Iowa Public Television


Jerry Crawford (D-Des Moines) and Doug Gross (R-Des Moines)

posted on May 22, 2009

Borg: Insider insight. As Iowa's democratic and republican parties scan the political horizon looking toward 2010's mid-term elections they're seeking guidance from experienced leaders. A conversation with two party pros, democrat Jerry Crawford and republican Doug Gross on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association ... for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa ... the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities ... enrolling 25% of the total Iowa higher education enrollment and conferring 44% of the baccalaureate and 40% of the graduate degrees in the state. More information is available at The Iowa Hospital Association ... supporting the missions and visions of Iowa's 117 community hospitals. The Iowa Hospital Association ... we care about Iowa's health.

On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, May 22nd edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Winning elections happens well before Election Day. Winning means using the weeks, months, even years before the polls open recruiting candidates, defining apparent and emerging issues and regularly taking voters' political pulse and, of course, raising money. It's not glamorous work but it is the essential difference between winning and losing. It's the work going on right now preparing for November 2010's off-year election. That's why today we're talking with two experienced political leaders. Republican Doug Gross is a former candidate for governor after serving as top aide to Governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad. Democrat Jerry Crawford has chaired Polk County's Democratic Party and he has chaired the Iowa caucus campaigns for six democratic presidential caucus candidates. Gentlemen, you've been here before, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Gross: Thanks.

Crawford: Thank you, Dean, good to be here.

Borg: And across the Iowa Press table Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Gazette Political Writer James Lynch of Cedar Rapids.

Lynch: Doug, let's start with you. Next year Chet Culver is going to be up for re-election. He's a first termer, he's governing in a poor economy, he's had to make some tough decisions and arguably some bad decisions. Why are republicans having such a tough time finding a candidate to challenge him?

Gross: Well, actually we've got a lot of people that are very interested in running against Chet Culver and for good reason. You'll hear from Jerry, I'm sure, that we haven't beat an incumbent governor in Iowa since 1962 so incumbents have an inordinate advantage. However, in this case I think Chet Culver is very vulnerable. We actually did some surveys and we looked at swing voters, those people that decide elections that are in the middle, and of those people in the middle only 19% want to see Chet Culver re-elected and as a result of that we're going to have a very vigorous primary.

Glover: Mr. Crawford?

Crawford: I've had a chance to look at Doug's poll, I see a lot of polls and here's what I know for sure -- Chet Culver is in a very, very strong position going into 2010. First, he's in strong position because of the job he's done governing during a very difficult time, the crisis of the flood and now the economic crisis that is a national crisis. I see from national polling that his strength is as good as maybe the top seven governors in America, republican or democrat. We'll talk all day long about Chet Culver's standing, Doug, with independent voters because he's not going to run against some unknown person, he's not going to run against Abraham Lincoln, he's going to have to run against a back bencher in your party. Here's some specifics -- he runs 17 points ahead of Vander Plaats among independent voters, he runs 23 points ahead of Vaudt with independent voters and he runs 24% ahead of Steve King with independent voters. So, put a real person out there. I notice you didn't release the fav, unfav on your actual candidates.

Gross: That's an interesting thing, Jerry, the three people that you cited none of those will likely be our nominee. I don't think Bob Vander Plaats will be our nominee. Bob leads with sort of the Christian social message. That's fine but if you lead with that it's likely you can't be a competitive candidate frankly in a general election in Iowa. Steve King, I suspect Steve King will not run. David Vaudt has indicated that he isn't going to run. I think Dave should -- he's going to run for re-election an auditor which I think is great for the state of Iowa because he's a watchdog for the treasury. We've got lots of people, Mike, that want to run.

Glover: Put a name on it.

Gross: I'll put lots of names, you've got Rod Robertson, we've got Jerry Behn that wants to run, we've got Mike Wayland who wants to run, we've got Craig Lang who wants to run, we've got Jeff Bullock who is the president of the University of Dubuque who wants to run. We've got lots of folks out there who are interested in running and frankly right now are all in the process of jockeying and testing the waters to see whether or not they can be a viable candidate.

Glover: What about Doug Gross?

Gross: What about me? This is not a Dick Cheney search.

Glover: You've ran before, you talked about it again. Are you ruling that out?

Gross: Yes, I am. I'm not going to run. I think I can best serve my party, I think I can best serve the people of Iowa if I help us beat Chet Culver and that's what I plan on doing.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, I won't as you if you're going to run because you already have a governor but what do you think of that list of names we just heard? Is there anyone on that list of names that can beat Chet Culver?

