Cedar Rapids casino politics mix red and blue

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Political bedfellows are rarely strange anymore. Itís red or blue or nada.

Then thereís gambling. In Iowa, the players donít fall into neat political categories. Iíve covered several Statehouse gambling debates, and they were usually messy scrums where partisan labels meant less than hometown pork or personal principle. Unpredictability made them fascinating. And the 54-day sprint toward a March 5 gambling referendum in Linn County already features some pretty fascinating politics.

On the Vote Yes Linn County side, thereís lead investor Steve Gray, who, back in October, hosted a fundraiser for Gov. Terry Branstad, attended by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Vote Yesís spokeswoman is Marcia Rogers, who, in January 2007, hosted an event for then-Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Rogersí son, Ben Rogers, is a Democrat serving on the Linn County Board of Supervisors, which supports the casino effort, along with the City Council.

Vote Yes is also getting advice from veteran Republican strategists Doug Gross and Richard Schwarm. Gross is a former Branstad chief of staff and GOP gubernatorial nominee. Schwarm was Branstadís Lake Mills law partner and a former state GOP chairman.

Gray, corporate executive, friend of Branstad, host to Walker, heaped praise Tuesday on labor unions who helped gather thousands of signatures needed to put gambling on the ballot. See? Interesting.

It wasnít long ago that top Republicans were panning more gambling. When Branstad ran in 2010, he and his primary rivals said they opposed gambling expansion.

Democratic Gov. Chet Culver favored new casino licenses as an economic boost. Contributions to his run by backers of a proposed, but ultimately rejected, Fort Dodge casino led to a criminal investigation, although most of the charges were eventually dropped. His administration also toyed, briefly, with the idea of selling the Iowa Lottery to casino interests, which, probably, would have led to a lottery on steroids.

This week, a news release sent by the Just Say No Casino coalition came from Sam Roecker, who was spokesman for the Iowa Democratic Party during Culverís unsuccessful 2010 re-election run. Vote No says expanded gambling is not an economic boost. Roecker is working for LinkStrategies, probably the top Democratic consulting firm in Iowa. Its founder, Jeff Link, has led or advised numerous campaigns, including Barack Obamaís 2008 run. LinkStrategies posted an impressive list of 2012 election winners.

So, with gambling, the only red and blue that really count are chips. And whoís handing them out.

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