Who Might Democrats Pick As Their Lt. Governor Running Mate?

The candidates are on the ballot, the TV ads have been running for half a year and the final two months of the Democratic primary approaches. One major outstanding question remains: will anyone choose a lieutenant governor running mate before the June 5 primary? And even if not, who are the most likely names to be on the ballot as the L.G. come November?

Let’s delve into a full analysis and in-depth speculation on the matter.

Will Running Mates Be Chosen Before The Primary?

While Starting Line is raising this question this now, it’s entirely possible that no candidate picks a running mate until after we have a nominee. There is certainly precedent for early picks, though. Back in the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary, there was already two L.G.s by this point in the race. Chet Culver chose Patty Judge as his running mate on February 15, while Mike Blouin put Andy McGuire on his ticket on March 2.

Ed Fallon, however, did not chose a L.G. before the primary. And Terry Branstad didn’t pick Kim Reynolds as his running mate until after his primary in 2010, doing so on June 24.

Pre-primary picks are mostly symbolic. The running mate’s name does not appear on the primary ballot. The L.G. nominee is officially selected at the state convention, and that choice has been whatever the nominee wanted (though evangelical Republicans thought about trying to replace Branstad’s in 2010.)

The advantages of having a running mate before the primary are obvious: they can hold more events, do more media appearances, help raise money and appeal to an extra part of the electorate.

But one major disadvantage may apply to the Democratic field this year: if there’s a contested convention, the L.G. spot becomes a major bargaining chip. Two candidates could join forces onto a ticket to put them over the top with their combined delegates. A leader from an ideological faction or major county could be added to win over a bloc of delegates. And if such a deal is necessary to win, it would be rather awkward to have to dump the person you already announced as your running mate.

What Profiles Stand Out?

Two initial considerations will likely have a major impact on who each candidate could pick: geographic balance and gender balance.

On the geographic front, Democrats are certainly aware that their party appears too Des Moines-centric at times. Four of the six current gubernatorial candidates are from Des Moines, and it’s highly unlikely we get a ticket where both people are from the capital city. Selecting someone with real rural credibility could help, but there aren’t a ton of well-known rural Democrats with statewide profiles or significant fundraising potential.

The gender front is a trickier subject. Democrats have had gender-balanced tickets for decades now. But could you have a situation where there’s two men on the ballot? Or, for that matter, two women?

There’s an internal debate right now in some Democratic circles about whether a male candidate picking a male L.G. would be acceptable to party members. Some believe that because there’s many women running for other major offices this year, it wouldn’t be as big a deal to have two men, especially if that specific L.G. person makes a lot of sense for the ticket. Others say it would be too big of a departure from the party’s tradition and would risk losing some female independent voters to the female incumbent governor.

Aside from those two major concerns, the rest of the decision comes down to individual candidates’ other strengths. Fundraising is one of the biggest considerations for most gubernatorial contenders when picking a running mate. Many Democrats point to Tom Vilsack’s pick of Sally Pederson as a particularly successful one – a business executive at Meredith Corporation, she was well-respected if not well-known, and raised a very significant amount of money for the ticket.

Potential Picks

Okay, let’s get to the fun part. Here’s the chatter in Democratic circles over who might make a good L.G. nominee, before or after the primary.

Liz Mathis

We wouldn’t have such a large primary right now had Mathis not passed on a much-anticipated run for governor early last year – her entrance would likely have cleared most of the field. But she may yet be part of a statewide ticket.

No one would bring more immediate star power or excitement than the former TV news anchor who represents suburban Cedar Rapids in the Iowa Senate. Mathis has nearly every aspect you want in a running mate: she’s well-known and liked within the Democratic Party, is very well-known outside of it among the broader electorate, is media savvy, has been through tough campaigns before and can raise money. No on this list has as high of name I.D. as Mathis (important since the running mate doesn’t get as much exposure), nor do any others check all the boxes she does.

Mathis has endorsed Boulton, and some think she is Boulton’s preferred choice for the L.G. spot. But there’s a lot of potential names out there, and Mathis would still have to say yes.

Tammy Wawro

Most Democratic activists know Wawro as the president of ISEA, the union for public school teachers and staff, but she’s also quietly being discussed within the party as an odds-on favorite to be Democrats’ L.G. nominee – regardless of who wins the primary. Wawro, a former classroom teacher, would bring a lot of strengths to the ticket: she’s from Cedar Rapids, is a compelling speaker, has media outreach experience, has an army of politically-engaged educators and could bring a lot of money into the race from teacher unions. She could further fire up a base of educators angered over collective bargaining changes and help sway the not-insignificant number of teachers who typically vote Republican.

