Could Ted Cruz’s ethanol stance hurt Rep. King in Iowa?

Source: Jennifer Yachnin, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2016

While Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) touched the third-rail of Iowa politics and (briefly) lived to tell about it — winning the Iowa GOP presidential caucus in February despite his longtime criticism of ethanol mandates — it remains to be seen whether the issue could still singe one of his key supporters in the Hawkeye State, Republican Rep. Steve King.

State Sen. Rick Bertrand (R) announced a primary challenge in March against King, who is seeking an eighth term in his 4th District seat, pointing in part to the Republican lawmaker’s endorsement of Cruz.

Bertrand has also relied heavily on a message that King is a career politician, more interested in his television appearances than in the Sioux City-based seat he has held since 2002.

“The question is, why did Steve King turn his back on Iowa agriculture? You can paint that pig anyway you want. But the bottom line is that the cattlemen, the corn growers, the soybean growers, the ethanol people, they understand what that endorsement meant,” Bertrand told the Sioux City Journal last month. Iowa voters will head to polls June 7 to decide congressional slates for the November election.

But while Bertrand called himself the “greatest threat” to King’s tenure to date in announcing his bid — a nod to the fact that King has not had a primary challenge since he first won the seat — the two-term state lawmaker faces an uphill challenge against the incumbent.

Bertrand has not reported any fundraising to date since filing his campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission in late April. King had $173,000 on hand at the end of March, after raising $547,000 in the current cycle.

King has trotted out key endorsements from top Republican officials like Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sen. Chuck Grassley and state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey. Neither candidate can count on support from Gov. Terry Branstad (R) or the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, however, as both have opted to remain neutral in the primary.

Bertrand characterized his challenge to King as “low-key” in an interview last week with the Carroll, Iowa-based Daily Times Herald.

“We’re maneuvering basically door-to-door, county-by-county,” said Bertrand, whose campaign website shows more than a dozen events scheduled for this week, including appearances at nine different Pizza Ranch locations in the state. “We also targeted very heavily local small businesses, manufacturers, ethanol plants, biodiesels.”

The winner of the GOP primary will be heavily favored to win the November election against O’Brien County Democratic Chairwoman Kim Weaver (D).

Judgment day for Judge

Iowa voters are also set to select a Democratic challenger to Grassley next week, setting up a potentially competitive race to oust the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman as he seeks a seventh term.

Democrats will pick from former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; former state Sen. Tom Fiegen; state Sen. Rob Hogg; and former state Rep. Bob Krause.

Although Grassley was once seen to be all but guaranteed another term, Democratic leaders recruited Judge into the race in March in the belief that Grassley’s refusal to hold confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland have weakened the 82-year-old lawmaker’s re-election prospects.

During the primary, Judge has faced criticism over her opposition to a federal lawsuit filed by Des Moines Water Works against agricultural drainage districts and county boards of supervisors.

The utility alleges that the drainage districts discharge nutrient-rich runoff from farm fields, which form toxic nitrates that cost ratepayers more to remove (E&E Daily, May 12).

Judge, who serves on the board of the recently created Iowa Partnership for Clean Water, defended her position at a candidate forum earlier this month, where she called the lawsuit counterproductive.

“I have said very clearly I do not believe that lawsuits between government entities is the solution to this problem,” Judge said, according to The Des Moines Register. “We have a problem, we need to address the problem, and we do know what we need to do.”

Earlier this month, Judge also endorsed U.S. EPA’s role in regulating water quality in the state and voiced support for the Waters of the U.S. rule that governs which waterways or wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.

“We’ve got a serious water-quality problem, and the EPA is going to have to be part of that solution,” Judge said. “As a United States senator, I think that is an issue that is important to me.”

Dems target 2 House seats

The ballot for a pair of competitive House races will also be set next month, when voters select challengers to freshman Republican Reps. Rod Blum and David Young.

Both House seats are considered “toss-up” races by political prognosticators. Fewer than two dozen House races earned that competitive designation this cycle.

In the Cedar Rapids-based 1st District, voters may have a sense of déjà vu as a pair of Democratic candidates vies for the right to take on Blum, who won an upset victory last cycle for the seat previously held by ex-Rep. Bruce Braley (D).

Former state House Speaker Pat Murphy — who lost the 2014 election to Blum by 2 points — will face off with former Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon for the Democratic nod.

But Vernon claims the advantage in the current cycle, with key endorsements from the abortion rights group Emily’s List, as well as from Rep. Dave Loebsack (D), who represents an adjoining district.

Vernon, who was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, has also dominated the money chase in the Democratic primary, raising $1.3 million and reserving $775,000 at the end of March. Murphy raised $193,000 for his bid and had $85,000 on hand at the end of March.

The winner will face a competitive fight with Blum — who raised $1.4 million and banked $1.3 million at the end of March — in November. President Obama won the district in both of his presidential bids, taking 56 percent in the 2012 election.

Young posts a slightly more favorable setup in the Des Moines-based 3rd District but will still be a top target for Democrats looking to claw back House seats from a dominant GOP majority.

Leading the trio of Democrats looking to challenge Young is former Iowa Democratic Vice Chairman Jim Mowrer, who lost a 2014 challenge to King. A pair of political novices round out the field: investment executive Mike Sherzan and executive search firm owner Desmund Adams.

Mowrer reported $438,000 in his campaign coffers at the end of March, while Sherzan, who has self-funded nearly his entire campaign, had $206,000 on hand. Adams had less than $3,000 at that time.

Regardless of who the eventual Democratic nominee is, Young will claim a head start with $956,000 on hand at the end of March. Young faces nominal primary opposition.