After five months in the race for the Republican nomination in Iowa’s U.S. House 1st District, state Rep. Walt Rogers is calling it quits.
Rogers, a two-term Iowa House member from heavily Democratic Black Hawk County, said he thought he could balance representing House 60 in Cedar Falls and the congressional campaign. However, the campaign and fundraising proved to be too time-consuming.
“It became apparent that I must choose between the two,” he said Thursday afternoon at the Statehouse, a day after he missed a vote because he was attending a campaign fundraiser in Dubuque, 200 miles from the Capitol.
Rogers, 52, said he will file for re-election to his Iowa House seat and “refocus my efforts on promoting smaller, smarter government” at the state level.
Rogers also acknowledged that for a variety of reasons fundraising was not going as well as hoped.
“The last five months I’ve worked the hardest I ever have on a campaign,” he said, “but when we analyzed our path to success, our fundraising numbers indicated it would be tough.”
That, he said, probably is a reflection on him, the state of the Republican Party and the 20-county northeast Iowa District that has been in Democratic hands since 2006.
His decision leaves Rod Blum of Dubuque, Steve Rathje of Cedar Rapids and Gail Boliver of Marshalltown competing for 1st District GOP nomination.
Rogers believes the 1st District is “still a winnable district if everything would come together.”
Rogers’ announcement came as a surprise to Sam Roecker of the Cedar Rapids attorney Dave O’Brien’s campaign for the Democratic nomination.
“Rogers ran a strong campaign and is clearly passionate about public service,” he said, “but at the end of the day, this is a heavily Democratic district and voters are going to support another progressive Democrat to carry on Bruce Braley's record of accomplishment.”
Braley, a four-term Democrat, is running for the seat held by Sen. Tom Harkin.
Democrats hold a 33 percent to 27 percent advantage in voter registration with 40 percent of 1st District voters self-identifying as “no party.”
Brenda Kole, who manages Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon’s Democratic campaign, wasn’t surprised by Rogers’ decision.
“Rogers clearly saw the writing on the wall,” she said. “The last thing we need is yet another my-way-or-the-highway Tea Party Republican in Congress. It’s time we had someone who understands the middle-class struggle, who will get something done.”
First District Central Committee member Loras Schulte from Benton County believes the basis exists for a strong GOP showing in the off-year election, which typically favors the party not in control of the White House. Still, he wasn’t surprised by Rogers’ exit.
“With Walt, my sense would be that he was up against a couple of guys with considerable experience putting together campaigns in this district,” Schulte said. Blum and Rathje, both who have run unsuccessfully in the past, “have quite a bit of grassroots support and Rogers was having a hard time getting the party people” you need to win a primary.
He called Rogers’ decision to stay in the Iowa House “a positive for Republicans.”
Rogers is not the first Republican to take a pass on the open-seat race that has attracted five Democratic contenders. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, was expected to run, then stepped back. Paul Pate, former lawmaker, Cedar Rapids mayor and secretary of state, announced he was running, then changed course and is now running for a return to the secretary of state’s office.
Rogers said he’s not ready to endorse, but left open that possibility.
Blum’s spokesman called it an honor to share the campaign trail with Rogers.
“I'm looking forward to working with Walt towards a successful 2014 for our party,” said Matt Schneider.
The Rathje campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.