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April 25th, 2013

U.S. Senate Primary Power Rankings

The announcement by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds that she will not to run for the open U.S. Senate seat in Iowa in 2014 triggered movement by a number of potential Republican candidates.  While Congressman Steve King has still not definitely ruled out a Senate run, many Iowa Republicans are operating under premise that he’s not running.

If King is out of race, the primary that will ensue will be a free-for-all with multiple candidates and no clear frontrunner.  If by chance King decides to get in the race, the rambunctious primary would most likely be averted.  While a lot has changed in the last 24 to 36 hours, potential candidates are still watching to see what King ultimately does.

As soon as Reynolds removed herself from consideration, a number of ambitious candidates took immediate action in an effort to lay down a marker to reserve a spot in what will likely be the largest and most significant campaign in Iowa’s history.

Even though Reynolds would have likely had to deal with a primary challenge had she run, the likelihood that she would have faced a significant challenge was minimal.  The key advantage that a King and Congressman Tom Latham candidacy would have brought was the ability to forego a nasty and costly primary.

Republicans now must prepare for a primary.  The current crop of candidates who are being discussed are ranked below based on their ability to win the Republican primary next June.  Their strengths and weaknesses are also examined, along with the probability of them actually officially launching a campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Please agree or disagree in the comment section.

#1 – Congressman Steve King

Until King says he’s not running for the U.S. Senate, he will occupy the top spot in the power ranking.  The media likes to say that King is too conservative to win statewide elected office, but the presumptive Democrat nominee, Congressman Bruce Braley, is too liberal to win statewide elected office.

King’s conservative credentials make him a lock in a primary, and everyone knows it.  The polls also show it.  King’s strength is the tight bond he has developed over the years with conservative activists.  Should he actually run, there will be no lack of volunteer labor and passion for the western Iowa congressman.

King’s weakness isn’t necessarily raising money, it’s staying on message.  King is actually a very disciplined politician, but as we saw in his last re-election campaign the Democrats are willing to twist and turn everything he says into something controversial.  That means King spends as much time correcting the record as he does advocating for issues, which means he struggles to control his message.

Probability that King will run for U.S. Senate: 15%

#2 – Secretary of State Matt Schultz

Like King, Secretary of State Matt Schultz enjoys widespread support from the Republican grassroots.  Despite being unknown and underfunded, Schultz pulled off an upset in 2010 when he knocked off the incumbent Democrat Secretary of State Michael Mauro.  His victory was a testament to his ability to relate to people on the campaign trail and advocate a clear message.

As the only statewide elected officer likely to seek the Senate seat, Schultz has a big advantage over his opponents.  Schultz’ push for a voter identification law in Iowa endeared him to Republican activists at the same time it made him a target for Democrats.  His wiliness to prosecute voter fraud only intensified the left’s hatred of him, but it also raised his profile at the same time.

As a U.S. Senate candidate, Schultz will have to talk about more than just one issue, but that shouldn’t be a problem.  Schultz is bright, articulate, and has also used his political capital wisely.  In the 2012 caucuses, Schultz took a risk in endorsing Rick Santorum when the former Senator was still lagging in the polls.  Santorum went on to eventually win the caucuses, and he gave a lot of credit for his victory to Schultz.  The Secretary of State’s ties to Santorum and the state’s social conservatives could be an asset in a U.S. Senate primary.

Raising the money to fund a legitimate campaign is going to be difficult for Schultz.  He struggled raising money for his 2010 campaign and still has $17,071.34 in unpaid debt from that campaign.  Schultz was able to thread the needle and knock off an incumbent with limited funds, but running for the U.S. Senate is an entirely different ball game.

Probability that Schultz will run for U.S. Senate: 90%

#3 – Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker

Matt Whitaker has made it no secret that he’s been eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate.  As the news broke that Senator Tom Harkin wouldn’t be seeing re-election in 2014, Whitaker began to make noise that he was interested.  Whitaker’s resume lends itself well to running for statewide office.  He’s a former University of Iowa football player, attorney, and former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.

The Senate race wouldn’t be Whitaker’s first foray in to Iowa politics either.  In 2002, Whitaker was the Republican nominee for State Treasurer.  He lost that race but was viewed favorably by activists.  Ever since, he has remained a fixture in Republican politics in the state.  Whitaker has spoken at large social conservative events in the past and chaired various presidential campaigns.  In 2011, he chaired the Iowa campaigns of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and then Texas Governor Rick Perry.  He would later take on a similar role with the Romney campaign.  Access to those networks should help him make inroads across the state.

However, Whitaker’s decision to represent Zach Edwards, a Democrat operative who was accused of stealing Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s identity, could come back to haunt him.  Edwards was employed by Link Strategies, a Democrat-affiliated organization with ties to a number of prominent Democrat elected officials such as Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Bruce Braley. Edwards was the Director of New Media for Link Strategies.

Whitaker’s former client is sure to become an issue should both he and Schultz run.

Probability that Whitaker will run for U.S. Senate: 90%

#4 – State Senator Joni Ernst

Before joining the Iowa Senate in 2011, Ernst was the Auditor of Montgomery County since January 1, 2005.  She has 20 years of service in the US Army Reserves and Iowa Army National Guard, and she served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2004.

It is somewhat ironic that Ernst, the woman who replaced Kim Reynolds in the Iowa Senate after Reynolds was elected Lt. Governor in 2010, is now attempting to occupy the void created by Reynolds’ decision not to run for the U.S. Senate.  While the transition from Reynolds to Ernst in the Iowa Senate was seamless, Ernst lacks the profile that Reynolds would have brought to the race.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle that Ernst will face in a Republican primary is her support for an increase in Iowa’s gas tax.  If there is one thing that Republican activists across the state are united in, it’s their objection to raising the state’s gas tax.  Ernst has been one of the few Republican legislators who has publically advocated for increasing the state’s gas tax.

Governor Branstad’s past history of increasing the gas tax caused him some grief in his 2010 campaign, but Branstad was a known entity, where Ernst is not.  It’s going to be difficult for her to introduce herself to activists while they pepper her with questions about the unpopular proposed tax increase.

Probability that Ernst will run for U.S. Senate: 65%





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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.

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