Now that Congressman Steve King has decided to forego a United States Senate campaign, those interested in seeking the Republican nomination are now free to explore the idea openly. While former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker has already informally entered the race, others are likely to follow suit in short order.
On Tuesday, the Des Moines Register published a list of 13 potential candidates. The list includes names that have been routinely discussed, like Joni Ernst, Rod Roberts, and Matt Schultz. It also includes names such has Mark Jacobs and David Young, both of whom have been speculated about but have not been overly aggressive in getting their names mentioned as a potential candidates. The list also includes some lesser-known Iowans who have also expressed interest.
The Register’s list of potential GOP candidates contains only one woman, Ernst, who was encouraged to run by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds after she decided not to run herself. Reynolds looked seriously at running for the U.S. Senate, but decided against it despite having been heavily recruited by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Ernst won her seat in the Iowa Senate after it was vacated by Reynolds when she was elected Lt. Governor in 2010.
Ernst is a well-respected member of the Iowa Senate, and her military service, which includes a 14-month deployment to the Middle East at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, gives her a unique resume on which to build a campaign. However, while her resume is impressive, Ernst is still relatively green when it comes to running for elected office. Ernst was easily elected to the Iowa Senate in 2011 by a special election. She won that contest with 67 percent of the vote, which was expected. In 2012 Ernst was unopposed and re-elected to her first full term. Seeking the nomination in a statewide contests is a lot different from winning a special election two months after a general election.
While Ernst deserves serious consideration, the list of potential female GOP candidates who could run for the U.S. Senate never started or ended with Reynolds or Ernst. In fact, there is a high-ranking Republican female office holder who has basically been ignored during the entire hubbub surrounding the open senate seat in 2014 – House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer. Upmeyer’s name was mentioned along with a number of other women in a Des Moines Register article just days after Sen. Tom Harkin announced his retirement, but that’s as far as it went.
The article was entitled, “Don’t overlook these Iowa women in Harkin replacement search,” but that’s essentially what has taken place in the months that followed. Even though Upmeyer has not thrown her name in the mix for the U.S. Senate race, her legislative position, knowledge of issues, professional background, and fundraising chops should have her near the top of list of potential candidates, not a mere afterthought.
Upmeyer has served in the Iowa House since 2003, and is the first female Majority Leader in the Iowa House of Representatives. She convincingly won a Republican primary in 2002 and went on to win the seat with over 60 percent of the vote. She easily disposed of Democrat opponents in 2004 and 2008, and ran unopposed in 2006, and 2012.
Her work to recruit and help elect Republican House members also means that she has built relationships around the state. She has also become a formidable fundraiser since becoming the House Majority Leader in 2010. Since that time, she has raised over $643,815.60 for her legislative campaign account. She is in a class by herself in terms of fundraising by a female Iowa Republican, but she more than holds her own when stacked up against her male colleagues.
To put Upmeyer’s fundraising prowess in perspective, Secretary of State Matt Schultz only raised $79,228.79 for his successful 2010 campaign. Matt Whitaker raised $112,085.97 for his 2002 campaign for State Treasurer. Ernst raised $94,636.14 for her Iowa Senate campaigns. Besides current members of congress, Governor Branstad, and Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen, Upmeyer has the most Iowa fundraising experience and has had the most success. Everyone admits that the biggest weakness among the potential candidates is their ability to raise significant amounts of money, so then why aren’t more people talking about Upmeyer?
Upmeyer would bring much more to the race than just being a female with fundraising ability. As a nurse, Upmeyer’s knowledge and experience in the healthcare industry could be beneficial in a general election match up against Congressman Bruce Braley. Braley, the presumptive Democrat nominee, is a loud and vocal proponent of the Affordable Care Act, which people are now learning isn’t all that affordable. Having a candidate who is knowledgeable on healthcare issues would be preferable for Republicans.
Upmeyer also has some good national connections that could aid her in a statewide campaign. She serves as the current Second Vice Chairman for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national association of legislators. She also has strong ties to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who could help her in a number of ways. Upmeyer stood with Gingrich through thick and thin during his tumultuous presidential campaign, so he would probably gladly help return the favor.
Perhaps the lack of conversation regarding Upmeyer is a sign that she’s not interested in running for higher office. Yet, as Republicans continue their search for potential U.S. Senate candidates, Upmeyer checks off more boxes on the wish list than most of the other candidates who have been discussed.
With King’s decision no longer a distraction, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some new names step forward in the weeks to come. Time will tell whether or not that is someone like Upmeyer or, but if Iowa Republicans are interested in nominating a female to take on Braley in the fall, Upmeyer gives them their best chance.
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