DES MOINES — All bets are off.
The race to be Republicans’ candidate for Iowa agriculture secretary is headed to the party’s state convention.
Mike Naig secured the most votes in last Tuesday’s primary election, but he fell just 233 shy of reaching the 35 percent threshold required by state law to earn the nomination.
So the election results are wiped out, the slate is clean and now the five candidates must work to earn majority support from the party’s 1,862 possible delegates at this Saturday’s convention at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
All five candidates told The Gazette last week that they were prepared for the possibility — some then said even the probability — that the race would wind up being decided at the convention. The candidates said they have long been reaching out to state delegates in hopes of earning their support.
Naig still goes into the convention with the structural advantage of being the sitting state ag secretary. A former deputy, he was appointed to the top post in March by Gov. Kim Reynolds after Bill Northey accepted a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The state convention will, in part, be a celebration of Reynolds’ candidacy atop the ticket. Perhaps that will help Naig’s efforts with the delegates.
And while the election results do not factor directly into the nominating process, delegates could be swayed by the fact that Naig was the top vote-getter by a fairly wide margin. Naig earned 34.7 percent of the primary vote, well ahead of Dan Zumbach at 21.4, Craig Lang at 18.6 and Ray Gaesser at 16.2.
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Zumbach, a state senator from Ryan, ran an aggressive primary campaign. His work fundraising — he raised the most money among the GOP primary field of candidates this year — and holding campaign events could pay off with the delegates.
Lang surely will draw on his experience and connections made as a former Iowa Farm Bureau leader as he attempts to earn delegates’ support.
Gaesser’s campaign consultant told The Gazette that Gaesser has been playing a convention strategy from the start, making thousands of phone calls to delegates. Gaesser also has served in organizational leadership for the American Soybean Association.
Chad Ingels, who earned just 8.9 percent of the primary vote, remains the long-shot.
On the surface, it would appear Naig still has the best shot to earn the nomination.
However, funny things can and often do happen at conventions. Just ask David Young, who finished fifth out of six Republican primary candidates in 2014, earned the nomination at state convention and this fall is running for a third term in the U.S. House.
The rest of the GOP ag secretary field is hoping something similar will happen again this year. And it very well could.
Whomever secures the Republican nomination will face Democrat Tim Gannon in this fall’s general election.
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.