The State Of Iowa Democrats’ Gubernatorial Primary

After some quiet early months following the 2016 elections, the Democratic field to take on Kim Reynolds (or maybe Ron Corbett) is quickly taking shape. Last week Representative Todd Prichard officially launched an exploratory committee for governor and appears to be all-in. Senator Nate Boulton spoke at Scott County Democrats’ annual fundraiser this weekend and sounds increasingly likely to run. And Andy McGuire, who had perplexed some Iowa political insiders by not announcing already, has reportedly hired Maura Tracy as her campaign manager [update: or perhaps not. That didn’t last long] and is shooting an announcement video this week.

This weekend a new name emerged from Eastern Iowa: Mike Matson, a former Army Ranger, current JROTC instructor, local American Legion commander and a five-term alderman on the Davenport City Council.

That adds to Jonathan Neiderbach, who has already announced, and Rich Leopold, who has an exploratory committee.

But even with those potential additions, the field seems far from settled.

Representative Chris Hall has been making the rounds at several county Democratic events and on political TV shows. He’s getting strong encouragement from his Sioux City base to launch a statewide run, and has boosted his profile during this session by taking a lead on House Democrats’ messaging efforts.

Some people are bouncing around Jack Hatch’s name for another try at Terrace Hill. Hatch has been encouraging anyone who wants to enter the race to do so, but doesn’t appear to have ruled out a run himself. Unlike most others, he could probably wait until later on in the process to decide if he wanted to get in the race.

The former Bernie Sanders activist crowd may still be looking around for a standard bearer of their own, with Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry’s name coming up as a potential recruit. Neiderbach is hoping to win over that group, however.

And the biggest missing puzzle piece remains to be Senator Janet Petersen and what she decides to do. Encouraged by many Planned Parenthood supporters to consider a run after her defense of women’s healthcare this session, Petersen has been increasingly outspoken on several other key progressive issues on the Senate floor. But she hasn’t been making appearances in other parts of the state like the other possible candidates.

How could it all shake out?

Given the dynamics of the emerging field, Iowa Democrats seem to be hurtling toward a McGuire nomination. Not from a groundswell of grassroots support for the former IDP chair, but because it’s looking increasingly likely that she could be the only female candidate in a six or seven-person field.

If her opposition turns out to be Todd Prichard, Nate Boulton, Jonathan Neiderbach, Rich Leopold and Mike Matson, she could potentially claim victory with something like 37% of the vote, consolidating enough support from female voters. If her team is smart, she’ll file for the ballot as Andrea McGuire.

Also consider what the rest of the primary ballot may look like. Tom Miller and Mike Fitzgerald for their (likely) uncontested nominations. A primary for Secretary of State that could be between Nathan Blake and Travis Weipert. Rob Sand will probably run for State Auditor, and Des Moines activist William Rock may as well. There’s chatter that Tim Gannon, who worked in Tom Vilsack’s USDA, is considering a run for Secretary of Agriculture.

That’s a lot of men on the statewide ballot. Congressional candidates Abby Finkenauer (1st), Kim Weaver (4th) and Anna Ryon (3rd) will be options for many voters, but it’s still a male-heavy slate.

And McGuire will have plenty of funds to put together a serious operation. She’s expected to pitch herself as a doctor, a mother and a successful business executive.

While many activists weren’t happy with parts of her tenure as IDP chair, those stories aren’t well-known to the larger Democratic voting base. 152,000 Democrats came out for the last competitive gubernatorial primary in 2006 – the vast, vast majority of those people aren’t aware of the behind-the-scenes IDP controversies. Her primary opponents, however, will have plenty of other potential hits in their McGuire opposition research file that they can use over the course of the campaign.

For right now, the other Democrats with the best chance of success appear to be Prichard and Boulton.

Prichard has worked the early stage of the race the hardest, constantly on the road for Democratic events across the state. He’s put together an impressive team of advisers, including Brad Anderson, Marcia Nichols, Norm Sterzenbach, Troy Price and Sue and Bob Dvorsky. A significant amount of the political insider crowd in Des Moines has quickly coalesced around Prichard’s candidacy, seeing his rural and veteran background as the key to a much-needed statewide victory for Democrats. He’s also come off as a relatable and authentic candidate in his stump speech with his humor and comfortable speaking style.

But while Prichard’s early outings have encouraged activists and donors about his candidacy, he hasn’t blown them away to the extent that it’s frozen out other potential contenders. Now that he’s formed his exploratory committee, he can also work to prove himself on his fundraising ability. Prichard hasn’t needed to raise serious funds in his past runs for Iowa House, and there’s some who are waiting to see if he can put together the millions of dollars needed for a gubernatorial campaign.

The person who could quickly raise a lot of money is Boulton, possibly even enough to rival McGuire’s early commitments. He has deep connections to two of the party’s best donor bases: unions and trial attorneys. His father is a leader with the Iowa Steelworkers union. Boulton took the lead on both collective bargaining and workers compensation in the Senate this year, despite being a freshman legislator. Many of Iowa’s labor unions would probably fall in line were Boulton to run, and he could likely pull in significant national labor money.

He’s also getting a lot of encouragement from his fellow senators, to the extent that it sounds like most of the Senate Democratic caucus would endorse Boulton en masse soon after an announcement. They’ve seen his impressive oratory and leadership up close all year, and for people seeking a candidate that could get the base really excited, Boulton might be their man. Plus he has solid progressive credentials, and even got endorsed by CCI in his 2016 primary.

The big sticking point for some is whether this is the right year for him to run for governor. After Donald Trump carried Iowa by 10 points, some are worried of whether an attorney from Des Moines is the best profile. Others question whether his fast, early success in the Senate is proof of his potential long-term success or simply a case of luck and good timing to enter office right as his main issues are the most prominent.

