Labor Shifts Support in Iowa Democratic Rematch

Monica Vernon is favored over Pat Murphy in 1st District primary next week

Monica Vernon has the backing of much of the Democratic establishment in next week's primary in Iowa's 1st District. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Monica Vernon has the backing of much of the Democratic establishment in next week's primary in Iowa's 1st District. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted June 1, 2016 at 6:15am

In the Democratic primary for Iowa’s 1st District, the party establishment and some local labor groups have moved away from the 2014 nominee, rallying instead behind the woman he beat in the primary two years ago.  

Pat Murphy  won 2014’s Democratic primary by 13 percent. But the second-place finisher, Monica Vernon, has the upper hand in this year’s primary, now less than a week away.  

Murphy lost that 2014 general election to Republican Rep. Rod Blum by 2 points. Blum is one of this year’s most vulnerable House incumbents  in his Democratic-leaning district.  

The Democratic establishment  has fallen in line behind Vernon this year as the party’s best chance of knocking off Blum.  


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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included Vernon, and not Murphy, in its “Red to Blue”  program, which highlights competitive candidates for potential donors. EMILY’s List, End Citizens United and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, among other Democratic lawmakers, have backed Vernon.   

Vernon has vastly more money than Murphy. She ended the pre-primary reporting period on May 18 with $421,000  compared to Murphy’s $46,000  — though she also had more cash  on hand than Murphy  at this point in the race two years ago.  

Besides losing early establishment backing to his opponent, Murphy has also lost some of the local labor support that he had the last time around.  

The local Great Plains Laborers’ District Council and the Ironworkers Local 89 endorsed Murphy in the 2014 primary. This year they’ve gotten behind Vernon.   


‘14 Losers Looking for Second Chance in ‘16


Several labor organizations who backed Murphy in the general election two years ago — either through donations or by recommending him as a candidate — have thrown their weight behind Vernon in this year’s primary.  

A few labor groups who endorsed Murphy during the 2014 primary have opted not to make an endorsement this time. One of those groups is the Iowa AFL-CIO.  

“None of the candidates could make a two-thirds requirement,” said Iowa AFL-CIO president Ken Sagar. Candidates are required to secure two-thirds backing from the organization’s members to win an endorsement.  

But last week, Sagar started getting questions whether his organization had endorsed Murphy this year too after a Facebook post from the candidate.  

Murphy shared a memory on his personal Facebook page from his campaign Facebook account. The memory included a video from 2014 promoting his endorsement from the Iowa AFL-CIO and a number of other labor groups.  


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“You have to look really close to see the date of the video is May 22, 2014 in the lower left corner. If you did not see that, you might think the video is from 2016, implying the endorsement of the candidate by a host of organizations in the video,” Sagar wrote in his own Facebook post .  

“Many of the organizations have not endorsed in this election cycle and if they have, some have endorsed another candidate or have chosen, like the AFL-CIO, to make no endorsement,” Sagar wrote. “Kind of misleading, isn’t it?”   

Sagar said he asked Murphy to take down the Facebook post, but Murphy said no.  

As a former teamster, Murphy has his own strong labor connections. Two of his children are union members. IBEW Local 704 and Letter Carriers Local 257 have endorsed Murphy, according to his campaign website .   


Now a Democrat, Once a Republican?


Murphy has tried to cast himself as “the Democrat” in the race. He’s attacked Vernon for being a registered Republican until 2009  and for previously donating to GOP candidates.  

The winner of the June 7 primary will take on Blum in the general election. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the race Tilts Democrat . President Barack Obama carried the district by double digits in 2008 and 2012.  

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