The Forces Behind Each Major Democratic Primary Candidate

Back in the old days of Iowa Democratic politics (when the party won a lot more often), political power was typically concentrated among a few statewide elected officials. Party chairs were usually hand-picked by Tom Vilsack, Chet Culver or Tom Harkin, and the type of sprawling primary fields we have for 2018 were very uncommon.

There were still competitive primaries, of course, with different factions lining up behind their favorite candidate. The 2006 gubernatorial race was a good example of this: legislators and many of the unions backed Mike Blouin, Ed Fallon won over progressive activists (called liberals back then) and Chet Culver secured much of the county-level party activist and donor class. There weren’t enough power bases within the party to sustain more than three major candidacies.

Today, influence within the Iowa Democratic Party is a little more dispersed, and there’s no king-makers behind the scenes to discourage anyone from jumping into a primary race. But different groups of activists, donors and players are still pushing for their favorite candidates, making for competitive, large primaries next year.

Let’s take a look at where some of the candidates are getting their biggest support from.

Nate Boulton: Labor, Young Professionals, Trial Attorneys, Senate Democrats, the O’Malley Crew

Rarely has labor ever been this united, this early around a candidate. Boulton’s leadership on the collective bargaining bill last session, his work as a labor rights attorney and his father’s position with the Steelworkers has secured the freshman senator the loyalty of nearly every major union. He also has strong financial backing from trial attorneys and a good deal of support from young professionals who got excited by Boulton’s energy and new face. Most of his Senate Democrats colleagues are with Boulton and have been hosting fundraisers and organizing events for him around the state.

Boulton’s staff is filled with alums from Martin O’Malley’s Iowa Caucus campaign. O’Malley himself endorsed Boulton today and is hosting a fundraiser for Boulton this week. While O’Malley didn’t fare well in the caucus, he had a core, tight-knit group of activists who were very loyal. Many of those experienced organizers helped Boulton get a kick-start when he announced.

Fred Hubbell: Planned Parenthood Backers, South Of Grand Crowd, Hatch/Vernon Crew

While Planned Parenthood’s political arm hasn’t endorsed in the primary, many pro-choice leaders are behind Hubbell, whose family has been one of the biggest Iowa donors to Planned Parenthood for years. He’s got the additional support of most of the state’s top Democratic donors who reside in the South of Grand neighborhood, boosting his financial advantage. On the campaign side of things, Jack Hatch provided some early advice, and Hubbell’s campaign manager ran the 2016 congressional race for Monica Vernon, who was Hatch’s running mate in 2014.

Cathy Glasson: SEIU, Iowa City Activists, the CCI Crowd

Looking to command the left-most lane in the primary, Glasson has been hammering on core progressive priorities in her bid. That, along with an early campaign effort that’s focused on person-to-person organizing, has helped her snatch up many progressive issue advocates. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement hasn’t made an endorsement, but her early ranks of supporters run in their kind of circles. Based in Iowa City, her campaign is the only major operation running outside of Des Moines, helping her consolidate support in her home of Johnson County. She’s also got serious national support from SEIU, the healthcare workers union. They’re already touting her as one of their key races in the country, and are rumored to have committed significant financial support to her campaign.

Andy McGuire: Constituency Groups, The Old Guard

While other candidates have made splashes in the news and with endorsement roll-outs, McGuire has been studiously holding meetings behind the scenes with the party’s key constituency leaders. Drawing on relationships she built up as party chair, she’s been slowly winning over leaders in the African American, Hispanic, LGBTQ and disability rights communities by talking and listening to them. She also started off her campaign with the backing of many of the party’s old guard, including Mike Gronstal, Bonnie Campbell, Roxanne Conlin and Leonard Boswell, adding experienced advice and donor connections to her bid.

John Norris: Vilsack and Harkin World, Bernie Sanders Leaders

Norris has one of the more diverse group of advisers and support. His long rolodex of contacts from his time in the Vilsack and Obama administrations has helped establish his early fundraising and activist network. He’s also long been on the party’s left, and has two of Bernie Sanders’ top Iowa Caucus staffers working on his campaign to help bring in the new generation of activist to Norris’ campaign.


Congressional Races

Not everyone running for Congress has a really specific base or faction backing them yet. Here’s the ones are notable.

