Political issues, primaries and midterm elections


The primary ballots are
set and the campaigns are picking up steam. Who has the upper hand? We get analysis from two
gentlemen who know the parties and candidates
well, republican Craig Robinson and democrat Pat
Rynard on this edition of Iowa Press. Funding for Iowa Press was
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Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, April
13 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen. Yepsen: We’re just over a
month and a half away from the June primaries. Democrats are trying to
take advantage of energy from the anti-Trump,
gun control and Me Too movements as well as
issues like Medicaid and the budget here in Iowa. Meanwhile, republicans
who currently control the legislative and executive
branches at both the state and federal levels are
touting what they consider major accomplishments
under unified government. Here to help us analyze
the campaign battles ahead, republican Craig
Robinson, founder and editor of
TheIowaRepublican.com and democrat Pat Rynard,
founder and editor of IowaStartingLine.com. Gentlemen, welcome to
the Iowa Press table. Robinson: Glad to be here. Rynard: Thanks
for having me. Yepsen: Good to
have you here. Across the table, Erin
Murphy is Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee
Enterprises and Kay Henderson is News
Director for Radio Iowa. Henderson: Pat, let’s
start with you. Real quickly tell us what
exactly is motivating the democratic base that will
turn out at the primary. Rynard: Well, there’s a
lot of different things. For one, it’s anti-Trump
fervor, just sick and tired of everything that
has happened, some of it is regret over the 2016
election, people who didn’t come out to vote
then and then they kind of saw what happened. So it’s a number
of those things. Obviously there’s a lot of
talk that democrats can’t just hope on anti-Trump
sentiment to win and there’s definitely
some truth in that. But I think we’ve seen
through a number of different special
elections, we’ve seen through marches and
rallies, that the base is really riled up this year
and I think we’re going to see much better turnout
this time for democrats. Henderson: Craig, on the
republican side, you don’t have a statewide contest
in the primary this time around. Robinson: Well, we do. It’s for Secretary
of Agriculture. Henderson: We can talk
about that –a top of the ticket contest. What is motivating
republican voters who will be casting a
ballot in June? Robinson: Yeah, I think
this is a concern. The one advantage
republicans have is you have Governor Reynolds who
doesn’t have a primary challenge now, who is new,
likeable, the party likes her, the activists I think
are supportive of her. And so she’s someone kind
of new, even though she has been on the scene they
get to know her at a more deeper level and I think
she is the type of candidate that people
get excited about. So I do think that
even though she is an unconventional, not your
typical incumbent running for re-election, I do
think that she does have some power of incumbency
that will help turn out republicans. Henderson: How is the
Trump trade situation playing in
republican circles? Robinson: Yeah, I think
that — I think there’s a lot of caution out there
and some fear and I think that republicans give
Trump a lot of slack and room to operate a little
bit and I think they understand that these are
negotiations we’re having with China, much like we
had with North Korea. Let’s not forget people
thought we were going to go to war against North
Korea, that something was going to happen and what
came out of this was actually talks between
South Korea and North Korea and now the
United States probably. And so while there is a
lot of noise going on between both sides I think
we kind of have to have some patience to see at
the end of the day what actually comes of this. Do we have tariffs in
place that are going to hurt our markets or not? I think it’s a tough time
to be an Iowa famer with all this going on. Henderson: Pat, part of
the Democratic Party coalition likes this. Rynard: Right. In terms of the
political fallout of it. One of the big, open
questions that we have for democrats’ prospects in
2018 is how frustrated are a lot of these rural
republicans and farmers going to be with the
Trump administration? And are they going to link
that frustration with down ballot republican
candidates? Annette Sweeney ended
up winning that special election rather handily in
some of those more rural counties. So it’s not clear yet if
aggravation with Trump actually means that some
of these folks who, for various cultural reasons,
are going to switch over to democrats or if they’re
just going to have less enthusiasm for
republicans. Murphy: Let’s talk about
some of those down ballot races. Craig, are David Young and
Rod Blum vulnerable in this election? Robinson: Well they’re
always vulnerable. They’ve been vulnerable
since they were first elected. And so I think that Rod
Blum is always at a little more risk than David Young
is but I think both will have significant
challenges this fall and have their hands full. So these are tough
districts to run in an environment where it’s
not going to favor the republicans. They really got an
advantage in the last general election with
