Liz Mathis Passes On Gubernatorial Run

By Pat Rynard

January 17, 2017

State Senator Liz Mathis has decided against running for governor, she announced at a meeting of the Northwest Des Moines Democrats tonight. Her decision ends months of speculation of whether the popular Eastern Iowa legislator would look to lead Democrats at the top of the ticket in 2018.

Mathis was widely considered the likely front-runner in a Democratic primary and one of the strongest potential statewide candidates in the general election. A TV reporter and anchor for 25 years, she is extremely well-known and trusted in the Cedar Rapids media market, which covers most of the Democratic and swing counties in the state.

She just won reelection to her competitive district based in the Cedar Rapids suburbs, a campaign in which she was able to defuse a torrent of TV attack ads specifically designed by Republicans to weaken her for a statewide run. The margins by which she has won her three elections (first elected in a 2011 special election) and the ease with which she batted down the GOP’s most recent attacks worried many Republican operatives in Iowa.

Mathis had already held many meetings with the Democratic Governor’s Association and EMILY’s List over the past year as she seriously considered a gubernatorial bid. But in the last week several Democratic insiders reportedly had conversations with Mathis where she indicated she wouldn’t run.

“They’re saying the governor’s race is going to cost between 10 and 15 million dollars. I have a moral problem with that. I work for a child’s welfare agency,” Mathis told the crowd to groans of disappointment before suggesting Senator Janet Petersen in her place. “That’s a problem to me. 10 million to win the governor’s seat? I have thought about it … I considered it, but I don’t believe it’s in the cards for me.”

Where does that leave the Democratic field for governor now? While soon-to-be Governor Kim Reynolds will prove a formidable opponent, most Iowa politics observers still regard the 2018 race as truly competitive, and certainly moreso than when Terry Branstad was on the ballot. The race will also serve as an opportunity for the state’s Democrats, frustrated with a series of losses in recent cycles, to rally behind a leader and rebuild the party.

Multiple sources tell Starting Line that Andy McGuire is forging ahead with her plan to run for governor, with an announcement expected relatively soon. She’s recruited a team of top-flight national and Iowa consultants and is expected to have a few million dollars already lined up for her run. McGuire’s tenure as IDP chair ends this weekend when the state’s central committee meets to select a new leader.

Polk County Conservation Director Rich Leopold has already launched his candidacy, traveling around the state last week to meet with local Democratic activists. State Representative Todd Prichard of Charles City is sounding like he’s likely to run (he scheduled an appearance with the same Des Moines group soon after Mathis did), and former State Senator Steve Sodders is thinking about it as well.

With Mathis’ departure, some groups of Democratic activists and donors plan on pursing a recruitment effort to encourage other candidates to join the race.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 1/17/17

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.



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