Election 2020

Republicans see opportunity in Iowa 2nd District

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Tim Borchardt: 'A true citizen legislator'

Libertarianism is the foundation of Tim Borchardt’s GOP bid for Congress. He professes alignment with incumbent Republican leaders, then distinguishes himself this way: “I just want to see results.”

That means:

• Less talk about healthcare philosophies and more action to drive down prices to consumers;

• Blunt talk on abortion. “I’m adamantly pro-life. I don’t want to tell women how to control their bodies. I just want them to take control of their bodies before pregnancy.”

• Refusing to spend more than government takes in: “I would like to work our way back to a balanced budget. Everybody’s talking about free money. My kids’ credit  card can’t take any more of this free money.”

He aligns with traditional Republican planks against gun control. He cheers President Trump’s “disruption” in Washington.

“I support him 100 percent. Sometimes he shoots from the hip or the lip, as we all do. He went to Washington to disrupt things, and he’s doing a great job. Before him, politicians on both sides wound up taking turns being in charge.”

Borchardt works for a cash-advance business in Iowa City, which he described as a  “second job” after parenting. His wife,  Bounmy Thephomhak, works full time at West Liberty foods, so Borchardt said he typically brings their two kids, Timmy and Poi, to school, choir and band practices.

“I’ll be a true citizen legislator. You’ll run into me at the mall, a local eatery or pub. I hope when all is said and done, that middle lane between Miller-Meeks and Schilling opens up.”

Rivals Bobby Schilling and Mariannette Miller-Meeks are top fundraisers among the five GOP candidates for Iowa’s Second Congressional District. Borchardt said fundraising success will not translate into votes in November.

“The most common reaction I hear to Miller-Meeks is, ‘Again?’ I haven’t seen enthusiasm behind her campaign, except from the Republican establishment. She’s gone zero-and-three for them.”

He’s convinced Iowa voters will not support a former Illinois congressman.

“Generally, especially along the Mississippi River, Illinois people are kind of accepted. But in other parts of the 2nd District, people from Illinois aren’t looked on that favorably. Bobby is doing his best to convince folks he is an Iowan. Good luck with that.”

Borchardt grew up in Washington, Iowa, and has remained in southeast Iowa.

He’s a gun owner who says he taught his kids to shoot. His firearms are rifles handed down from his grandfather, including a 12-gauge shotgun that hung over the door of the family’s farmhouse in Welcome, Minn., a town of 600 west of Rochester.

His libertarian roots are evident in published letters to the editor against a proposal to notify parents of their University of Iowa student’s arrests.

“At some point, a child becomes an adult and gains the same privacy rights as their parents, grandparents, university officials, and legislators,” he wrote in 2000.

In a 2005 letter to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, he satirically proposed, “The Avenue of the Saints Iowa’s Child Homeless Shelter and Casino,” lampooning fruitless talk of a government-funded Iowa rainforest attraction, land-based casinos, and the state’s struggling boys’ home.

Those roots remain evident when he talks about drug enforcement and military policies.

“I think the war on drugs has been a failure. Law enforcement has been about revenue enhancement, not personal protection. We just end up filling our jails,” he said. He would consider federal legalization of marijuana. “For people who choose to use it responsibly, why should we arrest them?”

He said American service men and women, “have been policemen of the world for too long, and countries have taken advantage of it. I’d like to bring our troops home.”

He also would take the federal government out of college tuition funding.

“Government, starting with PELL grants, has flooded the market with money enticing young people to go into debt regardless of the outcome.”

Some drop out with debt, but no degree. Others earn degrees that never produce enough income to pay off the government loan. “I would change it so that federal government loans to colleges, and colleges loan to kids. Now, colleges have no skin in the game. They get the money with no risk, and they build monuments to themselves. If their school was dependent on that kid graduating, I’m sure they would be more attentive.”

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Steven Everly: 'Scared to death for my own country'

Steven Everly has precious little political experience, and that’s his primary campaign appeal.

