When the dust settled from the 2014 election that devastated Democrats, Congressman Dave Loebsack was the last man standing for the party on the federal level. Many wondered at the time whether he’d step up in a new leadership role for the state party, one that had typically been taken on by other top Democrats during Loebsack’s ten years in Congress. The answer during the 2016 cycle appears to be yes.
Loebsack held a number of fundraisers for down-ballot legislative candidates like Liz Mathis last year, and then really ramped up his efforts after drawing a weak opponent for the general. When State Senator Mark Chelgren took a pass on challenging Loebsack (who would have been an interesting opponent in the year of Trump), Republicans went with Dr. Christopher Peters, who once ran on the Libertarian ticket for state senate. Peters has raised $127,000 for his race through donations and loans, not enough to run the full campaign necessary to take down an incumbent Congressman. Loebsack could have used that advantage to sit back and relax this cycle, but has instead turned it into an opportunity to boost the entire state party.
So far this cycle, Loebsack has raised around $70,000 for legislative candidates and the state party’s coordinated and legislative canvass programs. He’s directed over $7,000 to state senate candidates, including Chris Brase, Liz Mathis, Scott Peterson, Rich Taylor, Mary Jo Wilhelm and Mike Gronstal. He’s pushed over $6,000 to state house races, including Ken Krumweide, Phil Wiese, Jennifer Konfrst, Ryan Drew, Heather Matson and Molly Donahue.
Many of the state’s top legislative races lie in his own Southeast Iowa district, but Loebsack has also been traveling the state for other targeted contests. He’s headlined events outside his district for Mathis, Donahue, Konfrst, Gronstal, Monica Vernon and Patty Judge. That’s in addition to the candidates running within the 2nd Congressional District that he’s shown up for, including Brase, Drew, Krumweide, Wiese, Taylor and Curt Hanson. He has several more fundraisers and events planned for Wes Breckenridge, Marty Duff, Heather Matson and Phyllis Thede. He also made a recent trip up to Sioux City where he did a debate watch party with the local Democrats.
Loebsack is of course still running enough of a reelection campaign so as to not take any chances with Trump on the ballot, having raised $1.5 million so far this cycle. His race could have been interesting this year, considering his district is home to places like Ottumwa, Burlington and Keokuk. All of those places contain many white, blue collar voters who might be moving toward Republicans this year (Peters, however, announced he wasn’t voting for Trump).
Democrats’ only two other notable leaders at the state level, Attorney General Tom Miller and State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, have also been active on the campaign trail. Nearly every week Miller and Fitzgerald are on press conference calls for the Clinton campaign, or out in field offices speaking to volunteers before they hit the doors.
Iowa Republicans obviously have a much deeper and stronger set of campaign surrogates to deploy around the state, with Terry Branstad, Kim Reynolds, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst hosting many events for legislative Republicans in recent weeks. But at least the Democrats who can – and should – step up are doing so this year.
by Pat Rynard