Staff Columnist

Long-shot candidates line up for Iowa 2018 elections

Running is worthwhile, even in the toughest districts

Johnson County auditor Travis Weipert points to different ballots that will be seen in voting booths all over the county on Tuesday.
Johnson County auditor Travis Weipert points to different ballots that will be seen in voting booths all over the county on Tuesday.

It is not the most glamorous job in politics.

Each year, Iowa elections attract long-shot candidates, who have little chance of winning, but still play an important part in the electoral ecosystem.

Some are destined to be footnotes in the annals of the county auditor’s office. Some will use the experience as a springboard to bigger political achievements. A few may accidentally win their races this year.

At the end of the candidate filing period last week, Democrats had filed candidates in more than 90 percent of some 125 legislative races happening this November, including in several districts considered safe Republican territory. Republican candidates filed in about 75 percent of legislative races statewide, though others still could be nominated by party conventions later this year.

One of those political Pollyanna’s is in my own Iowa City neighborhood. Republican Patrick Wronkiewicz, 27, will run against five-term Democrat Sen. Joe Bolkcom in Senate District 43, the safest Democratic territory in Iowa.

Iowa City Democrats have one of the winningest statehouse delegations in modern Iowa history. The two representatives and one senator now representing core Iowa City districts have often enjoyed 98-plus percent victories in uncontested elections over their legislative careers.

Bolkcom, first elected to the Senate in 1998, has never faced a Republican opponent, and only one no-party challenger in the past 20 years.

Wronkiewicz is a Marine Corps veteran and a University of Iowa student. He has been active on campus since 2015 with College Republicans, student government and veterans advocacy projects.

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“I got involved mainly from talking to students and seeing the issues affecting their lives. There’s no representation for the college community. No one is bothering to hear students’ concerns,” Wronkiewicz told me.

Wronkiewicz understands his campaign faces long odds, and acknowledged “this race isn’t anywhere near the top of the list” to get money or manpower from outside groups or the state party.

Senate District 43, my home district, has more Democrats than any other Iowa Senate District. There are three times as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans, who make up just 16 percent of voters here.

Yet Wronkiewicz still says he sees an opportunity to make an impact by turning out young voters on and around the university campus. There are no plans yet for a candidate forum, though Wronkiewicz said he will participate if there is.

“This campaign is going to be student-run. We have a lot of fresh people stepping up,” Wronkiewicz said.

Even where the path to victory is invisible, I am always glad to see competitive elections.

I find my local lawmakers to be some of the more tolerable Democrats in state government, but I still resent the fact they are usually handed re-election without having to campaign. Even if incumbents are destined to win, election opponents force them to engage with voters and stay active during election season. Kudos to you, long shots.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

Johnson County area legislative candidates

Senate District 37 — Eric Dirth, Zach Wahls, Janice Weiner, Imad Youssif (D); Carl A. Krambeck (L)

Senate District 39 — Heather Hora (R); Kevin Kinney (D, incumbent)

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Senate District 43 — Patrick Joseph Wronkiewicz (R); Joe Bolkcom (D, incumbent)

House District 73 — Bobby Kaufmann (R, incumbent); Jodi Clemens (D)

House District 74 — Dave Jacoby (D, incumbent)

House District 77 — Amy Nielsen (D, incumbent)

House District 85 — Vicki Lensing (D, incumbent)

House District 86 — Mary Mascher (D, incumbent)

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