Campaign News

February 18th, 2013

Harkin heir Braley fires up Scott County Democrats

DAVENPORT, Iowa—Confident Democrats gathered in Scott County Saturday night to celebrate their gains in the 2012 cycle and coalesce around their candidates for tougher 2014 bids.

The four-and-a-half hour fundraiser drew about 215 people, a larger crowd than last year’s election year event, a sign that area Democrats remained buoyed by their success, organizers said.

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, the only announced candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014, spoke last but garnered the most enthusiasm as Eastern Iowa Democrats look to Braley as their savior of sorts to replace their liberal champion, retiring Sen. Tom Harkin. In the first major speech of his Senate campaign, Braley lionized Harkin and linked his ideology to his long-time political mentor.

“This is not going to be a fire and brimstone speech,” said Braley, whose voice seemed raspy from increased speechifying. “When Tom called me to share with me that he was not running [for reelection, I told him that] I will never be able to fill your shoes, Tom, but I am going to work tirelessly for the next two years so that when you walk out of the Senate for the last time, there is a progressive Democrat walking in to fill your desk.”

Braley, a plaintiff’s attorney by trade and the former president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, has mastered the ability to weave a personal narrative into a broader policy speech, using emotion to drive home his argument to a jury of his peers.

He recounted that he delivered his first campaign speech of his congressional bid in 2005 at the Scott County Democrats’ Red, White & Blue Banquet and he felt honored to deliver the keynote address to kick off his 2014 Senate campaign eight years later. 

“I am a proud, patriotic, progressive Democrat. And I am oftentimes afraid, but I am never intimidated,” Braley said, noting that the date also marked the day in 1945 when his father prepared to invade the shores of Iwo Jima, Japan during World War II. “My father is why I fight so hard to take care of our veterans.”

Braley, who worked as a Waterloo lawyer handling employment and personal injury cases, ended his speech by unveiling the unofficial theme of his campaign by quoting Greek politician Solon: “The ideal state is that in which an injury done to the least of its citizens is an injury done to all,” he said, noting that the maxim explains “everything about what it means to be a Democrat.

“When we as a nation adopt that as our purpose and our calling, we will be the greatest nation the world has ever seen,” he said. “And that’s why I’m running for the Senate.”

Iowa unions plan to turn Iowa “navy blue” in 2014

Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, bashed “right-wing crazy laws” such as right to work that restrain the ability of unions to use the dues of non-members for politics and other activities. 

“Yeah, yeah, I guess we’re greedy union thugs,” he joked. “Don’t drag me down. Let’s drag everybody up. That’s what labor is about.”

Sagar, the treasurer of the Democratic Party of Iowa, said that national unions should engage in Iowa campaigns more in 2014 after a light touch in 2012. Sagar rattled off statistics: labor-affiliated households turned out at a rate of about 80 percent (more than the 70 percent turnout in Iowa), 85.6 percent of active union members voted, and 91.2 percent of labor union retirees voted.

He pointed to political research conducted by the AFL-CIO, the national branch of his union, showing that if advocacy efforts—phone calls, door knocks, literature from the local or national union—reach a voter seven times, then 72-77 percent of members will vote for the union-endorsed candidate. 

Sagar lamented that only 10.4 percent of Iowa workers belong to a union, noting that if that figure was 20 percent, “you would have a Democratic [state] House—there’s no doubt about it.” In 2012, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and national unions seemed pessimistic about state-level Democrats’ chances and declined to invest significant resources in Iowa, he said—a mistake that will not be repeated in 2014.

“We could have done a little better, but I’m not going to bitch too much,” Sagar said.

He pitched the efforts of the IFL’s project called Working Iowa Neighbors (WIN), meant to increase education, experience and leadership opportunities for people under 35 to the “the next Mike Gronstals” elected to local office and to install labor union members “at the ground floor.”

“I don’t want this state to be blue,” he said. “I want it to be navy blue—that’s what I want.” 

“Clash of the ‘staches”? 

Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, and state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines.

At the top of labor’s wish list is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who can take on Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 2014.

In a combative speech, State Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, told the party faithful that his role as the Democrats’ point man on health care gives him a powerful perch to criticize Gov. Branstad and Iowa Republicans.

“There’s really no better advocate in our state legislature for health care issues than Jack Hatch,” said Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City. “He, more than anyone else, is holding this governor’s feet to the fire.”