Trump running so strong in Iowa and all these
congressional districts. Now there’s no one at the
top of the ballot, there’s no one to help them out,
so they’re really on their own. So we’ll see if they
can withstand these challenges. Murphy: And how about
Speaker Ryan’s exit, his decision not to run
creates a little bit of a leadership vacuum here
for House republicans. Does that impact
those races at all? Robinson: I think it
impacts it significantly. Look, when you’re the
Speaker of the House you’re the primary
fundraiser for your party, you’re the one who can
show up in these districts and turn people out and
say look, this is why you need to be involved. He is stuck on the side. So who fills that role? And is there anyone with
big enough shoes to help these candidates? You’ve got to remember,
John Boehner came and campaigned I think for
both Blum and Young. Who is going to do
that this time around? Murphy: Pat, how about for
the democrats in those two races? There’s some competitive
primaries in each. How are they
feeling about it? Rynard: There are and
they’re both rather interesting. I think most people figure
that Abby Finkenauer is by far the front runner in
the first congressional district. Thomas Heckroth has enough
money to go up with TV ads during the primary and any
time you have enough funds to do TV ads who knows,
maybe you strike gold with a really creative ad as
we’ve seen in the past with Iowa republicans
and Joni Ernst. So you never know there. The third district is
really interesting now that Theresa Greenfield
is out of the mix. You have Pete D’Alessandro
who has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders, is running
a very left-leaning campaign, is trying to
reactivate a lot of those Sanders voters who don’t
always pay attention to these congressional races. And then I think Cindy
Axne has a good leg up now considering she is the
only female candidate in a three-way primary in a
year where democrats really want more
female candidates. Yepsen: But did the
democrats lose their best candidate when Greenfield
didn’t make the ballot? Rynard: Yeah, some people
certainly think so. She was favored by a lot
of folks, not just some national democratic
organizations but a lot of activists in the district,
she was doing great raising money, she had a
wonderful compelling story that had some rural
background in it and I think she would
have been good. Yepsen: But if you can’t
get your petitions right maybe you aren’t the
strongest candidate after all. Rynard: Yeah. Henderson: Speaking of
petitions, you were involved in the Ron
Corbett situation. Why? Robinson: Why? Well I think that when you
— Yepsen: Let’s specify the situation is —
Robinson: A challenge. Yepsen: — a challenge of
his signatures in that he didn’t have enough and was
not allowed on the ballot. Robinson: Right. So the challenge is
really, this is the process you go through. So the candidates submit
their petitions to the Secretary of State, they
do a simple it looks right and then if they’re
challenged then they look at them a little
bit closer. So yes, I challenged
Ron Corbett’s petitions because there weren’t
that many of them. And if you look across the
state the last year and a half as a candidate he
really hasn’t motivated a base that you
see turning out. When we were having a
primary if Bob Vander Plaats is running or Steve
Sukup was running you could see these campaigns
and the people supporting them. He didn’t have it and
that’s why we challenged. Yepsen: We’ve got way too
many questions and not enough time. Let’s switch to the
race for Governor. Mr. Robinson, is Governor
Reynolds vulnerable at all? Her job approval is okay. She is unknown to
a lot of voters. She has never won
for Governor before. In a wave election year
that is building up for democrats could
she be vulnerable? Robinson: Absolutely. I think this whole
republican ticket is vulnerable. Look up and down these
statewide, these are people who assumed the
job, they didn’t run for statewide office and
win and build these coalitions. And so while I think that
Kim Reynolds has a lot of natural attributes that
make her a fantastic statewide candidate, she
doesn’t have the previous experience of going
out there and winning something with a group of
people that you can count on again. Yepsen: Mr. Rynard, give
me your handicap at the democratic primary. Six candidates. Crowded? Rynard: Yeah. Most people think that
Fred Hubbell and Nate Boulton are in the lead in
the race and that they’re the most likely to be able
to break that 35%, which again, if no candidate
has 35% then it goes to a state convention. Cathy Glasson has enough
funds and enough support amongst the left-leaning
folks in the party that she could be able to come
up at the end and Andy McGuire has got enough
money to go on TV. But it’s largely seen as a
race between Hubbell and Boulton in a situation
where it doesn’t go to convention. If it does go to
convention Boulton has got a whole lot of delegates
lined up for him, Glasson did well with that and
Hubbell did as well. Yepsen: What
is your guess? Is somebody going to break
35% or will this thing go to convention? Rynard: I’d say no. I think it will be really
close but I think just barely we’ll get there. And part of it is that
they all have their internal polls, if they