Thomas Heckroth: Harkin Alumni

Heckroth spent several years working for Tom Harkin in Washington, D.C., and the Harkin alumni network sent out emails for him after his announcement.

Abby Finkenauer: EMILY’s List, Labor

The two-term state representative has emphasized her upbringing in a labor household throughout her 1st District run, and her work in the Iowa House has earned the backing of many of the key unions in Eastern Iowa. EMILY’s List also sees this as important race for them, and has brought significant help to Finkenauer’s early operations.

Pete D’Alessandro: Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders’ top advisor during his Iowa Caucus run, D’Alessandro starts off his congressional race in the 3rd District with a solid base of progressive activist support.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 9/5/17

10 Comments on "The Forces Behind Each Major Democratic Primary Candidate"

  • “Today, influence within the Iowa Democratic Party is a little more dispersed…” I agree. With the candidacy of Bernie Sanders the Democratic Party is now spread out a lot more along the spectrum of political beliefs.

  • I’m really torn. My favorite State Senator (whom I love dearly) is Bolton’s campaign manager, so I lean toward him (plus he’s been in the race since day one), but doggone it, I like what Cathy Glasson says and I like her supporters, too!
    Now, as as far as Blum opponents, while Finkenauer is literally sucking up almost all the atmosphere in this race, Courtney Rowe is still a viable candidate, as well.
    Influence more dispersed? You betcha! So, strap on, kiddies; it’s gonna get interesting!
    (oh, by the way, Pat sorry – I hate playing grammar nazi, but I think you need to check which verb form goes with singulars and which goes with plurals; this article gets them consistently wrong… Great rundown, anyway!)

  • Innuendo, surmise, cliched political stereotypes, you are better than this Pat. For one, the idea of “kingmakers” in the Iowa Dem Pty died with Gov. Hughes. Look at data and numbers, write for Nate Silvers.

  • All of them have their plus and minus. Don’t find anything really outstanding on any of them. The Dems need someone who will win in rural Iowa. That is where the vote in Iowa is located. Dems can’t win on Polk County alone. Each one seems to be backed by a certain constituency. There isn’t enough votes in each one of their constituencies to win. I don’t find any of them that can speak for everyone and be backed by everyone. The incumbent is going to be difficult to defeat. It is gonna take the right personality. Someone that is personable and reachable, morally descent and has the interest of Iowans at heart. Iowans want someone who can work with the legislature and be successful in that effort. The Dems need to focus on finding nominating someone who can WIN. Dems can’t get anything done for people if we don’ win!!

    • I am from rural Iowa and am running for the U.S. House Seat in the Fourth District. I am quietly gaining support from labor, healthcare, education, agriculture, and CCI. I also support Ross Wilburn for Governor and will help his campaign in the 39 counties of the Fourth District. I will pull off a Wellstonian victory over King in November.

      A Dahl in the House Is Better Than a King at Court

  • I am completely unconvinced endorsements from union leadership have much sway with their respective bodies. I believe these kind of endorsements have had the opposite effect n the last few cycles. The destruction of Chapter 20 may have some effect on the rank-and-file voters, but unless the democrats start talking economic issues up and down the ticket, 2018 will be a very unhappy cycle for the left.

  • John Norris has hired two of the Sanders’ staffers. To call that support from “Bernie Sanders Leaders” is a stretch and implies he has much more support from that group than I have seen.

  • I am not so sure endorsements mean much. It just narrows down each candidates support. I noticed something today. I stopped at the Quik Trip on the east side of 2nd ave across from Firestone. I noticed that the union hall at 2nd and Broadway had a Boulton sign in front of their building. It is all fine and good that they support Boulton but the sign is facing the street as if the street votes. Any good political sign should be placed so people can read it coming down both sides of the street at 25-30 mph. Unless one turns to the side and notices this sign they are gonna miss it. It needs to be double sided so it can be seen when coming from the east and from the west down Broadway will see it and the name NOT facing the street. My bit of advice from someone who has been putting up yard signs since 1984 when we placed them for a state rep candidate who won one of his races by 79%. If you want someone to know what candidate you are supporting via a barn sign or yard sign, do it right to get the max visibility. I hope someone from the Boulton campaign will read this and with have them or the union make a correction to the sign. I want to see all Democratic candidates do well in the primary.

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