What do you get when the so-called “establishment” fails to back the so-called “establishment” candidate?
The Iowa Senate Democratic primary, apparently.
Throughout this year’s presidential primary, both Republicans and Democrats have obsessed over “establishment” politics, and which candidates the powers to be are backing. Typically aligning themselves with the seemingly more moderate or electable candidate, party leaders and top donors succeeded on the Democratic side while failing miserably among Republicans.
I hesitated to write an entire post about “establishment” forces because I don’t really like the term. It’s vague and fluid and is usually just used as an epithet against people not on your side. But to discuss the dynamics and consequences of who is backing whom in the Iowa Senate primary is too interesting to pass up.
After Scalia’s death and Grassley’s refusal to hold a Supreme Court nomination hearing, Democrats in Washington D.C. sensed Grassley’s reelection could suddenly become competitive. Unimpressed by Rob Hogg’s prospects, they started fishing for a new candidate, settling upon former Lt. Governor Patty Judge, and for good reason: she can compete with Grassley in rural areas of the state, has statewide name ID and can raise serious money.
However, few political leaders in Iowa went along with the idea.
Over 90 current and former legislators have not only endorsed Hogg, but all stuck with him after Judge’s entry. Both AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor have come out in support of Hogg. Most of the key members of what many would consider Iowa’s political “establishment” rejected Judge and stuck with her underdog opponent.
Of course, Judge does still have some of her own high-profile backers. Jerry Crawford, Bonnie Campbell, Jim Hubbell, Jill June, Sally Pederson, Brad Anderson and Bill Knapp are among some of her supporters.
But it’s interesting to see her main endorsements limited mostly to the Des Moines donor crowd, while nearly the entire Legislature and organized labor have aligned with Hogg. Especially when Harry Reid and the DSCC have made it pretty clear she’s who they think is the smart pick in the race. Actually, it should be a welcome sign to Iowa progressives – especially Bernie Sanders backers – that Iowa’s establishment doesn’t automatically unite behind the more moderate candidate all the time.
Now, most of this is still a result of the bad feelings from the Chet Culver/Patty Judge administration that many have yet to move on from, least of all labor, for good reason.
But it presents some interesting consequences for next week’s primary.
Behind the scenes in 2014, there was considerable frustration with the DSCC’s role, influence and effectiveness in the Democratic coordinated campaign with Bruce Braley. Many insiders felt too much of his campaign was dictated by D.C. consultants, and that those decisions had a significant impact on how down-ballot races and the overall party machinery ran.
Now we could have the DSCC-backed candidate emerge as the party’s nominee for 2016. If she does, how will they incorporate with this year’s coordinated campaign? It will already be dominated by the Clinton operation, so they’d have a much smaller role than they did in 2014. But considering the hard feelings toward the DSCC over Braley, and the fact that they’ll have much fewer Iowa political leaders to press their case, how prominent would a Judge candidacy figure into the party’s operations this year?
Judge would almost certainly raise more money for the general election than Hogg would, and has already easily lapped him in fundraising. However, where would that money go? Into the coordinated campaign, or mostly staying home in her own campaign? And could more TV ads slamming Grassley help drive Democratic turnout?
Or maybe Judge won’t win the primary. Indeed, whoever comes out ahead next week could say a lot about the efficacy of Iowa’s “establishment.” It’s essentially turned into a matchup of the D.C. and Iowa political establishment, regardless of the other factors of why they endorsed.
“I’m very grateful for the support I have received from labor, environmentalists, and legislators,” Hogg said in a statement to Starting Line. “It may not show up in the national press, but we believe we have strong grassroots support that’s gives us the chance to compete and win this fall.”
Perhaps all those legislators will talk with their friends about their colleague, and maybe all those labor unions will turn out enough of their members. But if they do, and Hogg is successful, will the national money still flow into Iowa for the Senate race? What’s the use of a statewide candidate who can’t run much advertising?
On the other hand, could a candidate like Hogg, well-liked among many activists and volunteers, provide a reason for them to knock more doors and make more calls, helping candidates up and down the ballot? And will Senator Mike Gronstal – who wields considerable influence over the party this year thanks to his role in electing Andy McGuire as IDP chair – ensure Hogg is better incorporated into the coordinated campaign?
Next Tuesday’s vote for the Democrats’ U.S. Senate candidate will have far more consequences than just who is on the ballot opposing Grassley. But it’s still an open question as to how many of those will play out.
by Pat Rynard