‘Nothing changes’ for Democrats in Iowa governor race after Rep. Olson exit

Party’s chances rest largely on Sen. Jack Hatch of Des Moines

James Q. Lynch
Published: December 17 2013 | 4:50 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:58 am in
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“Nothing changes” is the official response to Rep. Tyler Olson’s decision to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Olson, considered by many to be the frontrunner in the race for the 2014 Democratic nomination, announced Tuesday he was ending his campaign. Two weeks ago, the four-term Iowa House member announced he and his wife, Sarah, the parents of two young children, were divorcing. In a brief statement emailed to media and supporters, Olson offered little explanation of his decision to drop out other to say “this is a family matter.”

Democrats who agreed Olson, 37, had done the right thing for his family.

“I’m disappointed because I consider Tyler a friend,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan said. “But he’s an honorable guy, and he’s done the right thing for his family.”

However, the goal for the party remains the same, Brennan said, “and I still like our chances.”

The party’s chances rest largely on Sen. Jack Hatch of Des Moines. Former state legislator Bob Krause of Des Moines and Paul Dahl of Webster City are exploring the race, but have not campaigned as actively as either Hatch or Olson.

Hatch, now the undisputed frontrunner in the Democratic race, praised Olson as a “thoughtful and substantive person who has a very has a bright future.”

“His appeal was substantial,” Hatch, 62, said. “He made me a better candidate.”

For Hatch campaign manager Grant Woodard “the landscape has changed a bit, but strategy – and the goal -- remain the same.”

Hatch, he said, was and is running against Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who is expected to formally announce re-election plans next month.

“So for us, there’s not much of a change,” Woodard said. “Our approach is that it will take a lot to beat Branstad, so we have to make the fundraising calls and build a coalition so we go into elect as strong, unified party.”

Brennan’s confident that will be the case. Noting that some labor unions, including the 40,000 member AFSCME, have endorsed Olson, he expects the party will be unified in November.

“I can’t speak for AFSCME, but I think that at end of the day, as all of organized labor, they will come together because whoever comes out of our primary will be much better to the working men and women of Iowa than the current resident of Terrace Hill” Brennan said.

The “current resident’s” campaign manager, Jake Ketzner, would take exception, but he does agree with Brennan and Woodard that “nothing changes.”

“We take every candidate very seriously,” he said. “We take nothing for granted, and should the governor seek re-election we will work very hard every day until Election Day to ensure we are successful.”

With the primary still more than six months away, it’s not too late for someone else to enter the Democratic race.

Brennan doesn’t expect more candidates, “but I don’t really have anyway of knowing.”

One name mentioned as a possible candidate, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Tuesday he will not enter the race.

Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids had flirted with running for governor, but bowed out saying that if Olson ran, he wouldn’t.

Asked if Olson’s decision changed anything, Hogg said his only concern was for the Olson family and “the political implications can be dealt with later.”

Sen. Jeff Danielson of Cedar Falls said many Democrats would like more choices, but he wasn’t aware of anyone stepping forward.

“But there’s always folks laying in the weeds in politics,” he said.

Although there’s time to mount a campaign, Brennan said it’s a “huge lift.”

“Still, the general (election) isn’t until November and there are a lot of tales to be told before November,” he said.

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