Hatch started by recounting a campaign visit by a Democratic congressional candidate to an Iowa farm: “He jumps on [the manure spreader], so he could project his voice over the crowd. He looks down, he looks up, he shakes his head and says, ‘Ladies and gentleman, this is the first time I’ve ever spoken from a Republican platform,’” Hatch said to hoots and hollers from the crowd. “That’s exactly what’s happening in the legislature today. We can’t figure out what they’re doing.”

Hatch, a real estate developer, chairs the Senate’s Health and Human Services appropriations subcommittee. The 10-year veteran of the state Senate seems spoiling for a fight with Branstad on Medicaid expansion and other issues.

“I’m here because I am contemplating and exploring a run for governor,” Hatch said, laying out a 4-6 month timetable for deciding. “It’s not an easy decision.”

Hatch, a Farmington, Conn.-native, came to Iowa as a student at Drake University. He founded the liberal advocacy organization Public Interest Research Group, the fourth state chapter organized by Ralph Nader in the 1970s. Hatch, a former state director for Sen. Tom Harkin, spoke of his experience building the first affordable housing development in Des Moines and as one of the companies rebuilding apartment buildings in Cedar Rapids following the 2008 flood.

“We have a reputation of building where no one else will build,” Hatch said, explaining that his background as a developer has primed his interest in running for governor. “Real, true executive leadership provides us with an opportunity to really stretch the imagination.”

Former state legislator Bob Krause, who unsuccessfully challenged Roxanne Conlin for the Democratic nod for U.S. Senate in 2010, positioned himself as to the left of Hatch as he launched broadside after broadside against Branstad.

“That boy was born with a tea bag in his mouth,” Krause said. “He was a radical right-winger before radical right-wingers were fashionable…. I would like to run against that guy. I really would. I think we could beat him.”

Democratic political consultant, Obama’s Iowa campaign director, touts Secretary of State campaign

Brad Anderson, the Iowa director of the 2012 Obama campaign, has organized his campaign for Iowa Secretary of State around the signature issue of stopping Voter ID, an issue championed by Republican incumbent Matt Schultz. 

Anderson started his speech wearing his “Obama hat,” crediting Democratic activists in the room for helping the campaign surmount a 21,000 deficit in partisan voter registration as of June 2012. By December 2012 the tables turned, with Democrats holding a 4,500 edge. As of Feb. 1, 2013, Democrats enjoy a 5,454 surplus in registered voters.

“It is hard to find people that are not registered [to vote],” Anderson said, noting that the campaign broadened the electorate by setting up tables outside Latino grocery stores and on college campuses.

Anderson also credited early voting, and the way that Obama’s campaign took advantage of the shift in the voting paradigm, for Democrats’ success in 2012.

“Iowa has 40 days of early voting, as we famously bothered you about for 40 days,” he said. “[Obama for America] and, again, the people in this room…, we won every single day of early voting—every day. Not a random Tuesday did the Romney campaign win.”

In Iowa, the Obama operation knocked on 1.9 million doors, made 2 million phone contacts, and started Election Day with a 134,000-vote cushion, Anderson said. He also mentioned that, despite “enormous adversity” from Schultz, Obama notched 48,000 more votes in Iowa in 2012 than 2008.

“Voter ID: it is a voter suppression tactic,” he said. “I believe if you disenfranchise one voter or if you wrongly intimidate one voter, you are not doing your job as Secretary of State.”

Iowans seem to disagree. A Des Moines Register poll found that 71 percent of Iowans favor requiring citizens to show a government-issued photo ID to vote, 26 percent of Iowans oppose it, and just three percent remain undecided. The poll, conducted Feb. 3-6 by Seltzer & Co., has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

Republicans have criticized Anderson as a partisan who has his own motives for minimizing voting regulations to curb fraud. Anderson maintains that his key priority would be making voting “safe, easier and get more people to participate.”

“I believe as a value that we should do things like encourage people to vote,” Anderson said. “We should encourage eligible voters to vote. And we should use that office of Secretary of State to do it.”

Much of the evening’s program featured passionate policy pitches, but some Democrats couldn’t resist a childish jab at Republicans. The dinner’s invocation by Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities minister Richard Hendricks featured a sexual slur against conservatives. 

“Thank you, God, for the silly teabaggers marching on Washington,” he said, also thanking God that the voters in 2012 decided to “go with the calm black man.”

For another take, check out coverage from the Quad City Times political writer Ed Tibbetts.


About the Author

Jeff Patch
Jeff Patch is a correspondent for He's a communications, research and political consultant for Iowa candidates, causes and companies. E-mail questions, comments, insults or story ideas to jeff [at]

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