Open congressional seats usually to bring out plenty of contenders on both sides of the aisle. That seems to be the case in Iowa’s First Congressional District. The seat’s current occupant, Bruce Braley, is running for the Iowa Senate in 2014. So far, three Republicans and one Democrat have announced their intentions to fill the vacancy. Another high profile Republican is likely to join the race soon.
The announced Republicans are Dubuque businessman Rod Blum, Cedar Rapids businessman Steve Rathje and Waterloo resident Jason Welch. Former Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is strongly considering a bid for the congressional seat, according to a source involved with organizing his campaign.
“People want a proven winner and Pate has been a state senator, secretary of state and mayor of the largest city in the district,” the source told TheIowaRepublican.com. “He has never lost to a democrat, ever. Donors, activists and the national party poohbahs have been all over him about taking this seat back for the GOP.”
Blum, Rathje and Pate, if he runs, all bring strong business backgrounds to the race. Rod Blum developed a successful software company. Steve Rathje runs International Procurement Services. Paul Pate owns an asphalt company. Because those three candidates are successful in the private sector, they will all be able to state their case regarding economic issues. However, that strength might be nullified in the primary since other candidates can boast similar credentials.
Blum and Rathje were unsuccessful in their previous congressional bids. That could prove to be a liability, according to University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle.
“Some Republicans may be concerned whether a candidate who was unable to win his party’s nomination would be able to win in a general election. One can certainly point to candidates who have done so before (Ronald Reagan being a prime example at the presidential level), but the candidate would need to make a strong case for another attempt,” Hagle said. “Pate’s prior public service and electoral victories would seem to set him apart from Blum and Rathje. Should he enter the race, Pate would seem to be a strong candidate.”
There are other assets that separate Blum, Rathje and Pate. Rod Blum’s tight coalition with the libertarian wing of the GOP provides a strong base of support and volunteers. He garnered 47% of the vote in the 2012 primary, exceeded many expectations, and familiarized himself with activists across the district. Blum is likely to provide a formidable challenge for his Republican opponents.
Rathje has run previously for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. He likely learned valuable lessons from those races, while also building some grassroots support. Rathje might be looking to self-fund part of his campaign. He recently put his house on the market, with an asking price of $899,900.
If he runs, Paul Pate brings the highest name identity into the race of the announced candidates. As a former secretary of state, voters throughout the northeast Iowa district will recognize him. Pate is also a former state senator, former president of the Iowa League of Cities, and perhaps most importantly, he served as the mayor of Cedar Rapids from 2002-2006. Almost 1/6 of the votes in the 2012 First District primary came from Linn County.
Steve Rathje is also from the Cedar Rapids area. However, he lost the county by 871 votes in the 2010 GOP Second Congressional District primary to Ottumwa native Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Incidentaly, Paul Pate endorsed his fellow Cedar Rapids resident Steve Rathje in the race.
Pate was considering running for secretary of state in 2010, but opted not to and wound up serving as the state chairman for Matt Schultz’ successful bid for that seat. There were also whispers that Pate would run for congress in 2012. Our source puts the likelihood of Pate running in 2014 at “90 percent”.
Iowa’s First Congressional District spans 20 counties and its most populous cities, along with Cedar Rapids, are Decorah, Dubuque, Marshalltown and Waterloo.
The lone Democrat to announce his intentions to run for the congressional seat is former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy. The Dubuque native is likely to have strong backing from the labor community in a primary race. Iowa Democrats hoped to lure State Senator Liz Mathis into the race. The former television anchor would have been very difficult to defeat in a general election.
“Murphy has been a state representative for over 20 years, and has previously been speaker and minority leader of the Iowa House. That tenure means he should have fairly good name recognition among Democrats in IA01, even outside his district,” Hagle said. “That might be a reason other Democrats have been slow to enter the race, though a few are apparently keeping their options open.”
Democrats hold a voter registration edge of more than 27,000 in this eastern Iowa district. However, with this being a mid-term election, President Obama’s coattails and organization will not be available to Iowa Democrats like they were in 2012. That bodes well for Republican candidates.
“Thus far, none of the announced or ‘thinking about it’ candidates for either party would seem to be a clear favorite,” Hagle said. “Candidates in both parties will have a lot of work ahead of them in building name recognition and familiarizing themselves with the district. Of course, turnout is much lower in midterm elections so a strong grassroots organization will be key regardless of who the parties nominate.”
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