ISEA stays neutral in primaries, which means she won’t have committed to any candidate before June 5. Her term as president is also done in July. There’s another big advantage to choosing the head of ISEA: the union organized their members to secure a lot of the uncommitted delegate slots at county conventions. A bloc of teacher delegates could put a candidate over the top at a contested state convention.

Joining a Boulton ticket could mean doubling-down on Boulton’s efforts to swing labor and working-class voters back to the party. Joining a Hubbell ticket could smooth over some of the concerns labor has with Hubbell and keep unions engaged in the race.

Rita Hart

The state senator from Wheatland is a Democrat that should be on a lot more people’s radar. A former teacher of over 20 years, she co-owns and operates her family farm that sits on the western edge of Clinton County. First elected to the Senate in 2012, Hart has gotten increasingly involved in state party politics lately, and has been a leader on rural and clean water efforts in the Senate. She hosted a statewide water quality summit in DeWitt last year. She’s also endorsed Boulton.

Some Democrats see Hart as the party’s potential response to Joni Ernst (just, you know, without the hog castration focus). A female legislator from Eastern Iowa with real rural credibility offers up a perfect profile for a statewide Democratic ticket.

The tricky part is that Hart is up for reelection this year in a swing district (SD 49) with a decent opponent. She’s favored to win, but would have to leave the race to run as the L.G. nominee. Democrats could quickly nominate a replacement candidate for her senate seat through a special convention. It’s unlikely Democrats retake the Senate this year, so risking this district wouldn’t change things too much. Plus, if Hart is seen as the strongest L.G. candidate, her place on the ticket could help Democrats win in rural areas across the state.

Also of note: Starting Line noticed the Boulton campaign reserved both BoultonMathis.com and BoultonHart.com shortly after he announced.

Todd Prichard

Many Democrats were excited about Iraq veteran Prichard’s run for governor last year because he offered the party a candidate already experienced in winning in rural Iowa and who has a military background. He’d bring the same qualities to the L.G. spot, and could both appeal to rural swing voters and be a popular pick among the party’s activists.

Prichard could help Democrats over-perform in Northern Iowa (he represents Charles City in the House), but he was also raised in Scott County, giving the ticket a good connection to a major county that Democrats need to do better in.

Prichard has endorsed Hubbell and could offer the businessman some legislative experience to balance out the ticket. If Hubbell doesn’t win and the L.G. is picked after the primary, he’d still be on anyone’s short list. Prichard would have to leave his swing seat, but there’s no current Republican candidate filed for the seat.

Chris Hall

A 32-year-old legislator from Western Iowa could provide a great balance of geography and age to a statewide ticket, and help Democrats make inroads to the side of the state that gives Republicans their winning margins. First elected in 2010, Hall has a lot of legislative experience under his belt, and is highly respected by both sides of the aisle at the Statehouse for his even-keeled demeanor.

A major line of attack on Reynolds in the general election will be that she has mismanaged the state’s fiscal affairs. Hall has led House Democrats’ messaging efforts on the state budget and knows the numbers better than almost anyone. He’s endorsed Hubbell already – a Hubbell/Hall team could really drive home the competent budget management message, a pitch that appeals to voters regardless of ideology.

Hall holds a Democratic-leaning/sometimes-swing seat, but no Republican has filed to run for it.

Quentin Hart

The first African American mayor of Waterloo has impressed people throughout the region since he was first elected to the position in 2015. Hart had served for eight years on the city council before that. In his mid-40s, Hart has bridged many racial divides while navigating some difficult local controversies over police reform, excessive use of force and racial profiling. He’s also embarked on ambitious economic development initiatives designed to revitalize the once-struggling Waterloo by bringing innovative and tech-focused businesses to town.

For candidates looking for governing experience, Hart would be an excellent option. He could also excite the Democratic base and make some of the party’s diverse constituency groups feel more included in the process. And boosting vote totals in Waterloo’s heavily-Democratic neighborhoods that don’t have great turnout in non-presidential years would be invaluable, as well.

Pam Jochum

In what would be a popular pick among Democrats, Jochum would bring a vast amount of legislative and fundraising experience to the ticket. A compelling speaker, she could easily rally the party’s base. And if Democrats want to continue to hammer Reynolds on Medicaid privatization, Jochum has spoken publicly about how she couldn’t even find healthcare services at first for her own daughter under the new system.

