Starting Line has spoken to nearly a dozen sources in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and statewide insiders who report that Pat Murphy is still strongly considering another run for Congress, and is more likely than not to jump in the race. The former Speaker of the Iowa House, Murphy won a five-way Democratic primary in 2014, but came up about 7,000 votes short in the general election that saw wealthy businessman Rod Blum win 51% of the vote.
2014 was already a terrible national year for Democrats, and Bruce Braley’s lackluster campaign certainly didn’t help anyone else on the ticket. Many activists were frustrated with Murphy’s loss in what they saw as a seat Democrats should have retained, though it’s notable that Murphy actually got more votes than either Bruce Braley or Brad Anderson in the 1st District. Murphy over-performed Braley’s vote total in 16 of 20 counties (which remember, this was Braley’s district). Still, it wasn’t enough, and Democrats lost a seat they’d held since 2006.
Certainly 2016 will be a better year for Democrats with the presidential race, so reversing a 7,000 vote loss from 2014 may not seem too daunting for Murphy. Blum is already seen as one of the most endangered incumbents in the country who has angered his own House leadership, the people who will decide which races to send extra money to. Democrats hold a registration advantage of over 20,000 voters in the 1st District, and the Cook Partisan Voting Index puts it at D+5. Win the district, and a Democrat could probably stay there for life (barring another terrible 2014-like year). That’s an awfully tempting opportunity, even for someone who came up short before.
Of course, Murphy would first have to vie with some tough competition in the primary, with Monica Vernon and Gary Kroeger already announced. Ravi Patel surprisingly dropped out of the race just last week after bringing in a record fundraising haul in the first quarter. There’s plenty of signs the DCCC and local Democratic leaders are trying to unify around Vernon for the nomination, with many local electeds already endorsing her and other members of Congress like Dave Loebsack and neighboring Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos backing her as well. Meanwhile, Kroeger has done his best to establish himself as the most progressive voice in the race, the mantle Murphy claimed in the last primary. And a potential Swati Dandekar campaign looms as well.
With EMILY’s List supporting Vernon this time, Murphy would likely face a financial disadvantage in the race, and fundraising is already not one of his strengths. But Murphy bested Vernon 37% to 24% in the five-way primary, and this year’s contest is shaping up similarly, with Kroeger taking the place of Anesa Kajtazovic as the Black Hawk-based candidate.
Some people that Starting Line spoke with speculate that Murphy is giving the race a closer look because Patel dropped out, while others think he’s always had his eye on a second try. Others wonder why he hasn’t gotten in already, but some note this primary has started much earlier than usual. Vernon announced extremely early, starting in January, Patel launched in February, and Kroeger jumped in during the still relatively-early month of April. The idea was also floated that Murphy would prefer a more crowded field with Patel still in it, thinking his only path to the nomination would be if the vote split enough that the nomination went to convention.
Of course, all of this is still simply speculation until we have official word from Murphy, who did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
by Pat Rynard