Chronicle Guest View - In the Public Interest
In June, Iowa joined eleven other states in conducting primary elections. A big story was the discrepancy in turnout rates; 227,347 Iowans voted in the GOP primary and 72,062 on the Democratic side. If this is even a slight indication of what will happen in November, it is a bad omen for Democrats. It may reinforce the perception the playing field is not level this year. The turnout was generated by a struggle for the GOP nomination for Governor. Also 15 Republicans challenged the three sitting Democratic Congressmen. Three Democrats challenged Iowa’s two incumbent GOP Congressmen. Trial attorney Roxanne Conlin was pitted against former State Legislators, Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen to see which Democrat would face Senator Grassley.
Any way you look at the election turnout, it is hard to see good news for Democrats. Candidates do not run and voters do not take the time to vote on races they think are “lost causes.” They vote when they think they may be choosing “the next” Governor or Senator. The fact is 227,347 Iowans thought it was relevant who was going to face Governor Culver in November. Only 72,062 thought it was relevant who was going to face Senator Grassley. Ms. Conlin was favored to win her primary, so perhaps voters thought the race was over, but she had credible opponents. Tom Fiegen was endorsed by the Des Moines Register over Conlin. The Register did not exactly heap praise on the trio, saying: “All three deserve credit for the daunting task of trying to unseat a longtime incumbent. Yet none is an especially impressive choice for the job of U.S. Senator.” Many stories address issues the GOP may face in uniting for the fall. But, in case you missed it, Democrat Tom Fiegen said he would not endorse Roxanne Conlin. Radio Iowa reported in an election night story that he said the Democratic Party isn’t the “voice” of working people anymore.
Iowans should also consider how they feel about the group “Iowans for Responsible Government,” led by former Democratic Party chair, Rob Tully. It spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the GOP primary by pretending to be conservative advocates attacking Terry Branstad. Many things that go on in politics are unseemly, but this seems rather blatant for Iowa. We did not reach the level of South Carolina where a State Legislator who surged into the lead came under blistering attacks. She was called a derogatory ethnic slur by a State Legislator based on her Indian heritage and allies of political opponents alleged she had past incidences of marital infidelity, which she vehemently denied. Fortunately, she overcame the attacks to win.
Running for office can be a daunting experience. Flaws in a candidate’s history are often distorted and used against them. Past mistakes, relevant or not, create ugly whisper campaigns, which often have a devastating impact on the candidate and their family. If sufficient flaws are not found, lies can be manufactured with the truth not known until after an election. We should all thank the candidates who have made the sacrifice to run for office. The unsuccessful candidates make a democracy work and open debate possible. Being gracious in victory can be difficult, but being gracious in defeat is often a true test of character.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better informed citizenry.
Doug Stout is a research analyst at the Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant.