Candidates in Senate District 18’s special election are learning a delicate dance.
Lots of outside folks and groups want to get involved in a race that could alter the balance of power in the Iowa Senate. The dilemma for the candidates is how to accept help and bucks without looking like you’re losing sight of local voters’ concerns.
On Monday, Republican hopeful Cindy Golding turned down her first high-profile dance partner. GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann had planned to give Golding a boost during a Cedar Rapids campaign stop. But Golding, citing a prior “business commitment” declined to appear alongside the U.S. representative from Minnesota.
Golding and her husband run four businesses, including an organic maple syrup farm, commercial and residential real estate offices and corporate communications consulting firm. So a scheduling conflict is clearly plausible.
And it also happens to be wise politics. For one thing, Bachmann’s once-promising run is sputtering as of late. She drew only about 40 to 50 people to Monday’s midday event at the Best Western Longbranch. And Bachmann's profile as combative conservative firebrand doesn’t really fit the political profile of District 18 — a swing district that tends to elect moderates.
Both Goding and Liz Mathis, who becomes the Democratic candidate at a district convention Wednesday, also are doing some early tap dancing around an issue that’s likely to draw outside interest to the contest: same-sex marriage.
A state constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions in Iowa cleared the House but stalled in the Senate. A GOP victory in District 18 would pull Republicans into a 25-25 Senate tie, bringing the measure one vote closer to Senate action — although it’s unlikely that the amendment’s prospects improve much at 25-25.
Still, the issue is out there. But when I asked Mathis last week for her stand, she dodged.
“I tell you what, right now, I’m not going to focus on that. I’m going to focus on what’s important for the district. The kinds of things that people want to talk about right now are business, jobs and education,” Mathis said, insisting that she wants to hear what voters have to say before taking a position.
“You know what? I’ll address it when I need to address it. And when the right time comes, that’s when I’ll address it. I don’t want this election to be all about that,” Mathis said.
She’s right about economic issues being the focus. But the marriage issue isn’t going away. And at some point, Mathis will have to say how she’d vote. I think voters in the district can absorb her answer and stay focused on pocketbook stuff.
While Mathis is deploying the typical Democratic dodge — other issues are more important — Golding is using the most typical Republican marriage sidestep. She just wants to let Iowans vote.
"I think it's something that the citizens of the state ought to vote on," Golding said of the constitutional ban, which must be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies before Iowa voters could weigh in. "There has been a clamoring across the state to just have a voice. And I think, you know, which ever way it goes, the people ought to decide."
So Golding supports proposing the amendment. But does she support the actual amendment banning all same-sex unions?
"I support the people's right to voice an opinion on the amendment," Golding said.
"I have friends on both sides. I have friends who are gay couples and I have friends who are 100 percent opposed to gay couples. So I just stand on that. I believe the citizens of Iowa should have their day in the sun, their day to stand up and voice their opinion and put the whole issue to rest, up or down," Golding said.
As with Mathis, I think Golding will have to come down on one side or the other before the Nov. 8 vote.Of course, the dancing is only beginning. Interests on both sides are just getting revved up. Our Senate hopefuls are going to need sound judgment, and some sturdy shoes.