News Center

January 6th, 2014

Sizing Up the Potential 3rd District Republican Primary

Congressman Tom Latham’s retirement announcement caught Iowans off-guard, but his late decision means that Republicans will have less than five months to figure out who replaces him on the ballot in November.  There are only 149 days, including today, before the June 3rd Republican primary.  The tight timeframe could play a role in not only determining who enters the Republican field, but who ultimently wins the nomination.

As the race currently stands, two Republicans are vying for nomination.  David Young, Senator Chuck Grassley’s former Chief of Staff who, until last week, was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, and Joe Grandanette, an activist who entered the race to primary Latham.  More are expected to join the Republican primary in the days and weeks to come.

Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz and State Senator Brad Zaun are the biggest names talking about running, but others such as former gubernatorial candidate David Oman, Des Moines businessman Robert Cramer, 2008 Republican nominee Kim Schmett, and West Des Moines State Senator Charles Schneider have also shown interest.

Zaun, the 2010 nominee in the Third Congressional District, is viewed by many to be the frontrunner should he choose to run, but the district he ran in in 2010 is a lot different than the one in which Latham defeated Leonard Boswell in the 2012 cycle.  While Zaun’s candidacy displayed his strength in Polk County in the primary, he struggled mightily in the general election once his Democrat opponent unleashed a number of negative ads against him.

As the 2014 Third District Republican primary begins to develop, it’s important to realize how different this district is from the one that saw a spirited and crowded primary in 2010.  Today we will examine the District, the Republican candidates who are likely to seek the nomination, the Democrat primary, and the prospects for Republican success in the general election.

The District

The 16-county congressional district, as it is configured today, stretches from southwest Iowa eastward to Polk County.  In the old configuration of the Third Congressional District, Polk County on the western edge of the district and the district covered 11 other counties to the east.  Only one county, Polk County, was in both the new and old Third Congressional District.  While Polk County makes up most of the population in the district, Polk County was more dominate in the old configuration of the district.

The Republican Candidates

David Young:  Young isn’t going to turn many heads unless his campaign style in this congressional race is completely different from his time as a U.S. Senate candidate.  While Young isn’t going to light the world on fire, his early entrance in the race and fundraising abilities give him a leg up on the competition.  It is also worth noting that while some primary voters will be looking for a firebrand, others will be looking for someone more in the mold of Latham, a thoughtful, softer-spoken conservative.

Joe Grandanette:  Grandanette’s primary against Latham was a futile endeavor, and things are not going to get any easier for him now that Latham has decided to retire.  Grandanette is a fringe candidate whose only impact may be helping this race be decided at convention instead of in the primary.

Matt Schultz:  Schultz has flirted with running for federal office before, but chose not to run for the U.S. Senate.  So what would cause Schultz to run for congress but not the U.S. Senate seat?  First and foremost, the congressional seat is more attainable for Schultz, and is a perfect fit for him.  Schultz, who grew up in Des Moines, has also lived, worked, and was elected to the municipal office in Council Bluffs.  He has also lived in Dallas and Madison counties.  Schultz may not have super deep roots in those communities, but the district is his home.

Schultz likely has the best name ID of any potential Republican candidate in the district.  While he’s not really ever endeared himself to the Republican donor community, Republican activists generally like him.  The only obstacle Schultz would have to overcome is convincing those activists that running for Congress is the right move for him as a number of activists are not sold on the idea of him walking away for the Secretary of State’s office.

Brad Zaun:  Zaun easily won the Republican primary in 2010, but winning the nomination in 2014 might not be as easy.  Zaun’s 2010 primary victory was powered almost exclusively by his support in Polk County.  In fact, 77 percent of the votes that Zaun received in 2010 came from Polk County.  Zaun’s strength in Polk County was impressive – he actually received more votes in Polk County than Terry Branstad received in his primary – but Zaun struggled making inroads outside of his home county.

Zaun only carried four of the 12 counties in the district and even in the other three counties that he won in 2010, each of them were close contests.  Zaun’s inability to grow his support outside of Polk County could be problematic in the newly configured district.  Zaun won his 2010 primary by 12 points over Jim Gibbons, but the primary turnout in the new district had 16 percent more votes than the old district, and all of those additional votes come from outside Polk County.  While Zaun would likely perform well in Polk County, he would need to be a stronger candidate outside of Polk County in 2014 if he wants to win the Republican primary.

