Former President Barack Obama is getting involved in the midterm races for Democrats in key races around the country. This morning he released a round of endorsements for candidates in 14 states, including Iowa. On his Iowa list was secretary of state candidate Deidre DeJear, secretary of agriculture candidate Tim Gannon and four candidates for the Iowa House.
DeJear worked on Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 as his African American outreach director in Iowa and worked as an organizer in 2008. Her campaign has gotten increasing attention from national Democratic leaders and organizations as she’s one of just four statewide African American candidates in the country this year. She would also make Iowa history as the first black statewide elected official if she defeats incumbent Republican Paul Pate in November.
Obama is also backing a former staff member of his administration with his endorsement of Gannon, who worked in top roles for Tom Vilsack in the Department of Agriculture. Gannon was also the deputy political director for Obama’s campaign in Iowa in 2008, focusing on rural outreach. Iowa’s secretary of agriculture contest is also a much more high-profile race this year than usual, with Gannon giving Democrats a strong chance of winning back an office they haven’t held since 2007.
The party has big hopes for taking back the Iowa House in 2018, and that’s where Obama focuses all of his legislative endorsements. The four he endorsed are:
Kristin Sunde, House District 42 – Obama narrowly won this West Des Moines district in 2012 (50% to 49%), but Hillary Clinton carried it by nine points. Sunde, a new-to-politics small business owner and mother, has put together strong fundraising reports during her campaign. She faces well-known Republican incumbent Peter Cownie, who spent a huge amount of money in his last race.
Jennifer Konfrst, House District 43 – This race is seen as Democrats’ best pick-up opportunity in the state after Republican Majority Leader Chris Hagenow moved west to Dallas County in order to avoid a rematch with Konfrst, a Drake University professor. Like HD 42, this is another suburban Des Moines seat where Clinton improved substantially on Obama’s close 2012 victory. Konfrst holds a $51,257 to $3,697 cash-on-hand advantage to Republican attorney Michael Boal, and there’s significant speculation that Republicans may give up early on holding this seat.
Eric Gjerde, House District 67 – This is another suburban swing district, this time out in Linn County, that is a top target for Democrats to flip. Gjerde, a special education teacher, is seen as a strong contender against former newscaster and first-term incumbent Ashley Hinson. Both candidates here have put up impressive fundraising numbers. Hinson remains personally popular, but took many votes that were out of step with the lean of this moderate, suburban seat. This district was essentially a tie between Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. Clinton won it by less than 2%.
Laura Liegois, House District 91 – The Muscatine seat could be the one that determines control of the Iowa House. While Democrats may sweep a number of suburban legislative seats this November, that alone won’t be enough to win the 10 seats necessary to flip the chamber. That will require winning some tougher districts like Muscatine, which turned sharply toward Republicans in 2016. This is where Obama’s endorsement may help the most. Obama carried HD 91 in 2012 by an impressive 58% to 41% margin. Clinton lost it by five points. Liegois, a small business owner, needs to dislodge Gary Carlson in a city that’s proven difficult to legislative Democrats in recent years.
by Pat Rynard
Photo via Gage Skidmore