Five Republicans are vying for the nomination to replace Latham.
Zaun led a Loras College poll with 17 percent, while all of the other candidates — Shaw; Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz; businessman Robert Cramer; David Young, a former chief of staff to Iowa GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley; and self-proclaimed outsider Joe Grandanette — were in single digits.
The poll was conducted April 8-10 and had a 5.65 percent margin of error.
It preceded a wave of television and radio ads by all of the candidates, with the notable exception of Zaun.
The candidates have to be “very careful” about going negative against their opponents, the GOP strategist said, because that could rebound against them among convention delegates.
That means some ammunition is lying around.
Schultz is taking flak following revelations that a few appointees, whose positions were eliminated, remained on the state payroll. But his primary foes have steered clear, and Schultz has turned the matter into an attack line against an allegedly biased media.
According to a 2001 police report, Zaun allegedly banged on the window of a girlfriend’s house and called her a “slut.” For this reason and others, national Republicans are not keen on Zaun.
But so far, the other campaigns aren’t touching that one.
“Nominate someone who can stand up to the scrutiny the media is going to put on us and the liberal attack machine is going to put on us,” Shaw said during the forum, hinting, ever so gently, that this could be a problem for other candidates.
The prospect of a convention delights Democrats.
“None of the Republican candidates has enough money to spend their way to 35 percent,” said a Democratic strategist in Washington, D.C.
This source said the candidates most likely to benefit from a convention dominated by conservative activists are Zaun and Cramer, rather than someone in the pragmatic mold of Latham.
“I have the most conservative positions but the demeanor of a bridge builder,” Cramer told the audience in Red Oak.
The Democratic strategist also took a few digs at Shaw as perhaps a bit suspect to conservatives. Earlier this year, Shaw split with GOP Rep. Steve King from Iowa’s 4th District by saying he would have voted to increase the debt ceiling.
“We’re all pretty conservative,” Shaw said prior to the forum. He noted that his campaign co-chairmen are John King — the firebrand conservative congressman’s brother — and moderate former GOP Rep. Greg Ganske.
Zaun chaired Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign in Iowa, while Cramer has close ties to the conservative activist community.
Zaun isn’t raising much money: He picked up $56,750 in the first quarter of 2014 and had about $46,000 in cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign reports filed at the Federal Election Commission.
He is well known in the district, though, and has been working hard on the convention angle, according to GOP sources.
Shaw currently holds the fundraising lead among Republicans, with about $170,000 in cash on hand. Schultz has about $136,000 in the bank, while Young has $133,000.
Cramer began the year as a decided dark horse before raising an impressive $167,000 in the first quarter and spending heavily on TV, radio and mailers. That left him with only $78,700 in the bank, but it also caused his opponents to take notice.
Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., candidate for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, holds his hand over his heart during the singing of the national anthem as he waits to take the stage for his town hall campaign rally with Sen. John McCain at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014.