see anyone getting close to 35% then you think
the other democratic candidates would start
criticizing that person. Yepsen: And do you expect
anybody to fold their tent? They’re on the ballot now
— Rynard: Well, no, not at this point because it’s
getting almost too late to pull your name
off the ballot. But if there is a
contested convention who knows. Everything is on the table
at that point, you could see all kinds of
interesting deals between the candidates and anybody
could come out of it. Henderson: Pat, you
previously mentioned the Joni Ernst ad in 2014 that
really cut through, the make them squeal ad. Isn’t Kim Reynolds sort
of running an Ernst-like campaign? And doesn’t that
worry democrats? Rynard: Yes, it should. I don’t know if it
does with all of them. A lot of times democrats
are so focused in on a lot of the policy issues, as
they should because real people are hurting out
there and we hit on Medicaid privatization and
education funding and that type of thing. But at the end of the day,
first voters care about the issues, but they first
have to like you as a person and trust you as
a person so that you can then get to that point. So my concern is, as it
always is, is that if you run too polling heavy,
message tested type of campaign and don’t really
introduce yourself as a human being first then
you’ve got problems and Reynolds has been doing a
great job on building up her character. Henderson: I remember in
2007 Mike Huckabee was the first candidate among the
pack to sort of divorce himself from George W. Bush. Is Kim Reynolds in danger
of being tied too closely to not only Donald Trump
but to her predecessor and she hasn’t made a
name for herself yet? Robinson: Look, I don’t
think, whatever you do I don’t think that the
Democratic Party is going to let herself distance
herself one inch from the incumbent President. I think that your question
is a little bit more interesting on her
closeness to Branstad, that this is really the
Branstad administration continuing on. And I think that if it
were me advising, which it’s not, if it were me I
would want a little bit more separation, a little
bit different track down the road so you can
distance, so if there are things in the past maybe
you disagreed with — Henderson: But can you
name one thing that she has done that has really
struck a different path? Robinson: No, not really. This has been a
continuation type of government. Everything is fine, we’ve
got it under control in terms of the budget
and all that stuff. So I think she has just
kind of kept everything on the rails, which maybe
that is the right decision, I don’t know. I think she is interesting
enough and I think her, she is a very likable
person that I think she has the ability if she
chooses to, to really blaze her own path and
take things in her own direction if she wants to. Murphy: Well, one place
she doesn’t have an opportunity to do that now
because of the Ron Corbett situation is a
primary election. The ever-evolving question
every election we go through this is, is it
better to have a primary or better to
skate through? Does not having a primary,
especially given that Governor Reynolds, as
David said earlier she hasn’t run as the top of
the ticket before in the statewide election, is
that maybe a detriment to her where she could have
sharpened her tools for the general election? Robinson: I
don’t think so. Look, I understand that
she probably would be better prepared on a
debate stage had she had a primary. But the type of campaign
that Ron Corbett was going to run was already
very negative. It was going to challenge
her on everything. This was going to be a
negative campaign and at the end of the day Ron
Corbett was going to get, what, 20% of the vote max? So I don’t think it would
have been a healthy exercise to go through. This allows her to roll
out her campaign, as she is doing now on TV, about
talking about her story, her background and it
gives her the space to do it. Yepsen: Mr. Rynard,
same question to you. Is Kim Reynolds helped
or hurt by the fact she doesn’t have a primary? Rynard: I think probably
helped because the messaging that Corbett was
running which was a lot of fiscal mismanagement type
stuff, those are the same kind of arguments that
democrats are making. So it wasn’t too much like
I’m more conservative or that kind of thing. Really he’s not. But I think it’s helpful
that she doesn’t have to deal with that. Henderson: Lots of
interesting legislative races. Let’s switch
to that topic. Pat, in the Senate was
the resignation of Senate republican leader Bill
Dix actually a gift to republicans? So that issue of sexual
harassment is sort of off the table? Rynard: I could see you
could argue that it’s a lot harder obviously
to run ads against republicans saying that
candidates, tying them to Bill Dix. But I think you still can
and even if you don’t it’s obvious that there’s still
kind of lingering issues there. The culture has not
completely changed I don’t believe in the Senate. and then in general you
have a leader like that leave, all of his
fundraising connections leave, not all of them,
the other folks will pick it up to some, but it’s
more chaos and it just develops this idea
of chaos around the Republican Party. Henderson: But isn’t the
House the more focused attention place
