Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Young, Zaun Battle at Iowa’s GOP Convention

In House on June 23, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Going into the post-primary Iowa District 3 Republican convention, called to select a nominee because no candidate reached 35 percent in the June 3 primary, we knew that anything could happen. Therefore, it is hard to call former Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) chief of staff David Young a surprise winner, but the new nominee’s previous finish of fifth in the primary election and fourth on the first convention ballot Saturday certainly didn’t make him the favorite.

As so often happens in convention politics, a pattern develops where the early front-runner loses to someone with coalition-forming ability coming from well behind. And this very scenario played out in Des Moines over the weekend.

With 497 Republican delegates voting on the fifth and final ballot, Young scored a 55 percent victory (276-221) over state senator and 2010 congressional nominee Brad Zaun, who landed as the first place-finisher in the primary as well as on four convention ballots. Though Zaun out-polled the other five primary candidates with 24.6 percent of the vote, he was nowhere near obtaining the necessary 35 percent to win the nomination.

For his part, though Sen. Zaun says he will fully support Young in the general election, he will introduce legislation to install a run-off system to replace the post-primary convention process. Seeing almost 43,000 people who voted in the primary election have their decision overturned by fewer than 500 delegates – and thus costing Zaun the nomination – prompted his desire to change the system. On the other hand, as Young articulates, 75 percent of those very primary voters chose a candidate other than the first place finisher.

Young now faces Democrat Staci Appel, who was unopposed for her party’s nomination. The general election must be rated a toss-up and one of the top Democratic conversion opportunities in the country. Considering that Young placed fifth his only time before the voters, he will have to prove himself in the early going of this general election if he is to become a top-tier open-seat candidate.

The 3rd District is one of the most marginal political entities in the nation. Containing the Des Moines metropolitan area and traveling all the way to Council Bluffs on the Iowa-Nebraska border, the 2012 CD-3 voters supported President Obama in a 51-47 percent spread, but then turned and voted for Rep. Tom Latham (R), 52-44 percent against fellow-Rep. Leonard Boswell (D). The two House members were forced into one district when Iowa lost a congressional seat in the 2010 reapportionment.

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