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Iowa Politics Roundup: Democrats Kick Off General-Election Campaign at State Convention PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 11 June 2010 13:13

Four days after the primary election, between 800 and 1,000 Iowa Democrats are gathering for this year's Democratic state convention in a rally-like setting at the Polk County Convention Complex.

It will be Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Roxanne Conlin's first big speech since capturing the nomination on Tuesday.

"Speaking to the delegates, formally accepting the nomination ... I think it is a big deal," said Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Norm Sterzenbach. "It will be a big moment."

While Labor Day weekend is the traditional kickoff to the general-election campaign, the state convention sets the tone for how the summer campaign is going to go, Sterzenbach said. Iowa Democrats last week moved into a new coordinated-campaign headquarters in Des Moines, and that campaign officially opens next week.

Governor Chet Culver told reporters right after he voted Tuesday that "it's on now."

Saturday's convention is expected to produce few surprises, but there will be at least one point of contention: One of the proposed amendments to the Iowa Democratic Party's constitution says that precinct caucuses shall not be held on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. That proposal likely stems from a delegate who wasn't happy about this year's caucuses being held on a Saturday.

"Some didn't approve this year's Saturday caucuses," said Sterzenbach, who said it was a worthwhile effort in a nonpresidential year to see if it works. "I don't think Iowa Democrats are likely to have caucuses on a Saturday in the future. When we did it this year, we weren't nominating anybody. The presidential caucuses are different. Holding them on a Saturday can make it more difficult for some religious groups and just may not be overall the best time. We don't want to make it more challenging for people who might have some religious objections to the timing of it."

But Sterzenbach said that the amendment to prohibit the caucuses from being held on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday will "not necessarily be successful in passing." He said he opposes it because it could conflict with what the Democratic National Committee says about the timing of Iowa's caucuses.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) agreed with Sterzenbach's assessment. "I think it's important for Iowa to do whatever it takes to stay number one in the country," he said. "Tying our hands in that respect probably isn't a good idea."

The keynote speaker Saturday will be U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Klobuchar is described as an up-and-comer in Democratic circles, and there is always speculation about the presidential aspirations of national figures coming to Iowa (because of its first-in-the-nation caucuses). However, because President Barack Obama is expected to seek a second term in 2012, her political future isn't expected to be a major issue this weekend.

"She's a progressive senator from a neighboring state. She's a Midwesterner who comes from a state that has a lot of the same issues that Iowa does," Sterzenbach said in describing Klobuchar's appeal. He said she is a close ally of U.S. Senator Harkin, much like the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone was. "She's been here before ... [and] addressed our delegation at the national convention. Most delegates wouldn't have had the chance to see or meet her yet. She's not one of the ones that is always on the newscast, but she's a pretty impressive senator, very intelligent; she speaks very intelligently and passionately about progressive causes."

Republicans Look to Unite as Branstad and Culver Trade Jabs

Days after Iowa voters had their say in the primary election, candidates are already trying to consolidate their power bases and woo voters for the November general election -- and are taking shots at each other in the process.

On the morning of the primary, Culver was already going after former Republican gubernatorial nominee (and former Governor) Terry Branstad, saying he "cooked the books" during his time in office and wants to force women considering an abortion to view an ultrasound. He also said Branstad wants to do away with the state's preschool program.

And Branstad on Wednesday criticized Culver on issues ranging from the state budget to I-JOBS to ethics during remarks before several hundred at an Iowa Association of Business & Industry conference.

Branstad cited the "film-office fiasco," Culver's letter to Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission members asking them to approve casino licenses for all four applicants, and the former Department on Aging director that "acted as a dictator" and "muzzled" his staff. Branstad campaign spokesperson Tim Albrecht said he expects Culver to come out swinging, and said "we'll be ready one way or another."

"When they [Culver supporters] formed Iowans for Responsible Government, that pretty much started the general election," Albrecht said. "So we're forced to battle those lies and distortions."

Branstad, who served as Iowa's governor for 16 years, seems to have made the first big move in the general-election campaign for governor. On Thursday morning, he announced a new television ad called "Leader" that outlines his endorsements from newspapers and political figures. However, the socially conservative wing of the Republican Party wants to get its two cents in before Branstad gets too far down the campaign trail.

Chief gubernatorial rival Bob Vander Plaats -- who secured more than 40 percent of the vote with a socially conservative message and said after losing Tuesday that he plans to help Branstad "unite the Republican Party and unite the state of Iowa" -- has yet to endorse Branstad. The two have plans to meet sometime in the near future, Branstad said, and he said he hopes Vander Plaats and the Iowa Family Policy Center will "recognize that we share their values. ... We want to work together and we want to put together a broad-based group of coalitions to bring the change needed so that the better days in Iowa will be ahead of us, not behind us," Branstad said.

Vander Plaats said he "doesn't believe in blanket endorsements," and that the two will "put our differences on the table and talk about some brutal facts within the party."

The Iowa Family Policy Center congratulated Branstad on his win but has yet to say whether it will stand by its commitment to sit out the election if Vander Plaats was not the nominee.

Branstad has yet to make a choice regarding a running mate. The former governor said he is looking for someone with conservative views, leadership ability, and a strong wrok ethic. The choice will be made some time before the June 26 Republican state convention, and Branstad wasn't willing to tip his hand this week and narrow the field.

"I think there are several possibilities," Branstad said. "Certainly I have a lot of respect for the people that ran for governor, both the ones that stayed in through the primary and some of the others that dropped out previously, but there are many others beside those as well that we will take a look at and consider."