Crawford: I think there are some very honorable people on that list of names, some of them I've never even heard of, probably the best known name on the list Doug just gave us is Mike Wayland who got beat by twelve points by Bruce Braley when no one had ever heard of Bruce Braley and unless I'm mistaken Mike moved his company, Heartland of Iowa, to Illinois. Bring him on.

Gross: There are other people too, Jeff Lamberti is interested in running, very seriously considering it, Jeff is former president of the senate. There are a number of business leaders frankly that are looking at it right now. I think we're going to have a very vigorous debate in the Republican Party over the next couple of months about who our candidate ought to be. I think we'll have a very vigorous primary which I think is good because that will help us boost our voter registration numbers and I think we'll beat Chet Culver in 2010.

Borg: When are some of these people going to emerge? As Jerry Crawford said, he hadn't even heard of some of them, so when do you expect there's going to be some announcement?

Gross: I think what you'll see, Dean, is over the course of the summer a lot of these people will be testing the waters, talking to their fundraisers, visiting with a number of people that are key from an organizational standpoint in the party. Come fall, September, you'll start seeing names formally announced.

Glover: I talked to somebody yesterday that a former speaker of the house, Chris Rants, you didn't mention him.

Gross: I should have, I'm sorry. There are so many I forgot all of them. Chris Rants is another one. I think Chris is running. Chris Rants is running. Bill Northey I think is interested although I suspect Bill probably won't at the end of the day. But there are a number of people like that, that are interested in doing so.

Lynch: Jerry, let's look at the other big match or big race on the ticket next year and that is for the U.S. Senate. Right now you could argue that Iowa is clearly a blue state, democrats have a huge voter registration edge, they've got momentum from 2008. Where is the challenger?

Crawford: I'm not sure that there will be a significant challenge mounted. I haven't seen any indication of it yet. I know Bob Krause is talking about running and I think that would be an uphill climb. A number of names have been mentioned but I haven't heard any of them indicate themselves that they're interested in doing this. Some people think Mike Blouin from Dubuque could do a very good job in this kind of a race. Certainly everyone thinks Bruce Braley could give it a heck of a shot but he doesn't really have any incentive because both of these senate seats will be open sooner rather than later, all things being equal, and so he can sit patiently. People have talked about Jerry Huser as a potential candidate but I haven't heard it from any of them.

Glover: How big a problem is that for you? You've got this 800 pound gorilla named Chuck Grassley running around, raising money, signing up voters, doing the campaign without major opposition. Isn't that a problem for democrats up and down the ballot?

Crawford: I'm not sure how big a problem it is. It wasn't a problem particularly for the republicans when Tom Harkin did exactly the same thing. Sometimes it's just wise, unless a really legitimate and serious candidate emerges or can develop momentum, I'm not sure it's appropriate for the party to focus its resources on a race where it's that difficult.

Glover: Mr. Gross, there are people who would say it was a problem for republicans when Tom Harkin did exactly that. How big an advantage is it for republicans?

Gross: Obviously he's on the top of the ticket so it helps when we have somebody like Chuck Grassley who I think will overwhelmingly win an election, probably 70% plus in terms of the vote. When people make that their first selection it helps you down ballot so I think it is a plus and the democrats need to be concerned about it. At the same time though, Mike, to be fair we've got the governor on that ballot, it's going to be a very, very important ballot, we have all the congressmen on the ballot and the house and the senate are up for grabs so I think that people will pick and choose as they go down the ballot.

Lynch: Jerry, you mentioned Bruce Braley, sort of an up and comer in the party, what about Tom Vilsack or even a Chet Culver as a challenger to Senator Grassley?

Crawford: Chet Culver is very energized in doing the job he's doing right now, he will not run against Chuck Grassley this time. Tom Vilsack I think is having the time of his life as Secretary of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., I don't expect either one of them to look in that direction.

Borg: Let me go back to Chet Culver for a moment but also the democratic chances in 2010. You have some strange relations between the governor and organized labor. How big a problem is that going to be with labor maybe pulling back on some of their enthusiasm for democratic candidates because of their strained relations with what Governor Culver has done to some of the legislation?

Crawford: I understand, look, we have a very big tent right now and it's because we're in control of every single section of government, the Governor's Office, the House of Representatives, the State Senate, the same thing is true in Washington and with a big tent comes squabbles within the family. I will suggest, Dean, I think that the relationship today between organized labor and Chet Culver is as strong as it has been since the day he took office. I think there's been understandably some frustration inside organized labor about the inability to pass prevailing wage in the legislature, the inability to pass doctor's choice in the legislature, those are understandable frustrations and I thought those were two very moderate pieces of legislation that deserved approval and the governor supported both of those but they didn't get out of the house of representatives. So, I'm not sure the frustration is directed at Chet Culver as much, perhaps, as at the legislature.

