Senator Nate Boulton ended his campaign for governor this morning following yesterday’s accusations of past sexually inappropriate behavior with women, detailed in a Des Moines Register story. It was an abrupt finish to what had been an otherwise promising political career and campaign for the first-term senator from Des Moines. He did not yet indicate whether or not he would stay in the Iowa Senate, but Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen called on him to resign.
“I am so proud of the campaign that my staff, my supporters, and I ran in the past year,” Boulton said in a statement. “I was and still am inspired every day by the people who have chosen to fight alongside me in the Senate and on the campaign trail to share a positive vision forward for this incredible state of Iowa … These the last 48 hours have been trying. I again offer an apology to those whom I have harmed in any way. It is my hope there is some positive that can come from this moment as we strive to be the better people we can be in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I know that will be my task moving on from here.”
“Thank you to everyone who stood with me in this campaign, especially the countless working families of the labor movement who joined me in this race and must now continue to fight for their way of life in this state,” he continued. “While I depart this campaign for governor with a heavy heart, I remain resolved to the greater cause creating a future Iowa we all can be proud to call our home.”
While they called this a “suspension” of his campaign, for all intents and purposes it is the end of Boulton’s candidacy.
Boulton initially vowed to stay in the race in his initial interview with the Register, but it quickly became clear in the aftermath of the story that he had zero chance of success in the primary. Many rank-and-file volunteers for the campaign backed away from their Boulton support on social media. State Representatives Art Staed and Bruce Hunter rescinded their endorsements. The College and Young Democrats of Iowa, many of whose members were passionate Boulton supporters, called on him to resign. Cathy Glasson, Andy McGuire and Ross Wilburn called for him to drop out of the race.
Other high-profile Boulton supporters released statements saying that it was a serious issue and that any form of sexual harassment was unacceptable. They stopped short of calling for him to withdraw, but that was largely due to an apparent behind-the-scenes effort to encourage him to drop out. Some hoped he would come to the decision on his own within 24 hours.
Boulton took extra heat for his response to the Register story. Many felt that trying to parse the differences between inappropriate behavior in social settings and in the workplace was a bad look, and an attempt to mitigate the seriousness of the behavior.
The statement did not address whether Boulton would remain in the Iowa Senate. Shortly after his announcement of ending his campaign, Janet Petersen called on him to resign from the Senate. While Boulton may have been able to ride out the controversy in the long stretch between now and the next legislative session in January, Petersen threatened to launch a full investigation into the claims if he stays.
His quick rise in Iowa politics was very unique, coming to considerable prominence during the collective bargaining fight in the Iowa Senate. Boulton brought excitement and energy to a party that was desperately searching for new leadership after the 2016 electoral blowout. He brought young people into his campaign, unified labor and offered a fresh face for Democrats. While many Iowa Democrats aren’t feeling particularly sad for Boulton himself given the accusations, many are sad about the overall situation and the loss of leadership potential he had for the party.
Boulton’s departure immediately shakes up the Democrats’ gubernatorial primary, possibly sealing Fred Hubbell’s lead in the race. Boulton had consistently polled in second place, supported by a coalition of union members, young people and party activists. If Hubbell is able to capture even a small share of the senator’s support, that may be all he needs to clear 35% and top the other candidates. (It should be noted: most non-Hubbell candidates would have better chances at convention; the statements calling for Boulton to drop out was against those own political interests, as his continued presence would have made a convention more likely.)
But it will also offer an opportunity for any of the remaining five Democrats to make their case and catch fire in the final 12 days as Democratic voters reassess their options in the wake of the Boulton news. However, around 12,000 Democrats had already voted early in the primary. Boulton’s campaign and union supporters had pushed the early vote hard, so some former Boulton supporters can’t change their vote at this point.
A final debate will be held on May 30. That might be one last chance for any candidate to break out and consolidate support in the final stretch of the campaign.
by Pat Rynard