But Boulton could run as the kid from Columbus Junction (where he grew up) who’s been fighting for working-class Iowans his entire life. Of course, Republicans still get a chance to define their opponents, and it might be a bit easier to go after Boulton’s profile than Prichard’s rural, veteran one.

If Democrats do like the veteran profile, they may get another option with Matson, who could emerge as an interesting dark horse contender if everything falls into place. Eastern Iowa doesn’t have a candidate yet, and Matson might be able to start off with a solid base of support in Scott County (coming at the expense of Davenport native Prichard). Still, with three other major candidates in the race, he’ll need to impress people in a big way in order to attract major donors and quality campaign staff.

Whether Matson moves beyond the promising stage will be seen as he starts to campaign around Iowa. Many political insiders were intrigued by Leopold’s chances when he first announced, but the interest around him has tapered off some. Several of the political operatives who were advising Leopold early on have since moved on to Prichard, and there’s questions of whether Leopold can raise significant money. Neiderbach already took himself out of that conversation by pledging to not accept any contribution over $500.

The race will really kick off in earnest once the Legislature adjourns for the year, probably in just a few weeks. Legislators will have ample time to travel the state to test out their message and gauge support, while McGuire’s official campaign will be finally underway. For a race that has no obvious or overwhelming frontrunner, the race could shift back and forth in these early stages – which will be fun to watch for activists, donors and reporters alike.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 3/27/17

19 Comments on "The State Of Iowa Democrats’ Gubernatorial Primary"

  • Good article. I have thoughts on each one however sticking with my early endorsement of Prichard. I like Boulton too and think he has a good future but needs a little more time, exposure and experience in the IA Senate. Democrats in the IA Senate need to improve their credibility since their loss in 2016. I am not sure that endorsing a candidate enmasse will help much until the Dems in the IA Senate credibility has improved. I think they are on the right track with Hogg as their leader but 2 terms for a IA Senator to run would be better exposure. Right now we need to prove to rural Iowans that we have the candidate that has their interests at heart because you need to win rural IA to win. There just isn’t enough votes in Polk County to swing an election to Dems. We have to face plain facts.

  • Let us Democrats remember that two of our successful progressive Democratic governors were from rural Iowa small communities.
    Harold Hughes from Ida County and Tom Vilsack from Henry County. Many younger Dems probably don’t know much about Gov Hughes unless you are in th 70’s like me so they wil have to read about him in the IA history books but he was a successful Iowa governor. Most of us know Tom Vilsack as he was a successful governor who went on to be a US Secy of AG. They were able to win the small town, rural and city votes.

  • Just ABM (anybody but McGuire)! Well, not really, but, then, I’m still relatively new to Iowa politics. A rural veteran, progressive seems to hit most of the bases, so of the candidates listed, I guess I would lean to Prichard (though I very much do like Boulton). Yeah, male-heavy, but Finkenauer needs to take down Blum, and I really, really want to see Weaver go after King again. Good article; thank you!

    • Kim Weaver is already going after King. She’s got her volunteer campaign together, which I’m more than happy to assist although I don’t live in the 4th District, the eastern fringe counties are easy enough for me to volunteer for her. The race I’ve heard nothing about it who’s going to take out JONI ERNST!???

    • I like Finkenauer and think she has a good future. I just hope she doesn’t run for anything above her too soon. I don’t want to see her sacrifice a future because she ran for a higher office too soon. It is really too early to gauge how the national scene looks like for Dems and if the Trump admin loses a lot of steam. The GOP could end ACA. I don’t trust them and trust that this debacle is over.

  • I don’t mind Dr. McGuire, but she isn’t my top choice. I would support Prichard. Boulton too. The others probably not. Didn’t know Prichard was from over here in Davenport!

    • I like McCoy but I think he is another Democrat like Petersen and Boulton that need to stay in the Iowa Senate. The IA Senate can have more power than the governor. It is doing well under Hogg but still needs more work to establish it’s credibility.

  • Eastern Iowa/rural Johnson County I haven’t heard word one about AMG. There’s scuttlebutt about Prichard, Niederbach and the Bernie voters, and excitement about a possible Boulton run. Never heard that Mike Carberry was interested–wonder where that came from!!!

    • Carberry didn’t get on board with Team Bernie till October. The actual first big elected Bernie endorsement in Johnson County – and maybe ANYWHERE, as in anywhere in the US – was fellow supervisor Rod Sullivan in about April. Rod was also Obama in April `07, but is definitely NOT running for governor.

  • Oh Pat,

    The people who vote in primaries will definitely remember Andy’s failures. It’s not a “behind the scenes” secret when there’s a shellacking on your watch and there will be enough capital in the combined opposition race to paint her as the leader of the big loss.

    • I think you are correct on this. If Hillary would have won, Andy would have a better chance. She would make a good governor but one has to get elected first. Conlin and Campbell would have made good governors but couldn’t get elected. I also remember the Dem caucus fiasco in 2016. That did’t help Andy and the Dems.

  • I like Prichard, but wasn’t he on the wrong side of the corporate property tax bill that has now busted our budget? Since that will be one of our best issues against Reynolds, we wouldn’t want to undermine it. None of those have a lot of name recognition statewide — really too bad Mathis took her name out.

    • I like Prichard because he is rural and we Dems can’t win without rural Iowa. He can speak well on his feet and can speak for Democrats and what we represent. There are probably many issues we can use against Reynolds. She will probably be the incumbent but we don’t know yet if the GOP will nominate her for 4 years.

  • Take a hard look at Matson from Davenport. He is a blue dog . Veteran and ranger. 5 term councilman. Very good speaker.

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