Democratic candidates of Iowa's race for governor honing messages

Gubernatorial hopefuls seek to distinguish themselves

Jars filled with kernels of corn to mark support for candidates from visitors to the booth were on display at the WHO-TV “Cast Your Kernel” stand at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, which ended Aug. 20. (Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau).
Jars filled with kernels of corn to mark support for candidates from visitors to the booth were on display at the WHO-TV “Cast Your Kernel” stand at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, which ended Aug. 20. (Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau).

The field appears to have settled on seven Democrats seeking to become the party’s nominee for governor in 2018.

And those seven Democratic candidates are honing their messages to voters nearly 10 months out from the primary.

Each appeared in Des Moines last week at a meeting of one of the state’s largest union groups, the Independent Federation of Labor. The candidates were asked topical questions, but also had the opportunity to give opening and closing comments. It was during those three-minute windows that candidates were free to make their pitches to a group of voters who are likely to be motivated and mobilized in 2018.

Obviously, issues central to organized labor were prominent in the discussion. It should surprise no one that Iowa’s new collective bargaining law — passed by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad — was addressed (and opposed) by all seven Democratic hopefuls.

But the candidates also used their time to make their cases more generally.

John Norris and Andy McGuire, for example, talked about the need for Democrats to recoup voters lost in rural portions of the state. That’s an issue Democrats are talking about across the Midwest, and it’s a critical issue for Iowa Democrats if they are to win a statewide race for governor.

McGuire said while traveling across the state as chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, she observed that many people feel left behind. And Norris touted his farm roots.

“I am from rural Iowa,” said Norris, who was raised on his family farm in Montgomery County. “I understand rural Iowa. I am passionate about it.”


Fred Hubbell pitched himself, as he has throughout his campaign, as the candidate with rich experience in both the public and private sectors. Hubbell was chairman of Younkers and president of Equitable of Iowa, and also served on state boards overseeing economic development and renewable energy.

Like many other candidates, he criticized the incentive package — a combination of state and local incentives — awarded to Apple last week for the new data center it plans to build in suburban Des Moines. Hubbell said he could have negotiated a better deal for the state.

“I have training and experience to do that,” he said.

Cathy Glasson has carved out her niche in the field as the “bold, progressive” candidate. She uses the phrase often on the stump and did so again when speaking to the labor group.

Nate Boulton was on quasi-home turf in addressing the labor group. Boulton, who has been endorsed by 23 labor organizations across the state, received a standing ovation when he was introduced. So naturally the bulk of his comments were on labor issues.

If all seven Democrats remain in the field, each candidate’s message will be critical to help himself or herself separate from the crowd. Already voters can get a sense of the lanes the candidates are picking to travel the primary trail.

Reynolds, Boulton win IN straw polls

Gov. Kim Reynolds and state Sen. Nate Boulton were the most popular choices among those who cast votes — and con kernels — at the Iowa State Fair.

Reynolds, the successor incumbent Republican governor, and Boulton, a Democrat, garnered the most votes in a pair of straw polls conducted throughout the fair by the Iowa Secretary of State and by Des Moines television station WHO-TV.

In the Secretary of State’s poll, which was also available online, Reynolds got 77 percent of the votes cast for Republican candidates. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett was a distant second at 12 percent.

Boulton got 38 percent of the vote in the Democratic field. Fred Hubbell was second with 17 percent.


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At WHO-TV’s “Cast Your Kernel” booth, voters placed a kernel in a jar with the name of the candidate they support. The field was not separated by party.

Reynolds received the most kernels, snaring 51 percent of the overall vote. Boulton was second and tops among Democrats, with 22 percent.

No other candidate reached 10 percent.

This all means, of course, absolutely nothing. It’s just a for-fun Iowa State Fair tradition.

Although, for what it’s worth, the winners of the 2015 “Cast Your Kernel” polls were Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is



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