|News/Features - Feature Stories|
|Tuesday, 25 February 2003 18:00|
Early in his campaign for Iowa state representative, Wayne Hean was given a prescient piece of advice from one of his supporters, Bill Gluba. He “told me right up front, ‘We’re going to have to do it on our own.
Don’t count on the state party,’” Hean said.
Hean recalled that Dick Myers, leader of the Democratic caucus in the state House of Representatives, told him and his supporters at a March get-together that if the candidate raised $10,000 on his own, the party would chip in $50,000. (Others say Myers promised $80,000.) Hean, a member of the Davenport City Council, might have suspected the number was inflated, but his campaign still crafted a $50,000 budget for his race against incumbent Jamie Van Fossen.
In the end, Hean met his fundraising goal and got in-kind contributions worth less than $1,500, but no cash, from the state Democratic organization. The party did provide logistical and strategy support as promised. “We had to fight for it, though,” Hean said. The candidate said that after many requests, he eventually got polling data and research from the party, but it arrived too late to do much good. And the expected party money never showed up.
Hean ended up losing his race 58 percent to 42 percent. He said he’s not bitter about the lack of party support, and chalks it up to the Democrats putting most of their efforts and resources into the hotly contested races for governor, the state’s U.S. Senate seat, and the local race for Congress between Democrat Ann Hutchinson and Republican Jim Nussle.
“That’s just the reality of working with an organization,” Hean said. “When you’re low on resources, cuts have to be made.”
Another way of looking at is that the party recruited him and then dumped him.
Party loyalists often decide to run based on the support they’re promised from their leaders. And if the party doesn’t provide the resources it pledges – either financial or logistical – it often becomes impossible to run an effective campaign.
Hean’s story is not uncommon for lower-profile candidates who chose to run against entrenched incumbents for the state legislature. Candidates from both parties were interviewed for this story, and while some said it’s naïve to expect much money or other support from the state party – “Nobody’s going to write you a blank check,” said one candidate – others felt their parties weren’t completely up-front with them.
“You do get into it with the presumption that you’re going to get logistical as well as financial support,” said Judith Malone, a Republican candidate for Iowa state representative who lost to incumbent Cindy Winckler.
Both Malone and Hean were recruited by party members to run, being told they had a good shot to win their races. They were promised money and other support but didn’t receive much of either.
And the parties seemed disinterested in their stances on specific issues. Candidates were discouraged from filling out certain surveys, and Malone and Hean said that issues were secondary in discussions with their parties. (Republicans didn’t ask Malone, for example, about her position on abortion; she’s pro-choice.)
Malone said that she was told she would receive an unspecified amount of money from the state party if she raised $3,500 for her campaign. “I raised around 10 grand,” Malone said. “I did get a thousand [from the party] at the end [of the campaign], but that was because I held a gun to their head.”
Malone said that to have a chance to win, she figured she needed to spend $30,000. That would have required party support of roughly $20,000.
“Ever heard the term sacrificial lamb?” Malone said. “That’s what we were. … We cost our opponents a lot of money. In that respect, we did our jobs.”
“You Raise 10 Grand, I’ll Get You $80,000”
Hean said the subject of running for the Iowa House was first presented to him in January 2002 by Jim Hester. Hean then met with Representative Myers three times to discuss running for the House. “He made it out that it was very possible” to beat Van Fossen, Hean recalled. “He made me feel the party would be behind me.”
Myers “sat in my home and promised” financial support, said Bob Yapp, who hosted the meeting with the Democratic leader and Hean supporters in March. “He said, ‘We want to beat Jamie Van Fossen, and you’re the guy to do it. You raise 10 grand, I’ll get you $80,000,’” Yapp said of Myers.
Myers remembers it differently than Hean and Yapp, although he infused most of his answers with a touch of uncertainty. “I think I said it would take $80,000 to win,” he told the River Cities’ Reader. Myers denied that he said the state party would give Hean a specific amount of money.
The promise of significant financial resources was “absolutely” a factor in Hean’s decision to run, Yapp said. He added that he was skeptical about the promise of money, but that other people at the meeting took Myers at his word.
“I was undecided until I was together with my whole group,” Hean said. When a majority said they supported Hean’s running, he decided to become a candidate, he said.
He added that party support was a key ingredient to his decision to run. “It was very important,” Hean said. “It takes research, opposition research, polling, planning, and money.”
Because Van Fossen was an incumbent in a district that favored Republicans, “to beat him would have taken a lot of money,” Yapp said. “Dick Myers didn’t come through with any money. He left Wayne holding the bag.”
“I know I told him I would support him,” Myers said. “I meant what I said when I said it.” He said that in terms of support, he was able to do “nowhere near what I thought I could do.”
According to campaign-finance records, Hean did raise the requested $10,000 in the reporting periods between July 14 and the Tuesday a week before the election. Myers personally gave Hean $100, and his wife is listed as a $500 contributor. Myers said his wife cut that check without his knowledge after he received angry phone calls from Hean supporters.
Those records also show in-kind contributions from the Iowa Democratic Party of $246.66 for “use of computer at headquarters.” Hean said the party also paid for a mailing valued at roughly $1,100 in the final week of the campaign.
