Friday, April 25, 2008

GOP Pedigrees At Issue In 2nd District Race

GOP Pedigrees At Issue In 2nd District Race

The Ed Fallon-Leonard Boswell race isn't the only Iowa congressional primary where party loyalty and campaign finance have become issues. A six-year-old campaign donation has become a point of contention between the three Republicans running in the 2nd Congressional District.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Lee Harder are attacking Peter Teahen for giving Democrat Julie Thomas $250 in her 2002 race against Republican Jim Leach. Teahen unapologetically stands behind the contribution, saying it was made out of personal gratitude rather than political agreement with Thomas, a Cedar Rapids pediatrician.

"Dr. Julie Thomas saved my daughter's life," Teahen told Iowa Independent. He noted that he has contributed to many Republicans over the years.

Federal Election Commission records show that Teahen donated $250 to Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign and $500 to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Rathje last fall. The FEC also shows that Miller-Meeks has donated $16,515 to federal committees in the past decade, all to Republican candidates or medical political action committees. Harder's only federal donor history is $1,095 to his own campaign.

Miller-Meeks is also raising campaign finance issues to tout her own strength. She surprised some observers by out-raising Teahen in finance reports filed at the end of March, and campaign handouts say she has raised money from across the district while Teahen has only raised money in Linn County.

Harder is telling 2nd District Republicans that Teahen was a registered Democrat until Dec. 13, 2007, and is also criticizing Miller-Meeks as a moderate.

Teahen told Iowa Independent he has been a Republican or independent most of his life, and registered as a Democrat in 2006 to vote for "pro-life, pro-business Democrat" Mike Blouin in his unsuccessful primary bid for governor. Republican Jim Nussle was unopposed in the 2006 primary.

"When you're a community leader, you try to get the right people into the positions," said Teahen, who owns a family funeral home in Cedar Rapids and has volunteered as a Red Cross spokesperson at disaster scenes such as Ground Zero and Hurricane Katrina. "Do you talk about uniting America to make America better, and then say, 'only our party is the good guys?"

Teahen considers the donation and affiliation questions to be non-events. "I'm disappointed that we're not discussing the issues and are going to personal attacks,” he told Iowa Independent.

Republican activist Deb Thornton, Teahen, Miller-Meeks and Harder at district convention

Miller-Meeks and Teahen are both walking a fine line in the primary. They are trying to portray a moderate image in the tradition of Leach, who held the seat for 30 years before losing to Democrat Dave Loebsack in 2006. At the same time, they need to appeal to the conservative party activists who turn out in primaries.

Harder has no such concerns. "Vote Conservative," read his red and white yard signs, rather than "vote Republican." Still, Harder told Iowa Independent, they have the recognizable Republican elephant logo, "which is more than my opponents have."

But both Miller-Meeks and Teahen have strong conservatives heading up their campaign efforts. Wes Enos, who managed Mike Huckabee's winning caucus campaign, is running the Teahen campaign. Todd Versteegh, who spent the 2008 caucus cycle with the Fair Tax campaign, is running the Miller-Meeks effort.

Harder, who left a job as a corrections chaplain to campaign full-time, is running his campaign effort himself. He's getting help from his father and from his home-schooled son, who is getting a first-hand political education traveling the district with dad. Harder's name-id mnemonic is the simple slogan: "I will work Harder for you."

Miller-Meeks supporters were quite visible at last weekend's 2nd District convention in Iowa City, wearing white medical lab coats as they placed white goodie bags on every chair in the hall. Miller-Meeks is an ophthalmologist and immediate past-president of the Iowa Medical Association. Their meeting the same day as the convention meant Miller-Meeks made only a brief appearance before 2nd District delegates.

The Miller-Meeks campaign also handed out M&Ms to remind Republican voters of her MMM initials. Rumors that the candy was left over from the 1992 Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky campaign were quickly denied.

Teahen and Harder spoke at more length at a candidate forum, taking alternating questions from delegates. The two spend most of the day in retail politics persuasion of individual Republicans and small groups.

Geography may help Teahen in the primary. He is from Cedar Rapids, the district's largest county and much larger than Miller-Meeks' Ottumwa base and Harder's home in rural Henry County. "The county races will help get out voters," said Teahen. Linn County is going through a reorganization of county government and has competitive primaries in new county supervisor districts.

Miller-Meeks hopes to break the Iowa-Mississippi jinx; those are the only two states that have never elected a woman either to Congress or as a governor. "I like her energy and her spunk," said Cathy Grawe of Coralville.

Whoever wins the June 3 primary has an uphill battle against incumbent Loebsack. Despite Leach's long tenure, the 2nd District is the most Democratic in the state. National handicappers rate the race as "safe Democratic," and the seat does not appear on the Republican National Committee’s list of targeted races.

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