Democrats also need Dubuque to return to a deep-blue county after it surprisingly went for Donald Trump in 2016. Without dominant vote margins in those Eastern Iowa cities, a statewide victory is near-impossible for Democrats. Jochum is beloved in the city she’s represented in the Legislature since 1993.

Steve Warnstadt

What could be better: a Brigadier General from Western Iowa who’s a former Democratic legislator. Those who got involved in Iowa politics after 2010 might not know the name Steve Warnstadt, but they should. Elected to the Iowa House at a young age in 1994, Warnstadt served four terms there and then another two terms in the Iowa Senate. He was widely-respected as one of the smartest and most thoughtful legislators during his time in Des Moines.

Since then, he served as an officer in NATO for a year, worked as the government liaison for a community college and is in line to command the Iowa National Guard. Warnstadt’s profile could be a great asset to Republican outreach in the general election, while his past voting record from the Senate would still keep progressives in the party happy.

Ravi Patel

The president of Hawkeye Hotels, Patel could bring a lot to a statewide Democratic ticket. He has extensive business experience, is from Eastern Iowa, has roots and significant connections in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Burlington and is 32 years old. He’d be a compelling figure for the party’s younger, more diverse voters that are getting more engaged since Trump’s election. And he could raise money. A lot of money.

Patel impressed the Iowa political world when he raised over a half million dollars in his first fundraising quarter during his run for Congress in 2015. That was for a campaign that had contribution limits – Iowa races have no such thing. His national network of the Indian American community could bring serious money to the Democratic ticket.

Patel also always seemed like the type more interested in governing than legislating, so a role in Iowa’s executive branch could be a great fit.

Theresa Greenfield

With Greenfield’s candidacy for the 3rd District coming to an end this week, many Democrats are hoping she runs for something again in 2020. Well, why not get her back on the ballot for a different office in 2018?

Everything that made her an attractive congressional candidate could translate to a gubernatorial ticket: farm kid, small business executive, compelling personal story. She’s also proved her fundraising skills. But while she did grow up in a rural community just over the Iowa border in Minnesota, she does currently live in Des Moines, again making for an odd double-Des Moines pairing if Hubbell, Boulton, McGuire or Norris win.

One Of The Current Candidates

It’s entirely possible that two of the six Democrats currently running end up joining forces, but probably only in the event of a contested convention. The problematic part here is that so many of them are from Des Moines, so it’s more likely that Glasson would be a part of any ticket either as the governor or L.G. nominee. But who knows what would happen at a state convention where deals are frantically being made to keep a candidate’s hopes alive.

One potential pairing is Norris and Glasson, who joined forces at the Polk County convention when neither’s group was viable. Hubbell’s team offered to make Norris viable, but the Norris leaders wouldn’t hear it. Norris also has deep roots in the party’s left from his time leading Jesse Jackson’s campaign, making them a closer ideological fit. But Norris, who served as Vilsack’s chief of staff, would probably see a L.G. job as a downgrade from his past work and might not accept such an offer. And Glasson is the one with the money, so she holds the better negotiating position.

Were Glasson to not win the nomination, she’d make a compelling L.G. for someone. She would likely bring with her a lot of SEIU money and could keep the party’s left-leaning activists involved and happy. And her campaign is very much about pushing a movement. Being on the statewide ticket, even if not for governor, would help keep that progressive drive going and ensure it’s a key part of the Democratic Party in Iowa.

A Glasson and McGuire team could set up a healthcare ticket, with a nurse and doctor running together. McGuire was a L.G. candidate in 2006, however, and may not be interested in such a role again. It’s also difficult to see either Hubbell or Boulton serving as anyone’s L.G.

Other Potentials

There’s plenty of other possible names out there, even if they’re more in the long-shot category. But remember, Sally Pederson wasn’t the obvious pick for Vilsack back in the day. And Kim Reynolds was plucked from relative obscurity early in her legislative career to be Terry Branstad’s running mate. Also, does anyone even know who Adam Gregg is?

A few other current legislators could get a look. Representative Amy Nielsen of North Liberty could provide a female ticket-mate from Eastern Iowa. A former mayor, she has both executive and legislative experience. Representative Scott Ourth of Warren County is an excellent fundraiser, represents some rural areas, has extensive campaign experience and could provide a working-class look to the ticket. Retiring Representative Helen Miller of Fort Dodge would provide a female African American legislator from Western Iowa, and is one of the most respected Democrats in Iowa agriculture (though she is retiring). Representative Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids has been raising her profile of late and could help rally the party’s base in a general election.

