Monday Power Rankings: Senate Primary – Democrats

Most Iowa Republicans scoff at the idea of Democrats eager to take on Chuck Grassley in 2016. They’re probably right, but the election is going to get held anyway, so we’re still writing about it. Grassley easily won in 2010, the year after he began to take much harder right stances, which Democrats thought might make him vulnerable. This will be a presidential year, in which Democrats should see higher turnouts from their base. So there’s always a possibility – the question is whether any of the current Democratic candidates could really make it competitive.

That being said, let’s take a look at where the Democratic primary field shakes out right now:

1. Rob Hogg

The State Senator from Cedar Rapids sits atop the field as the most likely to win the Democrats’ nomination, and there’s quite a large gap between 1st and 2nd on this list. Hogg is relatively well-known around the state from his activism on climate change, an increasingly key issue among progressive primary voters.

He reported raising $73,299 in the 3rd Quarter in his most recent filing. That’s an OK amount considering he wasn’t officially running for much of that time, and much more than his primary rivals will likely ever raise, but it’s a far cry from the level of funding what will be needed to really challenge Grassley. For comparison, top DSCC recruit Kate McGinty of Pennsylvania raised $1 million in her first two months. Roxanne Conlin, the Democrats’ nominee in 2010, brought in $609,000 in the 4th Quarter of 2009.

Barring something unexpected, Hogg should have little trouble winning the Democratic nomination next year. The question will be if he’ll have to spend much money for that primary. Conlin easily won in 2010, but she had run statewide before (albeit in the 80’s), enjoyed solid fundraising and was the only woman in the race. Hogg’s a great legislator, has a signature issue in climate change and starts off with decent name ID among activists. But he can also lack a certain dynamism that could make it difficult for people to get too excited about him. He’s got several months here to convince Democrats he’s a candidate that has an actual shot to knock off the popular Grassley.

Green Arrow 2. Tom Fiegen

In the 2010 Senate primary against Roxanne Conlin, Fiegen placed 3rd with 9.4% to Krause’s 12.9%. Very little has changed to boost either of those candidates’ profiles since five years ago, and neither will likely raise much money, so one might expect they’d go 2nd and 3rd again. But Fiegen has actually done some smart positioning for himself this cycle, aligning with the Bernie Sanders movement. That’s gotten him a lot more attention on social media, a few press stories and lots of connections with Bernie Sanders organizations around the state.

Is that enough to legitimately challenge others for the nomination? No. With very little fundraising abilities (even with what new online contributions he can find), he won’t have the resources to run a full campaign. Driving around to county central committee meetings and putting out liberal policy statements on social media simply isn’t enough to win a statewide primary. You need money to put your message in front of people who aren’t super-engaged in politics, but will still vote. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if both Fiegen and Krause improve upon their percentages from 2010 if Hogg struggles.

3. Bob Krause

Krause served in the Legislature way back in the 70s’, and briefly ran for in the Democrats’ gubernatorial primary in 2014 before endorsing Jack Hatch and launching this Senate run. Like Fiegen, it’s unclear why someone with a lack of a statewide profile, inability to raise serious (or any) money and a biography that doesn’t jump off the page would run for this office. U.S. Senate races are massive undertakings – both Krause and Fiegen likely have something to contribute to Iowa’s politics, but on a more local level.

Krause has traveled the state extensively and has played up policy differences with Fiegen. He’s hit Fiegen on social media repeatedly for Fiegen’s opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (oddly enough, a difference Fiegen has with Sanders as well). Between that, which ought to appeal in some of the more rural areas, and his work on veterans affairs, Krause has some constituencies he can work on. But again, like Fiegen, he simply has no chance of winning a statewide campaign.

4. Ray Zirklebach

The former state representative from Jones County has a good biography. A former Iraq combat veteran and legislator who’s in his 30’s. Perhaps that will help attract some donors and activists to his campaign. But his entrance into the race seems odd. He was out of politics for many years, decided to get more involved with the local county party, then within just a few weeks of that newfound interest he was running for U.S. Senate. I guess we’ll see where this goes, but right now he starts out at the bottom of the ranking as both Fiegen and Krause are better-known among the state’s activists from their year-long campaigning. Again, the ability to raise money in order to up his name ID will be key.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 12/7/15


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