Glover: Mr. Gross, we've asked Mr. Crawford to look at the base of the Democratic Party, let's look at the base of the Republican Party. What is the role of the Christian right in the Republican Party?

Gross: Well, if you look at how we can win elections, Mike, we need to be a bigger party than we are. We lose in elections because we're not getting 50 plus 1 and the social conservatives or the Christian right are an important part of our base but as part of our winning strategy they're about 12% of what we need to get to 51. So, obviously they can't direct everything in terms of our candidate or we won't be successful. The key for republicans to win is to focus on the issues the democrats have handed and the governor have handed us on a silver platter.

Glover: And those are?

Gross: Taxes, spending and borrowing, it's not any more complicated than that. The people of Iowa are overwhelmingly conservative, fiscally conservative and if republican candidates will lead with those fiscal conservative issues they'll win.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, how do you counter that?

Crawford: Well, two things. First, I studied Doug's poll that he commissioned very, very closely and I agree with his results, for example, the same sex marriage is not going to be an issue that moves votes from democrats to republicans. Secondly, when Doug wants to talk about debt or financial condition we'll have that discussion all day long. Iowa is one of two states in the nation to have a AAA bond rating. We had the 48th lowest debt of any state in the nation per capita, it's gone to 47th with the creation of the I-Jobs program to keep people working in our state. Chet Culver says we have to work our way out of this economic circumstance, he's exactly right, that's the hopeful vision, it's hope from the democrats and Chet Culver, it's nope day in and day out from the republicans, it's just not going to work. Where's the plan?

Gross: The Republican Party needs to be and is the party of opportunity. The democrats are trying to suggest that we just simply say no. I agree that if all we do is say no, Jerry, it won't work. What we need to do in order to be the party of opportunity we need to open our doors, not to close them. And so we've got things we've got to learn, there's things we've got to clean up in our house in order to win this election. But given the issue environment because Iowans don't believe you borrow your way to prosperity, they never have and they never will. Chet Culver made that his preeminent feature of this legislative session. If we focus on those issues there's a path to victory for republicans to capture the house, make significant gains in the senate and win the governorship.

Borg: You seemed to indicate, Doug Gross, a moment ago that 2010 will be a pocketbook election and he was talking about borrowing and things like that. A lot will depend also, won't it Mr. Crawford, on whether or not some of the economic stimulus enacted by the legislature under Governor Culver's leadership is going to be kicked in and really effective and putting money in people's pockets by November 2010?

Crawford: That's correct and this governor has been focused like a laser on jobs, his I-Jobs bill, the wind energy work he's done in making Iowa truly the nation's leader in wind energy, the work he did with Google in Council Bluffs, the work he did with IBM in Dubuque. This is all about making sure Iowans have good jobs and the ability to support their family. Just take a step back for a second though -- again, referring to Doug's own poll, Doug's poll showed that Iowans see the republican party as a backward looking party and arrogant party. It said that the Democratic Party was the party of the future, the party of reform, the party willing to fight for children and for seniors. Ask yourself this -- how do they have a sea change to change the brand dramatically, pick one of these unknown candidates for governor, do all the infrastructure, organizing and fundraising you have to do and mount a campaign against somebody with a record as good as Chet Culver's? I don't see how it happens.

Glover: And, Mr. Gross, take a look at your party. It seems to me that at this moment in history your party is dominated by the religious right, Christian conservatives who want to focus on social issues and aren't that hot about these economic issues. How do you change that?

Gross: Well, Jerry talked about brand issues and we do have some brand issues, for example, they don't think we're open and welcoming, they don't think we're reformist, they don't think we're the party of the future, those are significant handicaps that our party has right now and the result of frankly the party focusing too much on the narrow part of its base and not focusing on a big tent which include the fiscal issues.

Glover: How do you solve that?

Gross: How do we solve that? We're already solving it, we're in the process of solving it, we'd like dynamic new leadership in the legislature, we've done a great job during this session of focusing on the fiscal issues, we elected new leadership in the party who are doing the same thing, we've got new leadership at the county level that is focusing on the same thing. And, Mike, the most important thing we can do is recruit the right kind of candidates, I agree with Jerry. The key to winning elections is recruiting candidates that will focus on those issues and frankly we're in the process of doing that. But it's a lot easier to do it when Chet Culver bonds for almost a billion dollars, puts us almost a billion dollars in the hole from a spending standpoint and proposes to raise our taxes, that makes it a lot easier.

