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Ballot Debacle Shakes Up Democratic House Primary in Iowa

One of the top candidates dropped out of the race Wednesday night

Iowa Rep. David Young is a Democratic target in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Iowa Rep. David Young is a Democratic target in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic primary in Iowa’s 3rd District looks quite different Thursday morning. One of the top candidates dropped out of the race Wednesday night over an issue with signatures required to secure a spot on the ballot, potentially shaking up the contest. 

With businesswoman Theresa Greenfield ending her campaign, the Democratic field of candidates to take on two-term Republican incumbent David Young is down to three. At one point, seven contenders were running or considering jumping in. 

“I think it’s a very different situation this morning,” one Iowa Democratic consultant said Thursday of the primary. “And my guess is all their campaigns are changing their strategy because most people were preparing to go to convention.”

In Iowa, if a candidate does not garner 35 percent of the vote in the June 5 primary, the nominee is decided at a party convention. That means candidates also have to court delegates in preparation for that possibility, while also running a primary campaign. With fewer candidates to split the primary vote, the convention becomes less of a possibility. 

Uncertainty has hung over the southwest Iowa race for the past two weeks as Democrats decided whether Greenfield could still compete in the primary. The night before the March 16 filing deadline, she discovered her campaign manager had forged some of the signatures that accompanied her candidate petition, according to the Des Moines Register. So she withdrew her petition and scrambled to collect all new signatures to refile in less than 24 hours. But in the end, she fell 198 signatures short of the 1,790 required. 

Democrats have since been debating whether they could or should place her on the primary ballot anyway. On Monday, the 3rd District Democratic Committee voted to do so. But on Wednesday evening, the state’s Democratic attorney general, Tom Miller, said Greenfield could not legally be placed on the ballot because her petition’s signatures did not meet the requirements.

Greenfield dropped out of the race Wednesday night.

“This is a tough pill to swallow for all of our friends and supporters who worked so hard the past two weeks to put my name on the ballot, including what was really a difficult and courageous vote of support on Monday by the Third District Central Committee of the Iowa Democratic Party,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “But I accept the Attorney General’s decision.”

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Then there were three

Greenfield was one of the leading candidates in the race, but the Iowa Democratic consultant said the remaining three Democrats would all be tough opponents for Young, who was first elected in 2014.

Eddie Mauro has led the field in fundraising so far, raising $376,000 last year, according to end-of-year campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Mauro heads an insurance company and coached baseball and football in the Des Moines area. He is also the founding member of social justice group in Iowa.

Mauro said in a brief phone interview that his campaign was still preparing for the possibility of a convention, and he believed he had the strongest message and the most resources to communicate with voters.

Cindy Axne, a small business owner and former state employee, raised $264,000 last year, per FEC records. Her campaign declined to comment on Greenfield’s exit, but one national Democratic strategist noted she is now the only woman in the primary.

“This field had to whittle down at some point,” the strategist said.

“It’s very unfortunate,” the strategist said of Greenfield dropping out. “But now to have just one woman, that may open up a path for Axne.”

Also running is Pete D’Alessandro, who coordinated Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Iowa. Sanders has endorsed D’Alessandro, whose campaign did not return requests for comment and raised $85,000 in 2017.

GOP confidence

Some Republicans have said Greenfield was the preferred candidate of national Democrats, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had not publicly weighed in on the race. None of the candidates were listed on its “Red to Blue” program, which gives promising challengers additional access to committee resources.

The Iowa consultant and the national strategist both described the remaining candidates as strong contenders against Young, whom Democrats believe they have a shot at unseating thanks, in part, to possible suburban dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress.

Trump carried the 3rd District by 3 points, though voters there backed President Barack Obama both in 2012 and 2008. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

Republicans are confident Young will prevail. He won his first race in 2014 by 11 points and re-election two years later by 14. 

“I’m sure the national Democratic Party is sad that their handpicked candidate couldn’t even get on the ballot, but nothing has changed in this race on the Republican side,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said. “David Young remains in a very strong position to win reelection.”

As for Greenfield’s next move now that she’s out of the race? “Make banana bread,” she said.

Correction 2:33 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the year Rep. David Young was first elected to the 3rd District.

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