for democrats? Rynard: Yeah, the House
is where democrats have a much better shot just
because all the seats are up whereas in the Senate
only half of them are up and there’s only maybe
about three real good pick up opportunities
in the Senate. And in the House there’s a
lot of suburban districts that are on the ballot
where we have been seeing this big shift towards
democrats under Trump that looks good. Henderson: Craig, on the
republican side you had a lot of incumbents in the
House say, gosh, I don’t want to run again. What does that tell you? Robinson: I think it tells
you that there is going to be a difficult election
year coming up. And they have
been in power. They have had the majority
now for a while and so a lot of these people have
been there for quite a while. And so I do think that
the House is where you’re going to see the
most change go on. I actually think the
Senate surprisingly for republicans, you could
pick up seats, you could lose control of the
Iowa House if you’re a republican, but you could
gain seats in the State Senate with just the
districts that are up and the candidates that
they have recruited. The Senate has actually
done a lot of good work despite all the chaos that
has gone on, they’re well prepared. But the House is where you
have so many retirements. And how many of these
campaigns do you have the money to plan to
hold those seats? Yepsen: One thing I wanted
to ask, we hear a lot of talk about Congress and
the fact that in an off year presidential election
seats in the U.S. House will often be picked
up by the party that does not hold the White House. What is the take on
the Iowa legislature? Is there any correlation
between victories or defeats in the Iowa
legislature in a year when the party holds
the White House? Robinson: Well, it’s not
as turbulent as I think Congress is. If you go back in 2008
when Christopher Rants was Speaker, trying to regain
control of the House, I think they lost winning
back the majority by only 800 votes statewide. These are smaller
districts where you can really, if you recruit
well and turn out your people you can make a big
— Yepsen: So it’s the quality of the candidate
— Robinson: Yeah. Murphy: So who are
republicans worried about in the House, Craig, if
they’re going to keep their majority whether
it’s candidates or kinds of districts? Who are they worried
about protecting? Robinson: I think the
districts you worry about are urban. When you have these
Windsor Heights, West Des Moines districts where the
districts are already kind of trending away from
you in terms of voter registration and I think
you have this kind of anti-Trump movement is a
little bit easier to tap into in these more urban
centers, where I think the rural seats I think you
can still go out there, do your work and win them. Murphy: So, for example,
the kind of district that Chris Hagenow is
moving out of? Robinson: Exactly. Rynard: It’s just
coincidental, you know. Henderson: There are
teacher protests in states like West Virginia and
Oklahoma which are overwhelmingly led by
republican legislators. Last year the
republican-led legislature here passed a rollback
of collective bargaining rights. Pat, the legislators in
the Senate and the House, Jason Schultz in the
Senate and Steven Holt in the House, who managed
those bills, do not have democratic opponents. How much of an animating
issue is it if you can’t get somebody to step
forward as a democrat to challenge them? Rynard: Those are kind
of unique circumstances because at least with
Schultz is deep western Iowa and democrats have
filled more seats than almost ever. But you are right, there’s
a lot of backlash still happening with the
collective bargaining issue, there’s a lot of
teachers who are much more excited and ready to go
vote and I think you’re going to see a big shift
in how they vote to pretty much unanimously democrats
in some of these races. Yepsen: Let’s look at the
big picture a little bit. Is Iowa, I’ll start with
you Mr. Rynard, is Iowa becoming a more
republican state? And I ask that question
because if you look at the size of Trump’s margin he
ran better here than he did in Texas. You look at the Iowa
electorate, older, rural, white, only 28% of Iowans
have college degrees. I’ve just given you the
profile of a Trump voter. So my question is,
demographically isn’t Iowa becoming a more
republican state? Rynard: Well, and this was
a very big concern for the party immediately
after 2016. There was a lot of folks,
and me to a certain extent included, are we
just a red state now? Have we moved into kind of
a Kansas type situation? But I think the
encouraging thing for democrats is a lot of the
special elections during this last year and a half
since Trump was elected and democrats are
improving on the margins by 30 points, in this last
one it was 14 points. And that is encouraging. We’d just be happy if we’d
get back to a place where the state is competitive
statewide and we have a fair chance. Murphy: I want to
ask about that, Pat. The democrats are excited
by the special elections that you have noted. The margins are changing. They’re performing better
in districts compared to 2016. But at the same time they
have not flipped any of those seats yet. And it is also setting
a baseline of 2016 and Hillary Clinton’s
performance here where she did not do well compared
