Sam Gray, a Democrat from Marion, this week announced his candidacy for the state house District 68 seat, currently held by Republican Ken Rizer.Marion's House seat has been one of the few true swing seats in Iowa the last decade, changing parties four times in recent years.
The Marion High School graduate is a part-time seed rep and student at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids studying Agriculture Science.
Swati Dandekar picked up the seat in 2002 when it was open, in a race where under the radar attacks on her ethnicity went over the radar and backfired badly on the Republicans. Republican Nick Wagner, who had given Dandekar a decent challenge in 2006, picked up the seat in 2008 when Dandekar moved over to her brief, ill-fated Senate career.
The seat was a top target in 2012 as Democrat Daniel Lundby, son of Republican legend Mary Lundby who had long held this seat, knocked off Wagner. Republican Ken Rizer promptly launched a high profile high spending campaign and easily defeated Lundby in the 2014 landslide.
Gray is just 20, and turns 22 a couple weeks before the general election, but already has at least one significant political experience: he was the youngest delegate in the country at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, serving before he turned 18. National delegate, at least in Iowa, tends to be a lifetime achievement award, but there's always one maybe two very young very new people. Often, they're never heard from again; Gray looks to be an exception.
Whether the larger electorate takes a young candidate as seriously as party activists did is yet to be seen. Funny: despite, or more likely because of, its huge student population, Iowa City is terrible at electing young people, while other, older parts of the state are more accepting.
Trivia time: This house seat was part of the greatest cluster of special elections I've ever seen outside my parent's Wisconsin recall district. In 1994-95, part of Marion saw five elections in just over two months:
- In the November 1994 general election, Paul Pate was elected secretary of state in the middle of his state senate term.
- Mary Lundby, just re-elected to the state house, ran for and won the state senate seat in a December special.
- Rosemary Thomson won Lundby's vacated house seat in early January.
- In the middle of this there was also a special election for Linn County sheriff and
- a failed merger election in the Marion and Linn-Mar school districts.
UPDATE: There won't be a comeback attempt. On April 22 Lundby announced he is moving out of state.