Tully and Scott Brennan as well as state Sen. Bill Doltzer (D-Waterloo). They all happened to mention to the state’s largest newspaper that Braley has talked to them about a gubernatorial bid.
Democrat Roxanne Conlin, a Des Moines personal injury lawyer and past president of the national trial lawyers’ association [Braley is the past president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association], gave perhaps the most sensible comment to the Register on a hypothetical Branstad-Braley showdown.
“[Braley] has to be very careful not to leave a public position at which he is excellent and that lets him do good in the world to run for something he cannot win,” she said. “And I’m sure that’s what he is weighing… Nobody wants to see Bruce do any kind of a sacrificial lamb thing [except Republicans, perhaps].”
The Register also quotes former Braley chief of staff Sarah Benzig, who is now running the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). If Braley were really running for governor in 2014, one would expect a loyal operative to be laying Iowa groundwork.
GOP consultants, elected officials and activists are salivating at the prospect of an open house seat in Iowa’s first congressional district, where Braley easily dispatched Republican Ben Lange in 2012. Braley would have to give up his House seat if he secured the Democratic nomination for governor in the spring of 2014.
Braley’s federal campaign committee (which can transfer unlimited funds to an Iowa campaign) only had $90,013 in the bank as of late Nov. 2012, a paltry sum in comparison to Branstad’s warchest. Branstad had $725,677 in his campaign account as of this time last year, and Republicans are expecting an eye-popping figure later this month when state campaign finance reports are filed. Branstad raised $8.5 million in the 2010 cycle.
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