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December 24th, 2013

The Biggest Winners and Losers from 2013

With Christmas upon us, it’s time for us to look back at the year that was and pick the winners and losers of 2013. Some Iowa politicians had an exceptional year, while others would rather forget about the past 12 months.

The Winners

Congressman Bruce Braley

Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley had the best year of any Iowa politician hands down. The ground shook when Senator Tom Harkin announced that he would be retiring at the conclusion of his term. While Republicans waited and waited for candidates on their side to emerge, Braley jumped in immediately, and within a few weeks, it was clear that the nomination was his.

As the only Democrat running, Braley was able to rake in money from donors all across the country. When next month’s financial disclosures come out, they will likely show that Braley has raised over $4 million. Braley’s ability to build a war chest will allow him plenty of options in his campaign against his eventual Republican opponent.

While Braley was given the Democrat nomination to the U.S. Senate and then showered with money for his campaign, 2013 wasn’t all good for Braley. Recent polls indicate that he’s not a particularly strong statewide candidate. He has also made some unforced errors, like complaining about the lack of towel service at the congressional gym during the government shut down.

The real noose around his neck his is support of Obamacare, especially the part where he and the President told Iowans that they could keep their heath insurance if they wanted to. As we all now know, that’s not the case. Still, it’s hard to deny that Bruce Braley had the best political year in Iowa politics.

Governor Terry Branstad

They say that timing is everything in politics, and Republican Governor Terry Branstad has exceptional timing. Branstad looks like a lock for an unprecedented sixth term in office, if 2014 turns out to be a Republican year at the ballot box, Branstad’s last three general elections will have all been in outstanding years for Republicans. His last two general elections were in 1994 and 2010.

Branstad would be in fantastic shape politically even if Iowa Democrats had a strong candidate against him, but with State Senator Jack Hatch and Bob Krause the only Democrats in the race, Branstad should cruise to victory.

While some politicians might take it easy when their opposition doesn’t put up a formidable opponent, Branstad has assembled a phenomenal campaign team. By mid January, we will know how much money the governor has raised this year, and by all accounts, it’s going to be a huge number. I tried to get the number from him at an event I was at earlier in December, but he just smiled and said I would have to wait. All I know is this, I don’t think the Democrats are going to be smiling when they see the number.

Staci Appel

I never would have imagined putting Third District Congressional candidate Staci Appel on this list a week ago, but things can change that quickly in politics. With Congressman Tom Latham retiring, his lone Democratic opponent is now well positioned in what will likely be the most expensive congressional race the state has ever seen.

Most people expect Appel to have a formidable primary opponent now that the congressional seat is open, but I wouldn’t be too quick to write off Appel. First, she’s a liberal’s liberal, second she’s wealthy, and third, it never hurts in a Democrat primary that your husband is an Iowa Supreme Court Justice who ruled in favor of gay marriage.

Appel has already proven that she can be a formidable congressional fundraiser. In her first fundraising quarter she raised over $238,000 and is probably going to match or exceed that number for the final three months of the year. That, and her personal wealth, gives her a substantial advantage over any Democrat who chooses to primary her.

As off as it may seem, Staci Appel, is one of the big winners of 2013.

Brad Anderson

A political operative running for political office isn’t necessarily something to get excited about, especially when that person is President Obama’s former Iowa campaign manager, but Brad Anderson’s campaign for Secretary of State should have plenty of Democrats smiling.

Anderson was smart and announced his candidacy early. He’s given himself a year to get better known across the state and raise money. The reason Anderson is on the winner’s list is that his opponent, Secretary of State Matt Schultz has spent more time contemplating running for the U.S. Senate and now Congress than running for re-election.

There is a good chance that Anderson will be running for an open Secretary of State office when the dust settles from last week’s announcement that Congressman Tom Latham is retiring. Even if Schultz does ultimately decided to run for re-election, Anderson has positioned himself to be a formidable candidate in the general election. It also doesn’t hurt that the Des Moines Register seems to be out to get Schultz for trying weed out voter fraud in this state.

State Senator Jack Hatch

Like Appel and Anderson, Hatch is on the winners list for 2013 because he got lucky when Tyler Olson’s campaign for governor imploded. Jack’s chances of winning the general election are slim to none, but he deserves credit for throwing his hat in the ring and not getting pushed out of the race by an opportunistic Olson who, frankly, was not prepared for the statewide spotlight.

The Losers


Kent Sorenson

No Iowa politician had a worse year than former State Senator Kent Sorenson. Dogged with lawsuits and ethics complaints stemming from his involvement with the 2012 Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul presidential campaigns, Sorenson was beaten to a pulp by the never-ending news coverage of his political activities.

Never afraid of a fight, Sorenson battled all of the allegations and Iowa Senate Ethics complaints, claiming that he was innocent and did nothing wrong. That all unraveled in early August when published the details of Sorenson’s dealings with the Ron Paul campaign. When asked for comment, Sorenson said it was all a fabricated lie. Then came the audio of Sorenson where he talked about the payout from the Paul campaign.

The Senate Ethics committee did the right thing in appointing a special investigator to look into Sorenson’s shady political dealings. The 500-plus page report ended up being devastating for Sorenson as it showed that he repeatedly lied to the media, Iowans, and his colleagues in the State Senate. Hours after the report was published, Sorenson resigned his State Senate seat.

No matter how you slice it, no politician in Iowa had a worse year in 2013 than Sorenson.

State Representative Tyler Olson

Plenty of Iowa Democrats jumped on the Tyler Olson for governor bandwagon when he announced his candidacy this past summer. Their support of Olson wasn’t based on any unique abilities he brought to the table, but instead, they liked how the 37 year old matched up against the 66 year old Branstad.

It’s always dangerous to put all of your chips on a candidate based entirely on their image. In less than five months, the image Tyler Olson put out to the public was destroyed when the news of his divorce went public. Now Olson is faced with re-building his image as he finds a way to reenter public life.

What makes Olson’s fall from grace so dramatic is that it didn’t have to come to this. Olson chose to throw his hat into the ring against Terry Branstad, the gold standard of Iowa politics. While Democrats may have been excited about his candidacy, his prospects for beating Branstad were always slim. Had Olson not run for governor, he could have still been the Chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, a perch that would have helped him become better known. He also could have likely been the Minority Leader in the Iowa House of Representatives.

In five months Olson not only lost his marriage, but he flushed a promising political career down the drain.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin

Harkin shocked the political establishment when he announced his retirement in January of 2013, but one should not forget that he announced his retirement in the middle of a scandal. The Harkin Institute at Iowa State University was supposed to ensure Harkin’s political legacy for years to come. Instead, the funding of the institute created ethical questions for Harkin. The strong-arm tactics used by Harkin and his wife, Ruth, who also serves on the Board of Regents, ultimately showed them as selfish individuals who are willing to tarnish an institution like Iowa State University in hopes that they get their way.

Brent Siegrist

Former Speaker of the Iowa Hose of Representatives Brent Siegrist attempted to mount a political comeback this year when he ran for mayor of Council Bluffs in November. Siegrist lost his bid to be mayor, and the race wasn’t even close. His opponent garnered 63 percent of the vote. Siegrist’s political comeback ended before it ever started.

Sorenson photo by Dave Davidson,

About the Author

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country.

Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.

A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states.

Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site,

Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing.

Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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