My Turn: What Brown can learn from Iowa primary
The Republican Senate primary in Iowa is over and the results are stunning.
The winner is state senator and National Guard Lt. Col. Joni Ernst, with an astonishing 56.2 percent in a five-candidate primary. Conservative talk show host and professor Sam Clovis came in second with 18 percent. What is most amazing is the third place finish of Mark Jacobs, with 16.8 percent.
Jacobs was born in Iowa but lived in Texas most of his life. In Texas, he took over a troubled energy company and “fixed” it. When he was done, most employees had been fired and the company stock was worth very little. But Jacobs made a bundle and decided to move to Iowa and run for the Senate nomination.
Iowa has an open Senate race with the retirement of liberal Democrat Tom Harkin, so this was an attractive contest to enter. Jacobs shoveled a ton of money into his campaign, outspending his four opponents by at least 3-1.
I have written about the risk of self-funded campaigns, which is basically that when you fund your own contest you have only one vote. If you have several thousand people give you $5, they will vote for you because they have “invested” in your candidacy.
Jacobs also made a point of the fact that he was not a politician and would bring private business experience to government. Apparently that did not sell. Moving to Iowa was seen as “carpetbagging.”
Although his opponents were fairly gentle in their attacks on him many, MANY Republicans with whom I spoke and had coffee felt that way about him. That hurt. Jacobs also was devastated by two very clever, albeit controversial ads by Ernst.
The first ad, which immediately went viral, starts, “I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington I’ll know how to cut pork.” In the second ad, the candidate, wearing a leather jacket, rumbles up to a shooting range on a Harley. She then proceeds to shoot Obamacare. She also harvested some endorsements that ranged from Sara Palin to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mitt Romney to the NRA.
These ads were dynamite! They propelled Ernst to visibility and name recognition, and showed an attractive, confident candidate and made the case for her.
New Hampshire also has an interesting Senate GOP primary.
Like Jacobs, Scott Brown is an out-of-state candidate running for office. This week we found out that Brown also has a “business connection” like that of Jacobs. As we recently found out, Brown’s business connection also seems to not be an asset.
The company, based in Palm Beach, Fla., is Global Digital Solutions Inc., and Brown serves on its “advisory board.” As the Boston Globe reported, GDSI does not yet have any products and was founded as a beauty supply company before shifting to wireless data.
As one of my Republican friends in New Hampshire said, “They basically were a hair spray company!”
The company “has only a virtual office, no current products, no revenue, no patents, no trademarks, no manufacturing facilities, and no experience developing weapons, according to its most recent corporate filings,” according to the Globe.
The company also has some business practices and stock trading that has come under scrutiny. While an imperfect comparison, there are some parallels between the failed Jacobs Senate bid in Iowa in the June 3 primary and Brown’s Senate bid in New Hampshire.
While Republicans in New Hampshire generally feel that Brown is the only Republican who can beat incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, the Jacobs candidacy suggests Brown faces some bumps on the road. Carpetbagging sometimes works (see Hillary Clinton in New York), but it can also be a burden.
(Steffen Schmidt is a professor of political science at Iowa State University.)