to other candidates here in Iowa. Are the democrats kind of
in danger in creating some false hope here by
using those margins? Rynard: Look, there’s
always a number of things that go into special
election results that aren’t exactly
transferrable. But part of the thing is
just that it has been, all the special elections just
happened to be held in largely safe seats
for other parties. So there just wasn’t
really a great chance to actually flip one. But we’d much rather have
30, 40 point shifts to a democrat than the opposite
so it’s still encouraging. Yepsen: But it’s also true
that close only counts in hand grenades and
horseshoes, right? Okay. So I want to go back
to the question. Is Iowa becoming
more republican? Robinson: I think it is
becoming more republican but I think we have to
have some caution here. I think that when you look
at Trump and his kind of populous nature and his
message to those blue collar workers I think
that is how you make this a red state. The problem is, is I’m not
seeing the policies from the legislature to
really mirror that. And so if republicans
really want to control the state I think some of
their decisions on what they went after is kind of
the core old republican issues, nothing that really
mirrored what Trump’s message was to play off of
that and to kind of hold those people. Yepsen: Democrats have
run well with millennials around the country. But don’t the democrats
hurt in this state because so many college educated
young people, who would be voting democratic if they
stayed, are leaving the state? So it’s like you’re
washing out the democratic electorate. Robinson: It’s not just
that, it’s we consolidate those people too. I grew up in rural Iowa. Where do I live today? I live in Ankeny. That is what is happening. There is a shift where you
go to college and then you go get a job and you’re
living in a metro area. My brother lives
in Sacramento. It’s one of those things
that it’s this rural Iowa is a big issue I think
for both parties coming forward. But you’ve got to have a
message that applies not only in metropolitan areas
but also rural Iowa. Henderson: Speaking of
rural Iowa you have an unusual circumstance where
the only statewide primary for republicans is among a
huge group that want to be the next Ag Secretary, one
of whom was appointed. Is that thing going to
get decided in the June primary or will there
be a convention? Robinson: Yeah, I think
that we’re kind of steering at a convention
if you had to look at it today. This is a race that I
think ag interest groups are interested and
involved in but I don’t think any of the
candidates have kind of raised the bar to make
people regular voters and this is going to be the
primary driver of primary turnout. Henderson: So why are
these people running? Do they consider this
a stepping stone? Robinson: Look, I think
the Ag Secretary job in Iowa is a great job. And obviously there are
four really good people running for it. And I think this is where
for me personally I look at I want someone in that
spot who I think can help the republican
ticket statewide. Who can go out there in a
general election and talk to these rural people —
Yepsen: Mr. Rynard, does it really matter who the
Secretary of Agriculture is politically? Rynard: I don’t know,
politically not too much as opposed to folks who
may end up raising up. Yepsen: I’m going to go
back to this question of Iowa is it becoming more
democratic or republican. What do you make of, what
do the democrats have to do to their message to
start reaching out to the electorate that is
there, older, whiter? What do they do? Rynard: I think it’s a
return to more economic based messaging and trying
to distance yourself from some of the national
movements that we see and some of the national
problems that democrats have. It’s largely winning back
those type of blue collar voters who voted for
democrats because they thought they would have
a good wage out of it. Yepsen: Less
than a minute. Murphy: Yeah we’ve got
about 30 seconds left. Real quick, Pat, let’s
look ahead to 2020 in the little time we have left. What democrats are you
already seeing or looking forward to seeing coming? Rynard: There’s
a lot of them. There’s a whole
lot of them. Murphy: More than 30
seconds worth I’m sure. Rynard: Yeah, sorry. One thing I had mentioned
earlier before here is that there’s a lot of
these kind of middle aged white democrats coming out
to the state, we had Steve Bullock and Rick Swalwell
and John Delaney come in. It’s going to be
interesting to see how they differentiate
themselves to actually stand out in what could
be a field of 15, 20 democrats. Murphy: Craig, are we
going to see a republican challenger to
President Trump? Robinson: I
don’t think so. Yepsen: And I have
to leave it there. A lot of time in the next
three years to talk about the President. We’ll have you back
to talk about that. Thanks for being here. Thank you. Yepsen: We’ll be back next
week with another edition of Iowa Press at our usual
times, 7:30 Friday night and Sunday at Noon on our
main IPTV channel with a rebroadcast at 8:30
Saturday morning on our .3 World channel. So for all of us here at
Iowa Public Television, I’m David Yepsen. Thanks for
joining us today. ♪♪ Funding for Iowa
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