Iowa’s 1st Congressional District is home to one of the most fascinating primaries in the country. With Rod Blum widely seen as the country’s most endangered Republican incumbent, Democrats are eager to retake Bruce Braley’s old seat. Here’s how we see the race shaping up right now:
1. Monica Vernon
The second place finisher from 2014 and Jack Hatch’s running mate maintains her front-runner status for 2016, but just barely. Patel’s fundraising abilities won’t make this an easy race for Vernon. Fortunately for Vernon, she has the strong support of Emily’s List behind her – she was the first endorsed Congressional candidate touted by the Democratic powerhouse organization. Once they start fundraising for her, she’ll keep a little closer to Patel. Recently, though, her public events have been sparse and some report not hearing much from the Vernon campaign for a while [edit: though we’re hearing there’s a good explanation for that – may not want to read too much into it]. Her name ID and past volunteer infrastructure gives her an important head-start here.
2. Ravi Patel
The 29-year-old hotel executive and entrepreneur may not fit the exact profile of who you’d usually run in the 1st District, but the boatload of money he can raise will offset that. The likely accompanying Super PAC set up to support his bid will probably do a lot of the dirty work to bring down Vernon’s numbers. After that, Patel needs to turn his unique story into a campaign message that connects with working class primary voters. His well-funded campaign should allow a large field team that could expand the electorate, perhaps targeting turnout of younger people. But he faces plenty of potential negative messaging as well. He’s already been hit by a likely Emily’s List-planted story on his hotels not paying its workers the hourly salary that Patel proposes the national minimum wage be upped to. And labor leaders inside the district are reportedly very skeptical.
The former actor-turned-congressional-candidate is positioning himself as the progressive populist in the race, best able to articulate Democrats’ message in 2016. While his path to running for office is not a typical one (of course, neither is Patel’s), Kroeger has been impressing Democratic activists across the district the past few months. His first fundraising report will be telling – can he raise enough to compete with the better-established hopefuls?
4. Swati Dandekar
The former state senator came in third in the 2014 Democratic primary, putting up decent percentages of support outside Linn County. She raised a solid $730,000+ for that race, but contributions might be harder to come by after losing once and having another Indian American in the race (though they supposedly pull from different Indian American groups). Everyone played nice in 2014, too afraid that going on the attack would cause blow-back. That won’t be the case this year, and Dandekar could get hit for putting the Democratic Senate majority at stake in 2011. There was chatter about a Dandekar campaign launch earlier in the year, but little of that’s been coming up lately – she’ll need to decide soon to keep in the conversation. She’ll still be a very formidable candidate, she just needs to take some sort of different approach this time to stand out in this new crowd of competitors.
??? Pat Murphy
The Democratic nominee Blum defeated in 2014 still has allies in the district, many of whom want to see him try again. It’s notable that Murphy actually outperformed both Braley and Brad Anderson (who most consider to have run a good campaign) in the district. Murphy supposedly isn’t interested, but he hasn’t publicly ruled it out.
by Pat Rynard