With the state legislature reconvening, Des Moines is once again the epicenter of all things political in Iowa. Iowa’s capital city is always the center of politics in the state, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the citizens and the professional political class that call the Des Moines metro home always have a firm grip about what’s going on in Iowa politics.
The start of the latest legislative session means that all eyes will be on state issues for the next four to five months, but with two open congressional seats and an open U.S. Senate seat for the first time in 30 years, 2014 isn’t your typical election year in Iowa. Not only are a number of legislators attempting to seize on these opportunities, but for the first time in a long time, Iowa’s mid-term elections will focus more on federal issues than state issues.
While the State Capitol building will house most of the state’s political reporters and a number of candidates seeking higher office, it may also restrict those very same people from campaigning across the state or the congressional district for which they are attempting to capture their party’s nominations.
Complicating matters for Republicans is that the Third District Congressional seat currently occupied by Congressman Tom Latham just recently became open when he announced he would not seek re-election in 2014. Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s decision to run for Latham’s congressional seat means that the Secretary of State’s office is without an incumbent seeking re-election.
Even though the Latham retirement and Schultz’s decision to run for Congress open up opportunities for other Republican politicians looking to seek higher office. The timing of Latham’s retirement means that these races are just taking shape, leaving less than five months before voters select the Republican nominee in the June 3rd primary.
Those two late-forming contests make it even more difficult for sitting legislators to get in the race and campaign. With the primary just 141 days away, and the legislature scheduled to take up at least 100 of those days, not much time is left to campaign in advance of the primary.
Below is a list of the primary races, both Republican and Democrat, that will be impacted by the legislative session. There are both advantages and disadvantages in being a legislator seeking higher office. We will explore who is either aided or hurt by the state of the new legislative session.
1st Congressional District
State Representative Walt Rogers: Rogers is in the middle of a three-way primary in Iowa’s First Congressional District. In regard to his Republican primary opponents, neither Rob Blum nor Steve Rathje is in the legislature. Rogers has only been a candidate since October, while his opponents have been in the race since the summer. He has been traveling the district, and with the Republican in the majority in the Iowa House, he may be able to push for legislation that would help his congressional bid. Still, being stuck in Des Moines makes it difficult to campaign in Cedar Rapids or Dubuque, two of the larger communities in the district.
Democrat State Representatives Anesa Kajtazovic: and Pat Murphy: Like Rogers, both Kajtazovic and Murphy are in the midst of a contested Eastern Iowa primary. The Democrat primary in the First Congressional District is a five person contest with the three other candidates each hailing from Cedar Rapids. The legislative session provides Kajtazovic and Murphy’s opponents an opportunity to work the rest of the district while the candidates from Waterloo and Dubuque are stuck in Des Moines. With the Iowa House in Republican control, it’s going to be difficult for these Democrat legislators to use their elected offices to help their campaigns.
2nd Congressional District
State Representative Mark Lofgren: Lofgren has been a candidate for Congress since late June, but his candidacy has not generated a lot of buzz or garnered much attention in the past six months. As the legislature resumes, a prominent primary opponent in Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the former head of the Iowa Department of Public Health, seems certain to enter the race. Had Lofgren had a better launch to his congressional race, the legislative session wouldn’t have been such an obstacle. But, with Miller-Meeks about to jump into the race, being stuck in Des Moines is not going to do him any favors.
3rd Congressional District
State Senator Brad Zaun: Zaun told the Des Moines Register that he is planning on jumping into the Third District Republican primary next week following Iowa’s precinct caucuses. Zaun, the Republican nominee for Congress in 2010, is no stranger to campaigning, but the district he campaigned in in 2010 is a lot different than they one he will be running in this year. Zaun’s strength is in Polk County, which was the main reason he was easily able to win the Republican primary in 2010. The reconfigured Third District isn’t as dominated by Polk County as the old district, and Zaun has never sought election in the 15 other counties. If Zaun is serious about winning the Republican nomination, he’s going to need to find support in those counties, and once again, being stuck in Des Moines only makes that more difficult.
State Senator Joni Ernst: Has been a U.S. Senate candidate since July, but the fact that she’s not all that well known across the state makes being stuck in the legislature from now through late April or May isn’t ideal. Ernst could use the time in Des Moines to focus on fundraising and organizing the state’s largest county, but being confined to Des Moines may hurt her in voter-rich eastern Iowa. It also doesn’t help that Ernst is a Commander in the Iowa National Guard, which means that some of her weekends are also already spoken for. Ernst’s position in the National Guard and the Iowa Senate have helped her in the Republican primary, but as the race enters its final phase, the responsibilities associated with each could make things difficult for her.
Secretary of State
Former Secretary of State Paul Pate is currently the only Republican seeking the office, but some legislators, including State Senator Jake Chapman and Representative Rob Taylor, have both shown interest. The legislative duties for both Chapman and Taylor would be a huge disadvantage for both. Not only is the time frame between now and the primary short, but both are virtually unknown across the state. It would be nearly impossible to travel the state and raise money for a statewide election.
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