Crawford: It would have been irresponsible for him not to do that. If he hadn't done that then he should have been thrown out of office. Just one example, he bonded for in part $100 million to do building repair at the University of Iowa. That received a $586 million match from the federal government. If we had left that money on the table with the federal government and not drawn it down with that better than five to one match that would have been embarrassing for our state and it would have been bad fiscal management.

Gross: The issue on the stimulus, Dean, is very serious because what happened is the legislature took that stimulus and the governor took that stimulus money and they used it to cover up the structural deficit problems we have facing the state. They use one-time money for ongoing expenditures. You've heard that from David Vaudt a few times. As a result of that we face a cliff, it's going to drop off this table and you're going to have a couple thousand state employees whose jobs are going to be threatened next fiscal year because there's no way to fund them and they failed to deal with those fundamental problems.

Borg: When will that come to fruition?

Gross: That will happen right around the time of the election, Dean. That's why I think 2010 is set up to be a very good year for republicans.

Lynch: I think we'll probably hear those arguments again and again before the election but let's talk about another election, we've got five congressmen up for re-election. Is there any reason to think they're not safe?

Gross: I don't know of any of the congressmen -- I think Leonard Boswell will likely face a pretty stiff opponent, he has before as well and succeeded. The question is how long can Leonard hang on but I think he'll face a very tough opponent. Mike Mahaffey, for example, is talking about running. If Mike runs that will be very, very tough for Leonard Boswell. The other ones I think are relatively safe.

Glover: One of the issues that republicans and democrats face every four years is Iowa's lead off precinct caucuses. This time around it's a republican show. Will Iowa be first? What are the dangers of the caucus?

Gross: We have to be first, Mike, according to the rules of the party. John McCain did do that for us up in Minneapolis last year during the convention so we will be first. Right now people are starting to stir, again, like swallows to Capistrano they're starting to come back to Iowa. But we already had George Pataki in town and I think he has some interest in it, George is an interesting guy, did a great job as Governor of New York. We've got John Enson who is head of the senatorial committee from Nevada going to spend some time in northwest Iowa, an interesting place to be if you're interested in the caucuses, that's where the republican stronghold is, we're starting to see some activity already.

Glover: And what kind of a problem do you face -- there are some who suggest that Iowa will be first but the Republican Party has shifted so far to the right it's a handy excuse for a lot of candidates to skip past Iowa.

Gross: Mike, I'm concerned about that. Again, it's not that we don't want social conservatives and not that our candidates shouldn't be social conservatives, the question is should we lead with that issue, should that be our primary issue? It should not be if we want to win elections. There is concern that if just a handful of social conservatives dominate our caucuses there will be candidates who skip Iowa, that will not be good for the Iowa caucuses and I'm hopeful that won't happen.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, what happens in the democratic side? What can you do to help keep Iowa first in this whole process?

Crawford: Well, I don't think we have heavy lifting to do this time unlike last time because Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses and he is in charge of the party apparatus and Iowa will continue to be first and I'm sure New Hampshire's primary will continue to be first as well. I do agree with Doug about republicans starting to visit. When George Pataki tells me he's going to be seeing more of me you know the game is on.

Glover: When we look at Iowa's precinct caucuses, Mr. Crawford, what can you do to encourage Obama to keep Iowa active, to keep Iowa engaged and do all that?

Crawford: I think the state of Iowa and Barack Obama have a love affair of the heart and it's not going to go away. If you look at the number of people that are in his administration from Iowa, we've already mentioned Tom Vilsack obviously, Jackie Norris is Michelle Obama's chief of staff after running the Obama caucus campaign. Iowa and Obama are as thoroughly and convincingly and permanently intertwined as any two entities could be.

Borg: Do you have, Doug, a problem too with the Obama organizing machine that came in and organized a lot of young people into the democratic registration here in Iowa? Isn't that an obstacle for you to overcome?

Gross: I think one of the fundamental issues for our party going forward, Dean, is how we attract young people, the 18-35 year old voter. Barack Obama did a wonderful job of energizing, enthusing that particular segment of the electorate and that's why the voter registration for democrats exceed us now by about 110,000, it's largely because of that, they did a tremendous job of that in terms of how they communicated with them, Twittered and tweeted and all those sorts of things.

Borg: Is that a one-time phenomenon though and does that have staying power particularly at that age group?

Gross: Here's the problem we face, the presidential election everyone is so focused on that, people that otherwise don't get involved in politics, they're so focused on a presidential election and we had a candidate was 70, some people thought was closer to 80. They had somebody who was 47, some people thought closer to 40. As a result of that the perception of the party is the democrats are with the young people and the republicans with the old. We have to become the party of opportunity, to be a party of opportunity you have to open your doors to all, we have to be more tolerant of people if they have views that aren't consistent with ours, we have to be socially willing to accept people that don't necessarily agree with our views, that will be essential to getting young people in our party.

