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June 23, 2014 10:39 AM Old-School Politics in Iowa

By Ed Kilgore

Thanks to that state’s atavistic rules governing party nominations, Republican delegates from Iowa’s 3d congressional district met over the weekend and awarded a November ballot spot to David Young, a former Chuck Grassley chief-of-staff who finished fifth in the June 3 primary. That anomalous outcome, combined with a narrative that Young was the “Establishment” candidate who defeated the first-place primary finisher, “Tea Party” favorite Brad Zaun, seems to be what national media are emphasizing.

I’d say that’s all a little overblown. Zaun took under 25% of the vote on June 3 and four other candidates (including Young at 15%) took a total of 73%, so it’s not exactly like The People’s Choice was repudiated by the convention. As for ideology, Young was one of two candidates (the other being energy executive Monte Shaw) that even an ignorant outsider like me picked in advance as probably benefiting from the unusual involvement of Gov. Terry Branstad in the whole district and state convention process (part of a successful effort to reverse the 2012 takeover of the state party by the Ron Paul Revolution). Zaun was hurt by identification with the Paulites, but was hurt even more by an exceptionally inept run against Democrat Leonard Boswell in 2010, and by a reputation for poor fundraising skills. In the end Shaw and Zaun tore each other apart going into the convention and Young sneaked through to victory on a late ballot.

This all matters nationally not only because everything that happens in Iowa manages to have some effect on presidential politics, but also because the 3d district—taken away from Boswell in 2012 by Rep. Tom Latham, who is now retiring—is one of the better House pickup opportunities for Democrats this year. We’ll wait and see if the unorthodox method of choosing the GOP nominee has any negative effect on Young in his campaign against Democrat Staci Appel.

UPDATE: Ben Jacobs has an on-the-scene account of the IA-03 convention up at Daily Beast. He argues that social conservatives, not “Establishment” types or Paulites, were in charge at the convention, in part because of low attendence. And he also suggests Shaw, not Young, was the candidate of the “Establishment.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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