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Fallon actively recruiting primary challenger for Culver
Ed Fallon is convinced that if Democrats don’t find a credible primary challenger for Gov. Chet Culver a Republican will be living in Terrace Hill next year. So the former Democratic lawmaker from Des Moines is actively seeking willing candidates with the hope of ousting the one-term incumbent.
“I’m doing the Democratic Party a favor,” he said in an interview with The Iowa Independent. “Gov. Culver is going to lose, that is becoming more and more clear.”
Fallon said that while most people he’s talked to feel the same way about Culver, they are worried about the political risk of challenging a sitting governor. But he’s still hopeful he will find the right candidate.
“I’ve asked several people, and some haven’t said ‘no,’” Fallon said. He would not specifically name those he has asked or anyone who has shown interest, but he did point to Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and former Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey as the type of candidate he would like to see run.
“I think someone with elected experience but who is a fresh face in Iowa politics,” he said. “Someone who is willing to advance a progressive, populist agenda.”
Both Cownie and Bailey could not be reached for comment.
Recent polls have shown Culver losing to former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad by 15 percentage points or more. Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats, another GOP gubernatorial hopeful, bests Culver in the polls as well, but by a much smaller margin.
“His unpopularity is partially a reflection of a bad economy,” Fallon said. “But to think that’s the only reason is to walk with blinders on.”
Culver has managed to alienate his base, Fallon said, and without the base no Democrat can win this fall. The critique is nothing new.
Culver’s approval is at an all-time low overall, and among Democrats it has fallen to 57 percent in the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, down from 72 percent in the September. Only 37 percent of Iowans in labor union households approve of Culver’s performance in office.
In 2008, the governor angered labor unions after he vetoed a bill expanding collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees. At the time, labor leaders called the move an “out-and-out betrayal.” Unions contributed heavily to Culver’s 2006 gubernatorial victory. Since the veto, the governor has managed to patch things up with organized labor, at least publicly, although some resentment remains.
Also in 2008, Culver said if the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling and legalized same-sex marriage he would be willing to call legislators into special session to “do whatever it takes to protect marriage between a man and a woman.”
Following the court’s April ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Culver said that since the ruling did not require churches recognize the marriages he would not seek to overturn it with a constitutional amendment.
The governor’s actions following the historic floods of 2008 have angered some in Linn County, a long-time Democratic stronghold. Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman wrote last week that in eastern Iowa “Culver’s stock has been declining since autumn 2008,” pointing to the governor’s refusal to call a special session to deal with flood recovery, instead assuring residents that he had the authority to deal with the situation without lawmakers.
“When he could have sent a strong signal that the flood was worthy of a statewide, all-hands-on-deck response, he played it cautious,” Dorman wrote. “Rather than rally consensus, Culver flew solo. Unfortunately, it’s been a persistent theme of his tenure — whether it’s dealing with budget problems or taking days to react to a court ruling. Hesitation and isolation.”
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan, who has called Culver’s re-election the party’s top priority in 2010, said in his travels around the state he not heard any Democrats pushing for someone to challenge the governor.
“Everyone, not just our party’s base, is concerned,” Kiernan said. “There is a lot of anxiety and fear about the economy.”
These are not the best of times, he said, but they will get better. And Culver’s approval ratings will also get better once the governor has the opportunity to hit the campaign trail.
“Right now he’s busy being governor,” Kiernan said, adding: “Unfortunately, these are times when tough decisions have to be made, but the governor is doing what he has to do to move the state forward.”
Fallon ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006, coming in third behind Culver and former U.S. Rep. Mike Blouin in the Democratic primary. He also challenged incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell in 2008 for the 3rd District congressional seat, losing by nearly 20 points after an ugly campaign.
This is also not the first time Fallon has publicly criticized Culver. In an Op-Ed published last July, Fallon said the public has grown frustrated with Culver due to “little to no progress on key front-and-center concerns such as climate change, labor law, campaign finance and the regulation of corporate hog confinements, to name a few.”
Despite his political experience and his issues with the Culver administration, Fallon said he is not interested in running for governor again.
“There are much better people out there who should run,” he said. “I think we’ll find someone.”
That said, if he can’t find a credible opponent, Fallon will not help Culver win re-election this fall.
“I’m not going to waste my time with Chet Culver,” he said. “He’s never taken his base very seriously.”
Kiernan said it appears as though Fallon’s anger toward the governor is fueled, at least in part, because he was not able to secure a job in the Culver administration. Similar accusations were made by the governor’s staff last year. Fallon has repeatedly denied those claims.
“So, is this about what’s best for the party, or is this personal?” Kiernan said.
Liberal blogger John Deeth points out that even though Culver’s approval ratings are dismal, previous gubernatorial campaigns have seen poll numbers change dramatically, pointing to Democrat Bonnie Campbell’s 19 point lead over Branstad in 1994 and Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot’s similar lead over Tom Vilsack in 1998. Both went on to lose in November.
Besides, Deeth writes, Fallon’s efforts may be too little, too late.
“But despite Fallon’s plea, it’s really too late to launch a credible primary challenge to a sitting governor,” he said. “The Dems’ best bet is to dance with the date they picked four years ago.”
Former Des Moines School Board member Jonathan Narcisse has already declared he will run for governor but has not decided yet if it will be as a Democrat or an independent.