Sunday, May 27, 2012

Primary Preview: Democratic House Races

In stark contrast to the House GOP, no incumbent House Democrats face primary challenges, not even of the Some Dude variety. The contested races are all open seats or challenges to Republican incumbents. And even in those few races, events have been low-key and news is hard to find.

To tell ya the truth, only two of these races are even very interesting, and donning the Beret of Objectivity the most interesting one is in my backyard.

House District 73 is Cedar County based. District line changes expanded the Johnson County part to include the greater Solon area and contracted the Muscatine County part to just the city limits of Wilton.

For months, this looked like a straight matchup between Republican incumbent Jeff Kaufmann, in a significantly weakened district, and Democrat David Johnson, who was on the West Branch city council when he announced soon after Map Day (he did not seek re-election last year).

But privately, many leading local Democrats were grumbling that Johnson was a weak candidate for a must-win district, and recruiting efforts continued. It's Johnson's third run for the House; in 1992 he ran as an independent against Bob Dvorsky, and in 1994 he challenged Dick Myers in a primary, losing 80-20. Meanwhile, rumors of a Kaufmann retirement or even immediate resignation were flying.

Both stories broke in the last  weeks before the filing deadline. In late February, Solon school board member and former NCS executive Dick Schwab jumped in. Schwab has a high philanthropy profile in Johnson County and was the Press-Citizen's Person Of The Year in 2001.Then just a week before filing deadline and the night before county conventions, Kaufmann announced he was retiring and running for the Board of Supervisors instead. The next day, son Bobby Kaufmann rolled out his campaign.

The Democratic primary battle has gotten nasty enough that the Johnson County Democrats banned primary discussion in their Facebook group. This brief write-up can scarcely scratch the surfaces of the local nuances, but if you're in Johnson County you'd be interested in a look at the donor lists for Johnson and Schwab. It's all individuals; labor and other groups stayed out.

To grossly oversimplify for outsiders: Schwab has been at the center of a local zoning and road fight over his "Celebration Barn," where he hosts weddings and other events. The same approximate cluster of issues along Newport Road north of Iowa City led to a primary defeat for an incumbent county supervisor in 2006, and by coincidence zoning and conditional use hearings over Schwab's property have cropped up during the primary period.

Johnson, for his part, is arguing that a Cedar County candidate would be stronger in the general election.He has raised $6,461.81 and spent $5,894.62. Schwab, with a later start, leads with  $11,196.00 raised and $8,628.04 spent.

The other hot Democratic primary is in House District 36 in the northwest corner of Des Moines, bounded roughly by 30th Street and University Avenue. This primary deserves the designation Democratic primaries used to get in the old South: "tantamount to election." This solid Democratic seat opened up right after Map Day when incumbent Janet Petersen opted for the just as good Senate seat.

Marti Anderson is former director of the Crime Victim Assistance Division of the Attorney General’s Office in the Iowa Department of Justice, and is married to Bob Brammer, longtime spokesperson at AG's office. Not surprisingly, she's got Tom Miller's support. Cara Kennedy-Ode and William Rock both announced early.

The differences in this race appear to be mostly demographic; a recent debate showed few issue differences. The donor lists for Anderson and Kennedy-Ode read like a who's who of Democratic politicos in Iowa.

Someone from Polk County will have to dig through to see a meaningful pattern; all I could detect was a slight generational skew of Kennedy-Odes folks being generally younger than Anderson's. Kennedy-Ode had a slight edge with $37,805.27 raised and $11,904.90 spent. Anderson raised $29,515.31 and spent $13,177.74. Again, all of this is individual donors with no labor or other interest group money.

Without a time-consuming cross-check, it looks like no one was backing both sides (in the Johnson-Schwab race a few local pols carefully gave identical checks to both). The two most meaningful non-Miller names to out-staters - Roxanne Conlin and Sen. Jack Hatch - are with Anderson. Janet Petersen stayed out of it.

It's orthodoxy among Iowa Democrats that more women need to be elected. Rock, running for a female-held safe seat against two strong female candidates, frankly looks like an afterthought, a good guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He raised $2,559.13 and spent  $1,792.48. But he does have the best committee name: "Citizens for Rock," which unfortunately Tenacious D did not release on their new album. (Unfortunately for William, JB and KG assess his primary chances: "Rock Is Dead.")

So those are the good ones. Let's look at the rest, since no one else is.

House District 16 is the more Republican of the two Council Bluffs seats, but still winnable in a good Democratic year, and since this is half of Mike Gronstal's Senate seat expect a big get out the vote effort.. The Democrats did win this seat's predecessor... until Doug Struyk switched parties. This was a pair-up of two GOP freshmen; Mary Ann Hanusa, who replaced Struyk, stayed put while Mark Brandenburg moved across town.

Two Democrats are challenging Hanusa in House 16. Ron Pierce is director of the Fuller Foundation of Pottawattamie County; to make the long story short Fuller Foundation branched off from Habitat for Humanity but is in pretty much the same line of work. Heidi Guggisberg-Coners is a youth motivational speaker.

No news coverage of any kind that I can find since the perfunctory mentions during filing week, most of which were by me. Pierce has raised $3,095.00 and spent $2,190.60; Guggisberg-Coners did not file a May 19 campaign finance report, meaning she's likely below the $750 that triggers reporting requirements.

House District 18 is an odd place to have a contested Democratic primary, as two-term Republican Jason Schultz went unopposed in both the  2008 and 2010 general elections. The district is centered on Denison and western Crawford County and includes all of Shelby County. It's a good Republican district but not beyond hope.

Democrat Kasey Friedrichsen offers a symbolically powerful argument against Team Branstad 5.0: She worked at the Denison unemployment office until Branstad's budget cutting closed the doors. With that in mind, she's drawing significant labor support. Friedrichsen raised $9,919, with nearly half - $5,000 - from AFSCME. If nothing else, a strong fall effort by a candidate of this background helps the president and Christie Vilsack.

The other Democrat, Dunlap Mayor Bernard Murphy, raised $2028 and has spent it all.

House District 49 is another weird spot for a primary, as GOP incumbent Dave Deyoe has a fairly solid seat in Nevada and outlying Story County. It may have just been a matter of oops; in the lone story about the race, nurse Garland Bridges of Eldora said that when he announced he was unaware that said he was unaware fellow Democrat Kevin Ericson of Maxwell was running for the seat when Bridges made his decision. So obviously neither of them was really getting the word around.

Ericson has the money lead with $1,652.00 raised and $810.18 spent. Bridges has gotten one $50 check and spent $820.57 out of pocket.

House District 72 is an open Tama County based seat, where Republican Lance Horbach announced his retirement before The Map was even released.

The line changes shifts the district into the swing seat zone. Democrats look to be making a serious effort with Sac and Fox tribal executive Christina Blackcloud-Garcia. She got the whole House Democrats rollout press release treatment... and then she got a primary opponent. Nathan Wrage of Gladbrook is a school custodian and county conservation board member.

Surprisingly, Wrage has the money lead, raising $2,983.00 -- $2500 of that from family members -- with $289.35 spent. Blackcloud-Garcia has raised just $1,830.00, with $1000 of that from one Michael Smith, a lobbyist for DC firm Cornerstone Government Affairs. Another $650 came from DC-area addresses, leaving just $180 in unitemized, local hat-pass type donations. She spent just $109.27.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Republican Senate races.

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