Monday Power Ranking: 1st District – Democrats (August ’15)

The race to be the Democrat to beat Rod Blum has taken quite a few twists and turns this summer. Ravi Patel is out; Pat Murphy is in. While Chet Culver remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room that people are waiting on for the 3rd District race, Pat Murphy was more like a 400-pound one for the 1st. Still a very formidable candidate whose entrance would alter the race, but not so intimidating that he scared away any competition. Now he’s in, shortly after releasing a poll that shows him in the lead and well-positioned for the 2016 primary. But how do they really stack up? Well…

1. TIE – Pat Murphy and Monica Vernon

While Vernon has a long list of endorsements, momentum and the ability to raise more money, Murphy still maintains a lot of support throughout the district among long-time Democratic activists. That’s worth something, and is why his poll – even if it’s sponsored by his own campaign – didn’t seem out of place to have him in the lead. But Vernon will likely continue to improve her margin throughout the race, whereas Murphy may struggle to build upon his current standing. If nothing else, this race will likely be very close further down the stretch (as long as another Linn County candidate doesn’t get in).

Which probably explains why things are already getting pretty chippy between Murphy and Vernon, even though the primary election isn’t until next June. Murphy took the unusual step of releasing who he voted for in every election since 1990 (which I don’t think I’ve seen done in a campaign before), a clear shot at Vernon having only switched from being a Republican in 2009. Along with the votes, he showed his donor history and original voter registration form where he checked the Democrat box, underscoring his long-time commitment to Democratic candidates.

Team Vernon has taken the offensive on Murphy’s record on pro-choice issues. EMILY’s List hit some of Muphy’s past statements and votes, including when he described himself as “pro-life” and how he got a 100% rating from the Iowa Right to Life organization. Bleeding Heartland did a good write-up on the charges and counter-charges, you can read it here.

Chalk this tie up to “need more information,” which we don’t have yet at this early date. I think one of the biggest factors as to who will hold the edge is what turnout will look like in 2016. Lower primary turnout will likely be good for Murphy, ensuring party activists and volunteers make up a good percentage of the vote – the same older activists and volunteers who have seen Murphy at every single county fundraiser, cookout and rally for decades. A higher turnout – perhaps driven by a competitive U.S. Senate primary – could benefit Vernon by allowing her to use her superior funding to sway voters unconnected to Murphy with more TV ads and direct mail. A competitive U.S. Senate primary might also see Rob Hogg boosting turnout in his Cedar Rapids home, helping out fellow Linn County resident Vernon (although we don’t know of anyone high-profile considering challenging Hogg, Fiegen and Krause).

Finally, Vernon brought in a solid $200,161 for the 2nd quarter, though notably had to loan almost $16,000 to get it to the even 200k. Again, Bleeding Heartland had a good summary of this as well.

2. Gary Kroeger

The former actor has been working the 1st District hard, and Starting Line usually hears good reports on him from activists in the district. He’s still the underdog, however, and raised $40,500 in the 2nd quarter. Not too bad for a first-time candidate, but not enough yet for a full communications effort to get his name better known among a wider array of voters. He got some donations from the entertainment crowd, including Dick Ebersol, but could use a lot more. The addition of Murphy into the race complicates Kroeger’s mission to position himself as the real, only progressive in the field. He may still have good messaging ideas on several policy issues, but he’ll need to keep working hard to win over local Democratic activists who go back a long way with Murphy. Or turn out new voters that don’t normally vote in a primary. Which as an outsider, non-politician type he might be able to do.

3. The Ghost of Ravi Patel

The 29-year-old businessman unexpectedly dropped out of the race at the end of June, but we’re listing him in order to point out the second huge haul of money he raised in the 2nd quarter. Patel brought in nearly a quarter of a million ($226,145), adding to his previous half million+ the prior month. That number even surpassed the 2nd quarter totals of all of Iowa’s incumbent Congressmen, which is, well, incredible. All in all, he raised $765,803 in the four and a half months he was in the race. It would have been a fascinating campaign had he stayed in (of course, it’s still an interesting primary without), but alas. He did throw a good after-party at the Hall of Fame Dinner, though. Keep your eye on Patel, he’ll still be playing a role in Iowa Democratic Party politics.

??? Swati Dandekar

The former State Senator who ran in 2014 hasn’t publicly ruled out another run this cycle, but we also haven’t heard any recent rumblings from camp Dandekar in recent months. With Murphy back in the race, many of the dynamics (and candidates) are similar to 2014. So Dandekar would need to come up with a much different, outside-the-box strategy for a potential 2016 run to achieve different results.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 8/3/15

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