Everly said he has on-the-job training as a union maintenance man, small business owner, construction contractor and emergency foster parent with his wife of 40 years.

“I’ve been broke twice in my life and had to sleep in my car when on construction sites and couldn’t afford a room. My life has been a series of some really good earning years, and some extremely bad earning years,” he told The NSP.

Now his kids are grown. A son handles most of the family electric business. And he has 10 grandkids. “I’ve had a great life; I’d like to pass on to them a country with as much opportunity as I have.”

More folks in southeast Iowa know his work illuminating high school ball fields, a mainstay of his Knoxville-based electrical contracting business.

He lost his only Republican primary bid for state senate against a candidate backed with party endorsements, not unlike his situation today.

Most elected Republicans in Scott County and elsewhere in the district are supporting Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa physician making her third bid for Congress.

Everly is banking on district Republicans preferring a new candidate with life-long Iowa roots.

“Miller-Meeks is a marshmallow Republican,” he said.

Everly said he aligns “almost 90 percent” with former Illinois 17th District congressman Bobby Schilling, now of LeClaire. But that remaining 10 percent was a big enough difference to launch Everly’s campaign.

“Bobby is a nice guy, but his nickname might be ‘carpetbagger,’” he said, affirming he intended to be quoted.

Everly hopes voters prefer his own Iowa experiences to Schilling’s congressional experiences.

“I’m not a politician. I am a businessman. I’m probably the only guy who belonged to a half dozen different unions,” he said, listing them: AFSCME, Ironworkers, IBEW, AFL-CIO, Teamsters, UAW.

“I’m not a lawyer, not a doctor, not an Indian chief, either. I’m a working man who understands business. Bobby has some of that. He’s a pizza man. But I was born here. I think I understand Iowa and Iowans better than anybody.”

Construction work took him overseas to Europe and South America.

“I had opportunities to see up close Democratic socialism and realized I was scared to death for my own country.”

He and his wife worked as emergency foster care parents for years, at times housing up to a dozen kids awaiting permanent placement.

They adopted five children, including two from Central America. “I’ve dealt with the immigration system when I got both my children citizenship when they came at age 4. My wife went to El Salvador to pick one up in the middle of civil war,” he said.

“My wife and I managed a very busy household, and we did it together, just like we’re doing this,” he said.

He remains a big fan of President Trump: “The Midwest has trouble with him because he’s crass and braggadocious. But that’s the way New Yorkers are. They aren’t Iowa nice. They tell people things they don’t like.”

He’s less a fan of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds: “That was outlandish overreach by the governor. I’m not a big fan of the governor closing everything down. She should have said, ‘This is what I want you to do,’ not what you shall do. I’m very disappointed.”

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Mariannette Miller-Meeks: 'There’s never been a better time to have a military veteran, doctor and public health director to go into office.'

The most experienced Republican candidate touts a track record she says elevates her over challengers who have a fraction of her public service and campaign moxie.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks is an Ottumwa ophthalmologist in her second year of a state senate term, and was former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s pick to run the Iowa Department of Health from 2010 until January 2014.

That experience includes her 0-3 record running for Congress against retiring Second District Rep. Dave Loebsack. Miller-Meeks lost to Loebsack in Iowa’s Second district in 2008 and 2010, before it was redrawn to include Scott County. She tried again in 2014 and won that primary, despite Scott County voters’ preference for Republican Mark Lofgren. She lost the 2014 general election to Loebsack by a 5-percentage-point margin, but finished much closer in Scott County, within 500 of 60,000 votes cast in the county.

Since that defeat, she won election to an open state senate seat, and earned appointment to state senate appropriations, commerce, veterans’ affairs and state government committees. She serves as chairman of the human resources committee.

“It’s a different race with different parameters. We’re coming through a pandemic, and I’ve a background helpful in helping my constituents. There’s never been a better time to have a military veteran, doctor and public health director to go into office. That’s a skill set not offered by anyone else in the race.”

She was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, beginning her services as an operating and ward nurse at Walter Reed Army Hospital, 1976-1982.

