CEDAR RAPIDS – The likely entry of former Secretary of State Paul Pate into the First Congressional District race could significantly alter the field. Pate brings the highest name ID of any candidate, Republican or Democrat, into the race. Along with holding statewide office, he is a former state senator and served as the mayor of Cedar Rapids for two terms.
“I’m not seeing any of the Republican candidates running for congress in our district getting any traction and that does concern me,” Pate told TheIowaRepublican.com. “They’re very nice people and I probably don’t differ a lot with them on many of the issues, but they just don’t seem to have the traction and obviously we can’t afford to let this go into the democrat ranks. That’s what has drawn me into this.”
The two announced candidates on the GOP side are Rod Blum and Steve Rathje. Blum was a close runner-up in the 2012 primary, giving him a big advantage this cycle. House Rep. Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls) announced last week that he has formed an exploratory committee to consider running for the congressional seat.
“I’m the only one who has been elected to represent this district,” Pate said. “I carried this district when I was secretary of state, very comfortably, and I’ve won five general election ballots. I don’t think any of the others have. I’ve won statewide and twice successfully ran for mayor in the largest city in the district, winning over 50 percent. Those are all positive things, and I represented rural, urban, large and small towns. I think my credentials are pretty strong for it.”
Almost 1/6 of the votes in the 2012 First District primary came from Linn County, so that gives Pate a good base build upon. However, he will have to put in a lot of work to familiarize himself with Republicans around the district. Pate does not see that as an impediment. He says doorknocked every house in his district, more than once, while running for the state senate.
“We’re very serious about it,” Pate said regarding the congressional race. “We’ve identified a very good financial base and some good people to help me raise the money and build the kind of energy out there that we’re going to need. And let’s face it, if you look at the field we have right now, we just don’t seem to have the people there who are raising the money or the people that have the electability, who have been elected and have a track record.”
Pate says there is a 90 percent chance he will enter the race and expects to make a final decision by October 1. He was considering jumping in the race in the spring, but when House Speaker Kraig Paulsen indicated he was strongly considering running, Pate held off. The two prominent Linn County Republicans would have cannibalized each other’s campaign as they fought for similar constituencies. With Paulsen opting to remain in the Iowa House, Pate felt a void remained in the field.
“The people are speaking very loudly. They’d like to see me run, they know that I can win and I can jumpstart and put some excitement into this race that we haven’t seen to date. Those aren’t reflections of a personal nature against my potential opponents. It’s just a fact.”
Pate expresses optimism that he will have a fundraising advantage over the rest of the field. That will help him catch up, but Rod Blum, in particular, has a sizable advantage in terms of building an organization. Pate believes he will be able to lure some early Blum and Rathje backers to his side.
Current First Congressional District Rep. Bruce Braley is running for the U.S. Senate, which gives Republicans a big opportunity to claim an empty seat in 2014. Although the Democrat field is crowded, it is also underwhelming. Next year is shaping up to be a good one for Republicans and there is a possibility a strong candidate can overcome the Democrats’ voter registration edge in this district.
“Right now we’re having some really good conversations with friends, family and people in the district,” Pate said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support. A lot of people are talking about what they can do to help me be successful if I was to run. It’s been very positive.”
Iowa’s First Congressional District spans 20 counties, primarily in northeast Iowa. It seems the main issue preventing Paul Pate from running for Congress is family considerations. Spending four days a week in Washington, D.C. means a lot of time away his wife, children and grandchildren.
“It’s really hard to say no, to not running because it’s so important. If you’re a gambling kind of guy, facing odds in Vegas, I think you’ve got a pretty good bet that I’m going to be jumping into this,” Pate said. “You’ll see a very firm announcement here very soon.”
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