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September 18, 2009

What can we learn from the Iowa House 90th District Election?


Fifth, this race has put front and center the question of whether gay marriage is a "good" issue for Republicans to run on in 2010. As we know several Republican contenders for governor have said this would be their lead campaign issue. On the other hand Rep Steven King has decided NOT to run for governor and many INSIDERS have told me it’s because he believes that he could not run for governor successfully on his anti-illegal immigration and anti-gay marriage positions. Illegal immigration has shrunk as a hot button since the recession and other issues such as jobs and health care costs are more urgent for Iowa voters in 2010.

Sixth, the pending announcement that former Gov. Terry Branstad will run for governor has underscored the necessity for the GOP to use its former winning strategy of walking down the political center as the most successful road to political office. Both Branstad and Gov. Robert Ray were very successful by concentrating on non-divisive issues and harvesting majorities of voters in the state. There is no indication from GOP contests in the near past that moving to a more conservative corner of the political spectrum is a winning move. So, the race for the vacant seat in the 90th district adds fuel to the internal struggle within the GOP in Iowa and is giving some new life to that "bigger tent" of GOP leaders, candidates, and voters who are not solely concerned with the divisive social issues.

Seventh, the race suggests that the GOP needs to re-examine its bigger course. The party is running behind both "no-party" and the democrats in registered supporters and has lost some 100 thousand adherents and now trails in third place. Although not framed in these "political science" terms the GOP in Iowa appears to have moved into the quadrant of "ideological political party" where it adheres to clear and hard positions on social issues regardless of what are the high intensity concerns of Iowa voters. Although admirable for its clarity and integrity this is the position taken by "Parties of Principle" (the Libertarians, Greens, Socialists) whereas elections in the United States are only won by "Parties of Pragmatism" (The Democrats and Republicans).

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