A local elected official that some have mentioned is Matt Bemrich, the mayor of Fort Dodge. He’s served three terms as mayor in the Western Iowa city, could pitch an economic message to the state’s small and mid-sized towns and has good ties with labor. There’s also Mike Matson, who serves on the Davenport city council. A former Army Ranger who briefly explored a run for governor, he’d probably get a look thanks to his Scott County base.

Or, how about some former legislators? Patti Ruff, who represented the northeast corner of the state in the House, would bring a credible rural voice to the table. Tyler Olson just got elected to the city council in Cedar Rapids, is a proven fundraiser, has an Eastern Iowa following and is close with labor. Elesha Gayman has done a lot in Scott County to revitalize the party there and could provide a link to the Quad Cities. Swati Dandekar of Linn County has extensive private and public sector experience, could add more diversity to the ticket and has good contacts in the state’s business community.

Another former legislator with business connections would be Doris Kelley of Waterloo. She could help raise money and add good geographic balance to a ticket (although labor wouldn’t be happy with a former “six-pack” legislator). She’s also a protege of Kevin McCarthy, who is a top adviser on Hubbell’s campaign.

If you’re looking for other Democratic names that could bring a business or donor background to the ticket, there’s Dave Bernstein of Sioux City. He owns State Steel and was appointed by Branstad the to Iowa Economic Development Authority Board. Suku Radia just retired from Bankers Trust in Des Moines. There’s Pat Baird of Cedar Rapids, the retired CEO of AGEON. Nick Rowley, a well-known attorney out of Decorah, could add some fundraising power to a ticket. And Rob Denson, the president of DMACC, might get considered.

Speaking of community colleges, a really sneaky pick could be Marlene Sprouse, the president of Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa. A former high school teacher and principal, she grew up in Reynolds’ neck of the woods in Southern Iowa, raised in Wayne County’s town of Seymour.


Got other ideas? Leave a comment or send us an email (IowaStartingLine@gmail.com).


by Pat Rynard
Posted 3/29/19

8 Comments on "Who Might Democrats Pick As Their Lt. Governor Running Mate?"

  • These are potentials but it is rather early . Dems need to concentrate on their favorite candidate winning the gubernatorial primary first. I have a favorite gov candidate and favorite running mate but it can’t happen until my favorite gov candidates wins first.

  • I have no problem with the LT gov candidate being a male even though it seems to be a precedent lately when there is a male gubernatorial candidate the Lt governor candidate is then a female and visa versa or both candidates be of the same gender. To me a candidates gender is transparent. I am most concerned about the gubernatorial candidate and the Lt governor candidate be candidates that have the experience to be governor and the Lt governor candidate be someone who has the experience to take over in case it is needed. If the Dem gubernatorial candidate wins, I don’t see the need for the Lt Governor to stand behind the Governor and look out of place during a press conference. I would rather have the Lt Governor work closely and know what is happening in the governor’s office and be out promoting Iowa. Our acting Lt Governor looks out of place standing behind the governor. If something were to happen to the gov, our acting Lt governor could not become governor anyway.

    • To be frank, this comment smacks a little of the disingenuous “I just don’t see race” line that we’ve all heard before. Gender does matter when women are so underrepresented in politics.

  • I wonder if Rob Hogg might be a name to watch. He is popular in Cedar Rapids and has raised money and volunteers for the special elections throughout the state, even after he was ousted as Minority leader.

  • It would be nice to be able to keep “tradition” and has much to speak for it, but I think, ultimately, it comes down to fit and “winnability”. If a strong male/male ticket were to be presented, I’d certainly vote for it; conversely, if a female/female ticket came about (I’d actually love to see that) that ticket would get my vote.
    But, while speculation is great fun (there ARE some nifty scenarios – Sen. Pam, we love you here! – but would support you were you to be picked…) it means nothing right now, and I’ll wager that the gubernatorial candidates are vetting people – and have been – since day one, as well, and THEIR picks are what counts.
    So speculate away! It doesn’t even have to be between consenting adults.

  • Probably not his time, but rest assured, we will be talking about Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker in these terms at some point. He is an exciting speaker, very intelligent and incredibly charismatic. If he chooses, you will be hearing his name connected to higher office soon.

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