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GOP Plots Convention Strategies in Iowa

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Five Republicans are vying for the nomination to replace Latham.

RED OAK, Iowa — With the clock running down at a Republican candidate forum in the 3rd District, Monte Shaw was ready to make his move.


Shaw, the executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, stood up, shed his jacket and strolled away from the table where the other five Republican candidates sat.

“All joking aside, this is an important election,” Shaw said as the spotlight followed him across the stage. “This is one of 17 seats Democrats have targeted to put the speaker’s gavel back in Nancy Pelosi’s hands.”

The candidates are seeking the nomination to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Tom Latham. The nominee will face Democrat Staci Appel in November in a district that President Barack Obama carried twice, but where Republicans have a small edge in voter registrations.

In one of the most competitive House races in the country, Republicans will most likely pick their nominee via an unpredictable convention. The choice will impact the general election, and Democrats see two Republicans as easier to defeat in November than the rest of the field.

Playing Nice, For Now

It was a collegial affair at the Red Oak Community High School auditorium in southwestern Iowa on May 3.

The candidates took a pass when the moderator invited rebuttals. They agreed, unanimously, that Iowa’s own John Wayne was their favorite actor and sparred lightly over the issue of Cyclones or Hawkeyes.

The Republicans were in lockstep on policy priorities such as a balanced-budget amendment, term limits and repealing Obamacare. The GOP field is uniformly against abortion rights and supports the Second Amendment.

The issue is electability, Shaw said on stage, trying hard to draw a distinction that would stick with the 60 or so voters scattered around the auditorium, plus a KCSI radio audience.

The issue is also an Iowa nominating process that will throw this six-candidate race to a district convention if no one breaks the 35 percent mark in the June 3 primary.

Each of the candidates sees a path to 35 percent, but just in case, they all say they have a convention strategy too.

“The candidates are stressing electability as a way of picking off [state Sen. Brad] Zaun people on a second ballot at convention,” said an Iowa GOP strategist who doesn’t work for Shaw or Zaun.

This source said Zaun could win 40 percent of the delegates on a first ballot, but could max out around that level. Candidates get eliminated one by one over rounds of balloting until there are two contenders left.

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