Zaun’s performance in the 2010 general elections could also cost him some primary support.  The 2010 election cycle was phenomenal for Republicans, yet Zaun lost to a vulnerable Boswell by four points.  Zaun spent the entire general election responding to Boswell attacks, first on Zaun’s opposition to subsidies for Iowa farmers and then on financial assistance for flood victims.  The Boswell campaign then attacked Zaun for unpaid bills and tax liens.  Even worse, Zaun’s personal life became an issue in the campaign when the Des Moines Register reported on a West Des Moines police report filed when Zaun allegedly harassed a former girlfriend.

While Republicans rallied around Zaun in the 2010 general election, some voters may not want to endure another general election where the Republican candidate was unable to effectively get his message out against whoever the Democrat nominee ends up being.  If you think that the Boswell’s attacks on Zaun won’t be used again by someone like Staci Appel, who made similar attacked against a Republican opponent in a State Senate campaign, you have another thing coming.

Robert Cramer:  Cramer told that he was seriously considering a run for the now-open Third District Congressional seat.  Cramer, a Des Moines metro businessman with strong ties to the social conservative network of Bob Vander Plaats, could be formidable should he choose to run.  One interesting tidbit to keep in mind in this race should Cramer run is that he was lambasted by state Senate Democrats for his personal and religious views and ultimately not confirmed by the Senate when he was nominated to the state Board of Regents by Governor Branstad.  That experience gives Cramer some major credibility with social conservatives.

Kim Schmett:  Schmett, the 2008 nominee for congress in the Third Congressional District, is supposedly interested in running in 2014.  The prospects for success in 2008 were low, and Schmett struggled at every facet of the campaign.  He did have a clever debate with Boswell, but he ultimately lost 55 percent to 40 percent.

David Oman:  The last time David Oman was on a ballot was in 1998, when he lost the Republican primary for governor to Jim Ross Lightfoot by 48 points.  Oman, a former Chief of Staff to Governor Terry Branstad, is an establishment Republican with strong ties to former Republican Governor Bob Ray.

A Republican primary may be difficult for Oman as he was the leading force behind one of the biggest boondoggles in recent history.  Oman headed up the effort to build an indoor rainforest in Iowa, which was to be funded in large part by the federal government.  The indoor rainforest was Iowa’s equivalent of Alaska’s notorious bridge to nowhere.  And while the project, which was never built, hasn’t been in the news lately, it is still on the minds of many voters who castigated all who were involved in the fiasco.

Charles Schneider:  State Senator Charles Schneider is said to be interested in the Third Congressional seat being vacated by Latham.  Schneider, a former West Des Moines City Councilman, was elected to the Iowa Senate following the untimely death of Pat Ward just days before the 2012 general election.  Schneider is an emerging Republican leader, and his West Des Moines roots would aid him in whatever office he ultimately aspires to seek, but it may be a little too soon for him to mount a congressional campaign.  One advantage Schneider has is that he would not have to give up his seat in the Iowa Senate should he choose to run for Congress.  That is also true of Brad Zaun, as both were elected in 2012.

The Democrats:

Staci Appel, a former State Senator and wife of an Iowa Supreme Court Justice, is as liberal as they come.  While that might not make her a great general election candidate, it does make her a strong candidate in the primary.  Appel had a surprisingly strong initial fundraising report and is likely to put up another big number now that Latham is vacating the seat.

Iowa Democrats are desperate for another candidate to emerge, and one likely will, but defeating Appel in a primary is not going to be an easy task.  Names being floated include State Senator Matt McCoy, Iowa’s first openly gay legislator, and Dr. Andrea “Andy” McGuire, who was Mike Blouin’s runningmate for his failed 2006 gubernatorial run. McGuire is currently running a Medicaid HMO in Iowa.

The General Election

It is no coincidence that Republicans now represent the Third Congressional District given that the district as it is constituted today looks very similar to how it looked when Republican Congressman Greg Ganske represented the 4th Congressional District from 1995-2002.  While voter registration numbers give Republican’s a slight edge, this area generally performs even better for Republicans.  If Republicans nominate a legitimate candidate for Congress, they should have no problem holding on to the district, especially in a non-presidential year.  Recent polling data also backs this up.


Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 5.40.32 PM

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.

blog comments powered by Disqus