Back when I was in high school, Des Moines was considered by many of my female classmates as a good place to shop for prom dresses. Distance from home improved the odds they wouldn’t show up and find other kids wearing the exact same dress. Mortifying.
But I’m not sure the same strategy is wise for Iowa Democrats shopping for a gubernatorial nominee. Distance from Des Moines actually might be the best formula to avoid losing the state’s top job for the third-straight election. Mortifying, also.
This is important stuff. High stakes for a party on the ropes. If you assigned a Democratic prom theme for election night 2016, it might have been “Stairway to a Shellacking.” Recapture the governor’s office in 2018, and it will be “Let’s Spend the Night Re-establishing Collective Bargaining Rights.” Romantic.
There are, currently, somewhere between eight and 72 potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates announced, exploring or testing waters. Even 2014 nominee Jack Hatch is refusing to rule out a comeback. He lost 98 counties to Gov. Terry Branstad. Losing all 99 would be tough, but I guess it’s worth a shot.
Hatch is from Des Moines. Former Gov. Chet Culver also ran for high office as a Des Moines resident, although he was born in Washington, D.C., where his father John Culver served in the U.S. Senate. Culver was bounced from office by Branstad after just a single bumpy term. Unusual in modern Iowa politics.
Iowa has had only one governor actually born in Des Moines, and that’s Republican Bob Ray. That worked out pretty well, with Ray serving 14 years as governor.
Democrats from outside Des Moines have fared better. Tom Vilsack, a Pennsylvania native, served as a state senator and mayor of Mount Pleasant. Harold Hughes was a trucker from Ida Grove.
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Among Democrats poised to run in 2018, there are several Des Moines possibilities, including some well-regarded folks. But after watching so many rural and working class Iowa counties turn bright red last fall, nominating a Des Moines lawyer or political operative to carry the Democratic banner seems like a bad idea. The political equivalent of a powder blue tuxedo.
The Republican nominee likely will be from Osceola, Cedar Rapids or maybe even Kiron. All far from Des Moines.
The most Vilsackian Democratic possibility so far is state Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, who represents a largely rural district including Floyd, Chickasaw and a portion of Cerro Gordo counties. His resume includes military service, work as an assistant county prosecutor and lots of community involvement.
Barack Obama won both Chickasaw and Floyd Counties in 2012. Donald Trump won both in 2016. Prichard outperformed Hillary Clinton in both counties. In Floyd, he got more votes than Trump.
The stretch of north central/northeast Iowa from I-35 to the Mississippi that includes Prichard’s district is critical for Democrats’ statewide fortunes. We’ll see how Prichard performs as a candidate, if his exploratory effort becomes a real campaign. Early reviews are positive.
Mike Matson, a Davenport alderman with military experience, is also thinking about a run. State Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, is mentioned as a potential hopeful. It’s possible other possibilities from outside Polk County will emerge.
Democrats have ample time to shop, but the big dance looms.
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