Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Iowa Democratic Chair Race

What About The OTHER State Party Chair Race?

For all the public buzz over the race for Iowa Republican Party chair, the corresponding contest has been extremely quiet. Iowa Democratic Party chair Scott Brennan has announced he's stepping down, with his replacement to be elected Jan. 31. But Iowa's lefty blogs aren't buzzing the way the rightosphere is over next weekend's hotly contested GOP chair race.

The same dynamic has happened in the national party chair races. Republicans, suffering from the navel-gazing divisions of defeat, are in a heated six-way race for national chair. Meanwhile, over the weekend, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was smoothly eased in at the DNC to replace Howard Dean, with but a nod from the president-elect.

Maybe it's because the party chair seems to matter less when you control the White House, Congress, and the state government trifecta. And maybe it's because when you're in power, the opinions of those in power matter.

In Iowa, that means Governor Culver and Senator Harkin. They'll have strong opinions, and for most of the election cycle they'll be otherwise busy. Culver will be focused on the re-election and Harkin, fresh off re-elect, will be busier in Washington with a friendly Administration.

One of the names in the mix is Patty Judge, which would take the IDP the route it went in the Vilsack era, with the lieutenant governor serving as party chair. But Sally Pederson didn't move in as party chair until after the re-election, and there's an inherent conflict as IDP interests and Culver-Judge interests may not always be identical.

Other names in the mix have included Becky Greenwald and former Mike Blouin running mate and leading Hillary backer Andrea McGuire. Either would be a solid fundraiser and spokesperson.. But if Greenwald wants to take another shot at Latham, she's out, and McGuire's unlikely to get support from the governor.

One thing that seems likely: this will be figured out ahead of time and presented as a fait accompli, without the campaign web sites and public debates that we've seen in the Republican race. The grassroots influence, if any, will be less on the name and more on the direction.

Since nothing's more grassroots than the blogs, and it's my job to say crazy things, here's my thoughts on the goals of the next IDP chair:

  • Stay First. That needs to be the first and foremost goal for any Iowa party chair of any party, and will requires bipartisan cooperation with the Republican counterpart. The caucuses gained a powerful ally with Obama's victory, but most of the action here will be on the GOP side. The chair race ripples into the vice-chair race, as the vice chair gets a spot on the DNC Rules committee which decides these things. (It also helps that Michigan's clout has declined with the Dingell dethroning.)

  • Hold What We Have. A third consecutive big Democratic cycle is hard to expect, and there's a lot on the line. Not so much Culver; it looks like he'll mend his fences with labor this session and get folks reunited behind him. I'm thinking more of the legislative seats.

  • Keep the band together. Because of Obama's pledges on lobbyist and PAC money, most of the 2008 Iowa ground campaign was run under the Obama banner rather than the IDP banner. It's not clear yet whether Obama support translates into Democratic support when he's not on the ballot (the post-November runoffs are poor test cases, all on red turf except the unique William Jefferson situation), but the party needs to find a way to make that happen.

  • Position ourselves for 2012. We're losing a seat in Congress in 2012 and we need to come out of that with a 3-1 Democratic split. My thoughts on this are on the record and probably winning me no friends at IDP HQ.

  • A strong challenge to Chuck Grassley. We can't have another let sleeping dogs lie race here. A weak candidate here breaks the straight ticket at the very top, and hurts everyone below. Every election cycle there's one contest that comes out of nowhere, and we need to be in position for it. Sometimes that out of nowhere candidate doesn't fit the conventional mold (like Dave Loebsack); the key is being able to make a strong, credible, well-funded case. Sure, it could fizzle, like, say, Jim Slattery did in Kansas this cycle. But it could sizzle, like Tom Carper knocking off Bill Roth in Delaware in `96. The thing is, we don't know—Grassley hasn't has a serious challenge since he was the challenger.
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