Renee Schulte turned a few heads when she won a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives in 2008. Not only did Schulte win in what was a horrible election year for Republicans in Iowa and across the nation, but she also found success in a district that had a sizable registered voter advantage for Democrats.
Schulte defeated Democrat incumbent Art Staed by the narrowest of margins. She won by just 13 votes. Her 2008 victory was a testament to the countless hours she spent knocking on doors in the Cedar Rapids district, and it’s no wonder why some Republicans believe she would be a formidable congressional candidate in a district that favors Democrats by 26,070 registered voters.
Last week, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson went public with an effort to draft Schulte to run for the open congressional seat that is being vacated by Congressman Bruce Braley who is running for the U.S. Senate. Oleson, a Ron Paul supporter who also favors gay marriage, wrote on his Facebook page, “I’m not happy with my choices for a new Congressperson next fall.”
Those other choices that Oleson is not pleased with include Cedar Rapids businessman and perennial primary candidate Steve Rathje, and Dubuque businessman Rod Blum, who is a favorite of the liberty movement and who ran strong in the 2012 congressional primary against eventual nominee Ben Lange.
Schulte admitted that she’s seriously considering a 1st District run, but added that she, “had not considered the possibility of running until Speaker Paulsen decided to return to the Iowa House.” Schulte added that she is currently discussing the possibility with friends and family and plans to make a decision soon.
“Drafting” candidates to run for office is nothing new in Iowa. The most notable instance of drafting a candidate was in 2010 when Governor Terry Branstad was “drafted” to run for his old job again. However, drafting a universally known former governor who’s never lost an election is a lot different than drafting a legislator like Schulte who lost her last re-election bid by 10 points and has a .500 record in local elections.
It comes as no surprise that some 1st District Republicans are still looking for a candidate to get behind in the race, especially establishment Republicans like Oleson from Linn County, the largest county in the district. While some may not like the current field, it would be a huge mistake to underestimate a candidate like Blum.
Having run in the newly reconfigured 1st Congressional District before, Blum has decent name ID among GOP activists. Blum is also an aggressive campaigner and is impressive on the stump. If Schulte does decide to get in the race, she will not only have to overcome getting a late start, but she’s also going to have to contend with Blum who is probably better spoken and more knowledgeable on federal issues than she is.
Schulte will also have to deal with the same unique circumstances that likely led to Speaker Kraig Paulsen’s decision not to enter the race. Not only will she have to contend with a tough primary opponent, she will also have to deal with Rathje, who is going to take votes away from her in her home county. Rathje’s campaign leaves a lot to be desired, but he does have a following, and he has been able to raise money from the construction industry in the district.
Schulte will also have to contend with the Democrat primary, which includes three candidates from Linn County. As was the case with Paulsen, Schulte also runs the risk of losing votes and fundraising dollars to two Democrat candidates running for congress. Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon and former State Senator Swati Dandekar both have bi-partisan appeal. Vernon’s first fundraising report was packed with moderate Republican donors who were stalwart donors to former Congressman Jim Leach during his tenure in Congress.
Should Schulte enter the 1st District race, there is no doubt that she will be a legitimate candidate, but she’s also going to have her work cut out for her. Schulte possesses the strong work ethic it will take to be successful, but running for Congress is an entirely different ballgame. Despite what some in Linn County and Des Moines may think, Mr. Blum is the clear Republican frontrunner whether Schulte is in the race or not.
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