Myers said the House Democrats had a limited amount of resources and had to prioritize their allocations. “I had to make some decisions,” he said. House Democrats make candidate-support choices based on three factors: the demographics of the district, polling data, and the quality of the candidate and organization.
He added that the House Democrats made a decision to focus their resources in Scott County on two races: Patricia Zamora in the 84th District and Mark Henderson in the 83rd District. Hean was never told of that decision, though. Henderson’s disclosures show in-kind contributions from the Iowa Democratic Party totaling more than $8,000. Zamora received more than $23,000 in in-kind contributions. Both candidates lost.
Myers said the state House Democratic organization spent roughly $1.2 million on its 81 races last fall – an average of just under $15,000 per candidate.
The House Democratic leader also said that he understood that some Hean supporters were angry about a perceived lack of support.
Hean said he was grateful for other types of support; he had a staff person who provided polling and candidate research. Those items came so late in the campaign that their utility was limited, however. The polling was done September 18 through 20, yet the Hean campaign, despite repeated requests, wasn’t given the results until October 16. Also on that date, his Democratic staffer sent Hean background research on both him and his opponent. “It would have been nice to have those results earlier,” Hean said.
That poll certainly suggested that Hean had an uphill battle – Van Fossen held a lead of 48 percent to 36 percent, with 16 percent undecided – but it’s important to keep in mind that Hean wasn’t able to run the campaign he envisioned because he didn’t get the money he expected from the state Democratic party. Instead of running an $80,000 campaign – what Myers said it would take to win – he was running with less than one-quarter that amount of resources.
Myers can claim that Hean didn’t get more support because he was trailing in the polls, but that was in many ways a self-fulfilling prophecy; Hean couldn’t run a competitive campaign without the money he expected.
“The Strategies Were Not Adaptable”
Malone’s story is somewhat different because the promise of money was not specific.
But she figured early in the summer that the result of her campaign was a foregone conclusion. She saw that the Democrats had undertaken an aggressive absentee-ballot campaign (see “The Absentee-Minded Election,” River Cities’ Reader Issue 401, November 20-26, 2002) and recognized that her party would need to do something to counter it.
When she asked the Republican campaign staff what she could do, they responded, “There’s nothing we can do about that,” Malone recalled. “I knew I was sunk,” she said. “You just couldn’t compete with that kind of system.”
Malone said she was approached in early 2002 by Carol Earnhardt about running for office. “As soon as I agreed to run, I felt I’d fulfilled my purpose,” Malone said. That sentiment was not echoed by Hean, but he said that most winning candidates had a head start on later-entering contestants such as himself and Malone. “Those candidates that won in Scott County started six months before we did,” he said.
Malone certainly expected more money from the party, but she was also disappointed in the level of nonmonetary support. According to Malone, Republican campaign staffers said, “We will be your brains. We will be your hands.” But “they were underfunded,” she said. She asked Republican campaign staffers for opposition research from March through November but never received any. “The only thing they ever said about my opponent was that they didn’t like her,” Malone said.
State leaders of the Republican party, Malone said, give candidates boilerplate strategies geared toward rural areas, and those don’t work for her primarily urban district. For example, the party offered to all candidates an in-kind contribution of a postcard mailing tailored to their campaigns. But there were no racial minorities on any of the postcard templates, she said. “Don’t we have something to appeal to these [nonwhite] voters?” she asked.
“I think they’re willing to give up urban districts like mine,” Malone said. “Even logistical assistance was kind of unreal. … The formula in Iowa is to talk to farmers by their tractors. The strategies were not adaptable.”
And then there was the money. Malone said she was told she would get some contributions from the state party in August. Then, in August, “I was told they don’t have the money,” she said. The party didn’t even conduct a poll in Malone’s district.
Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants said candidates aren’t given up-front promises of concrete support – such as a certain amount of money. “We tell our candidates there are certain expectations. … We’re just not going to bankroll a campaign from Des Moines. … We want to make sure the dollars people put into the state party are well-spent.”
Rants said candidates are promised one thing at the outset: “We promise that if you do X number of things, we’ll do your poll.” Candidates are required to meet certain goals in local fundraising, volunteers, major-donor meetings, and yard signs. He declined to specifically discuss Malone’s campaign, or whether she met those goals.
On the issue of campaign materials, Rants said that the party and candidates work together to tailor materials to the specific campaign. “Every district is different,” he said.
Malone remains convinced she could have beaten Winckler with the level of resources she anticipated. “This candidate was not hard to beat,” she said. “It takes money. Advertising.”
Malone said that she felt she kept having to prove herself to the party staff. “When do you make the team?” she asked. “Well, you don’t.”
Perhaps that’s the way business is done with political campaigns – hooking candidates with the promise of money that the party probably won’t deliver – but that certainly has the potential to backfire and create alienation.
“I would never ask anyone to run under these conditions,” she said, referring to both party support and Iowa election law, particularly liberal absentee-ballot laws. “If I were to run again, I’d ask for a $100,000 check up front.”
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