Candidates don’t generally like contested primaries for several reasons. First, it means spending money perhaps earlier than they would like. Second, it also means if they win, they may come out of the primary bloody if their opponents played hardball or there may be sore feelings if they did and unifying their base could prove difficult. Third, there is always the chance that a candidate will lose and have to sit out in November. Fourth, switching messaging up to speak to a different audience has the potential to cause whiplash.
Despite the challenges that a primary can bring to a candidate I believe contested primaries are good for voters, good for the party, and even good for the candidates.
Voters have options.
Choice is good. Voters who are dissatisfied with the choices on the ballot typically stay home. They don’t engage with the process.
Political parties see more energy.
In 2018, the Republican Party of Iowa saw few contested primaries. As a result on primary election day, they had an anemic turnout compared to Democrats. It resulted in fewer registered voters. In Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, Democrats trailed Republicans in registered voters until the primary when they pulled even.
Alternatively, the Iowa Democratic Party saw contested primaries in every statewide race and it brought voters out in droves.
Candidates are vetted before the primary.
Which would you prefer, all of a candidate’s potential problems from their past come out during the primary or after they are nominated?
Common sense says the earlier any potential problem with a candidate can come out the better. We don’t want bombshell information coming out for the first time during a general election. If news breaks, it gives the party’s voters a chance to decide whether or not that disqualifies a candidate.
If the party still nominates a particular candidate after a contested primary, it’s out and, mostly, out of the news cycle. Also, candidates have worked out how to address the issue.
2020 may turn out different.
At the moment, Ashley Hinson is the only Republican running in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. I think there’s still a possibility that former U.S. Rep. Rod Blum will try to reclaim the seat he lost.
With an open seat in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, I thought Republicans could end up having a three or four person primary race. Right now there are two people running. Former Illinois U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling who moved to Iowa over two years ago declared. Rick Phillips, a small business owner in Pella, has also declared. Caffeinated Thoughts learned that Barbara Kniff, another small business owner in Pella, may also run.
State Sen. Marianette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa is considering a run. A former staffer of her’s, Austin Harris who works for the Republican Party of Iowa, has attacked Schilling as a “carpet bagger.” He has since resigned Caffeinated Thoughts has been told so it’s likely she will jump into the race. This would be her fourth bite at the apple. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008, 2010, and 2014.
Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District also had the potential to be a hotly contested primary, but right now it looks like a David vs. Goliath match-up with David being Goliath. Right now former U.S. Rep. David Young has declared seeking a rematch with U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, who defeated him in 2018. Army veteran Bill Schaffer also declared. I don’t want to say it is impossible for Schaffer to defeat Young in the Republican Primary, but it will take a minor miracle since Schaffer is new to the district, has zero name recognition, and, compared to Young, very little money.
State Senator Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, has not made a decision yet, and I think Young hauling in over $330,000 after he announced may suck the air out of the race.
There’s a contested primary, but I don’t think it provides the energy Republicans would see in a Young-Nunn match-up or what Republicans saw in 2014.
Iowa’s 4th Congressional District looks to be the most competitive primary for Republicans. U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has three challengers: State Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull, Current Woodbury County Supervisor and former State Rep. Jeremy Taylor of Sioux City, and Bret Richards, a small business owner and college professor from Irwin.
Whoever wins that contest should win the general election.
Also, thus far, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, does not have a contested primary which is not unusual for incumbents. Ernst boasts a 57 percent approval rating and is popular within the party so in this instance a contested primary would likely be a net negative.
President Donald Trump has a challenger in former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, but he doesn’t seem to be interested in competing in Iowa nor is he likely to get any traction either.
We’ll have a clearer picture with state legislative races in the fall.