Less than three months after Rod Blum’s election to Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, Democrats are lining up to get another crack at the Democratic-leaning seat. Cedar Rapids businesswoman Monica Vernon announced her second bid on Thursday.
Vernon enters the race in a much stronger position than she did last time, when she was a little-known city councilwoman facing questions about her past Republican affiliation. Her presence on the Democrats’ statewide ticket quieted that narrative, and it also introduced her to activists and donors around the state.
A bevy of Eastern Iowa Democrats quickly rallied to Vernon’s side, her campaign announcing on Friday support from a long list of state legislators. Vernon certainly begins her second run for Congress as the front-runner in a primary yet to develop. Still, that’s not deterring others.
A district with a partisan index of +5 for Democrats is too juicy an opportunity to pass up. Add in a weak incumbent in Republican Rod Blum, whose bizarre business dealings with a former NHL player came to light after the election, and would-be candidates can see a clear path to victory. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar and Hawkeye Hotels President Ravi Patel are reportedly considering campaigns. And Starting Line has learned that a former actor living in Black Hawk County may be close to announcing a run of his own.
Former Actor Gary Kroeger May Bring a Different Kind of Campaign to IA-01
His effusive personality apparent from the first moment you speak with him, Gary Kroeger admits he’s a bit different. But he argues that’s exactly what Congress needs, and is why he says he’s strongly considering a run for the 1st Congressional District. His biography alone would help him stand out in any field.
“I’m an old song and dance man,” Kroeger said in an interview with Starting Line, describing his 20-year career in acting. Kroeger got his start in Chicago while at Northwestern, making friends with Julia Louis Dreyfus as they worked their way up in the business. The two ended up on Saturday Night Live together, with Kroeger and Dreyfus acting on the show from 1982 to 1985. After that Kroeger found work in a variety of comedies, low-budget movies, and hosting and writing for game shows. “I never found that brass ring, but I was always a working actor,” Kroeger explains. “I managed to find work in a place where 90% don’t.”
Born in Cedar Falls, he moved back to his hometown in 2003 to give his two young sons a more stable life. At 57, he says he’s kept himself involved in local politics by hosting coffees for candidates, lobbying a bit on some statehouse legislation, and writing the left-leaning column for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. That got him thinking about taking his passion for politics to a bigger stage.
“I have a strong voice and a capability to persuade people to listen better than most in the political arena,” Kroeger says of what advantages he thinks he’d bring to a campaign. “I believe I have something that may be missing. I’ve been watching politics my whole life. It’s a whole lot of dull. Legislators are not persuading, not convincing people, not getting people to think.”
As for the issues he would run on, civil rights would anchor his platform. “Civil rights and justice for all, for gay marriage, for women, for minorities. It’s what defines progressivism. And then you go out from there. It touches on the right to breathe clean air, it lends itself to environmental justice, to economic justice.” On where Kroeger thinks his party goes wrong, he says, “Democrats tend to get soft to win. No one draws a line in the sand. The Constitution guarantees civil rights to all. A woman should have domain over her body. I’m not going to go away from these ideas. It defines being a progressive.”
While Kroeger’s journey to this point in his potential political career is unique, he’s not being discounted. “In Black Hawk County, we have come to know Gary as an articulate forward-thinker who stands firmly in his progressive principals,” says Tavis Hall, a Waterloo political consultant. “Gary will certainly be a strong candidate, were he to throw his hat in the ring, because of his genuine interest in public policy, progressive perspective, and ability to articulate a clear and winning message in November about the values we share as Democrats. While there are certainly strong names who have already expressed interest, I hope that activists don’t feel rushed into making a decision before the field reveals itself.”
Unless Anesa Kajtazovic runs again, it sounds unlikely there would be another Black Hawk County candidate, potentially giving Kroeger a base to himself in the second-largest population center in the district. Vernon, Dandekar, and possibly Patel would all be based in Linn County. Kroeger’s old friends in the acting business might be able to open up fundraising sources. Still, there’s no doubt it would be an uphill climb for the would-be first-time candidate.
In a contested primary likely to feature experienced campaigners and ambitious newcomers, Gary Kroeger will need to stand out. Despite a colorful career, Kroeger would base his appeal as having the life experiences of an every-man: “I am the 21st Century American. I’m a divorced single dad who works in corporate America. I’m a businessman who’s seen the successes and failures of life and I still remain optimistic about the future of Iowa and America. I jumped out of the big book of what happens in life.”