Glover: Are there any republicans that are willing to do that? I don't see it.

Gross: We're in the process of doing it as we speak.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, let's look at what happened in the last election and how you can translate that into the next election. Barack Obama came in, he energized a whole bunch of people who don't typically turn out, I'm thinking about the young people that Mr. Gross mentioned, how do you keep those people involved? I don't see Chet Culver generating the same level of enthusiasm as Barack Obama did.

Crawford: Well, again, I think the enthusiasm factor you'll see it after there is an opponent from this list that we heard about earlier today.

Gross: We'll see who has the last laugh, Jerry.

Crawford: I think one real advantage that democrats all over the country have is that young voters are very transient. Doug's children travel overseas, my children travel overseas and here's what is going on overseas, the view of America has skyrocketed since Barack Obama took office, we have friends all over the world now in places where we had scorn when George Bush left office. That has a very profound impact on young people when their friends go overseas and come back and talk about how differently people feel now. Barack Obama is the brand of the Democratic Party and that helps democrats at every single level.

Borg: I want you to assess, now that you're bragging about him here, assess what happened this week with Congress rebuffing him on providing funds to close Guantanamo Bay.

Crawford: Well, I think that Obama is looking for the middle ground on this issue and I think he's wise to do so. We can not forget on the one hand the horror that people who are imprisoned in some significant number at Guantanamo rendered onto our country. These are people who are completely devoid of any basic human instinct of decency. Conversely, what the prior administration has been engaged in with torture and water boarding and the rest was absolutely unconscionable, it's probably one of the key reasons for the shift in the view of America worldwide since he came in. So, keep America safe, that's Barack Obama's number one job, he's going to do that and he signaled that in this decision making. But at the same time conduct our affairs in a way that is much more palatable around the world.

Gross: It's one thing to win in Paris, it's another thing to win in Peoria and I suspect the election in 2010 is going to be about Peoria. Is Caterpillar going to be rebounding economically? Are they going to be continuing to lay people off? The young people that I deal with on a day-to-day basis were the first people laid off, all those people are just out of college, just out of high school were the first people that lost their jobs. If they don't have a reasonable prospect of getting good paying jobs to pay off their debts by election time Barack Obama will have a price to pay.

Crawford: Which is exactly why I-Jobs was exactly the right thing for our state to do.

Glover: Will democrats pick up seats in this mid-term election?

Crawford: Are you talking about in the legislature or the Congress?

Glover: Both.

Crawford: Well, in the legislature I actually have sort of a contrarian view. It seems -- we picked up all those seats in 2006 to take control and if the republicans were going to beat those people I think 2008 was the year to do it. I think we could actually pick up seats in 2010 because I don't know which democrats are vulnerable and you've got Chris Rants and Doug Strike and others leaving on the republican side, might lose a seat or two in the senate though I've learned never, ever bet against Mike Gronstal.

Gross: I think we'll likely gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 20, 25 seats. It will be difficult to pick up any seats in the U.S. Senate, frankly if you look at the people that are up it will be difficult to do, difficult to get a take away, maybe one or two at the most. I think we'll take control of the Iowa House largely because of the work Kraig Paulsen and his team is doing in recruiting candidates and focusing on the key issues. I think we can make some gains in the Iowa Senate because the democrats have far more people up, vulnerable people up than republicans do we'll make some gains there, probably not enough to take control in 2010.

Borg: We only have 30 seconds left, is it going to be tough in this strained economy to raise money?

Gross: I don't think it will be for republicans because I think republicans understand more than ever the impact of what Jerry said before, democrats controlling everything. As a result their taxes are threatened and spending has gone haywire.

Borg: Jerry?

Crawford: I can just tell you that Chet Culver's fundraising is going extraordinarily well both at the state level and as an officer of the Democratic Governor's Association he's in full swing.

Borg: Thanks so much for spending time with us today. On our next edition of Iowa Press, Iowa Governor Chet Culver will be here and he'll head the democratic ticket as we've been talking in the 2010 election and we'll be questioning him next week about guiding state government through money challenges while his new programs are reviving Iowa's economy. You'll see that conversation with Governor Culver at the usual Iowa Press airtimes, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association ... for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa ... the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities ... enrolling 25% of the total Iowa higher education enrollment and conferring 44% of the baccalaureate and 40% of the graduate degrees in the state. More information is available at The Iowa Hospital Association ... supporting the missions and visions of Iowa's 117 community hospitals. The Iowa Hospital Association ... we care about Iowa's health.

Tags: Iowa politics