She earned a medical degree in 1986 from Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and worked as an ophthalmologist, once serving as president of the Ottumwa Regional Health Center medical staff.

She applauds Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ response, and backs President Trump’s early travel restrictions for curbing the virus’ spread.

“It is appropriate to limit social distancing and we did that in order to flatten the curve, and prevent our hospital systems from being overwhelmed. We successfully navigated that. I think slowly reopening the economy is an appropriate approach.

Gov. Reynolds has done an incredible job trying to instill confidence.”

Miller-Meeks has found the president’s briefings “very helpful.”

“You can get a lot of information out of all of those briefings; helpful information from Dr. Fauci and Birx, but also those in private industry who are revamping their personal businesses.

“All of us need to be cognizant that the reason we did social mitigation is that we wouldn’t overwhelm our hospital systems. It wasn’t so that no one contracted the virus. … So you’re actually working on two things at the same time; trying to keep people safe, and trying to make sure we have an infrastructure in place,” to meet all health needs.

Her military work included supply logistics. “Being in the military helps you adapt, improvise, think quickly on your feet, understand chain of command and where to go for assistance. Really, it’s never giving up. That’s my attitude in the military and to this day.”

Her primary opponents label her as “mainstream.” Two have questioned her pro-life bonafides.

She said she misspoke in the recorded 2018 interview and meant “pro-life” when she said “pro-choice.” But she said the comments accurately reflected her concern as a doctor for patient confidentiality. She said her voting record accurately reflects her opposition to abortion in all cases, except for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

She co-sponsored Iowa Senate legislation seeking a constitutional amendment declaring Iowans have no right to an abortion, but that bill never got a full senate vote. She also voted to defund Planned Parenthood.

“It’s up to voters to decide what they feel are the appropriate skill sets. I received an award early this year from CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) for my conservative voting record. I’ve a record that underscores my conservative nature and voting record.”

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Rick Phillips: 'I woke up one morning last year like a Forest Gump moment. I’ve really had it up to here being pushed with communist, socialist and Islamic agendas.'

President Trump isn’t moving fast enough and needs Rick Phillips’ help.

The 59-year-old vacuum repairman from Pella says he’s the kind of guy who can translate the New Yorker’s bluster into rhetoric more appealing to Midwesterners.

Phillips made an Iowa Republican primary congressional bid in 1996, and once challenged his Marion County sheriff in 2004. This year, he brings his sideline support of the president into the Iowa Second Congressional District GOP primary.

“I woke up one morning last year like a Forest Gump moment. I’ve really had it up to here being pushed with communist, socialist and Islamic agendas,” Phillips said.

Phillips took his campaign to county conventions in the district, hoping to show Republican delegates he believes he is the “Trumpest” alternative to the other four candidates, who all avow support for the president.

“Donald Trump is a billionaire, as we all know. I don’t think he fully understands how to look at the underbelly of the beast. He knows the stock market. Down here, we understand pennies, nickels and dimes. He needs to talk to somebody like me who has experienced this and close the gap between rich and poor,” Phillips said.

He intends to plunge ahead on Tea Party themes he said the president has only flirted with.

“One of my issues is abolishing the federal department of education. Not only is it a dismal failure, but also it is unconstitutional for the federal government to be involved in education … I think the Republican party has a wonderful platform. But the one thing the Republican party lacks is a spine to push forward our agenda.”

He wonders why, after Trump’s first two years with Republican majorities, so much of the party platform remains undone. “A lot of people are upset with us having the majority, yet the other side seems to still advance an agenda,” he said.

Republicans have yet to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, or shut down departments of Labor, and Housing and Urban Development.

“Your country-club style of Republicans are probably there because it’s a good-old-boys’ club. But people here at the bottom need some things fixed."

He’s eager to see Iowa move beyond a pandemic shutdown and reopen, but not get back to normal. He believes now is the time to forge ahead with a GOP agenda.

“There’s no better time right now to reset this and bring it back into alignment with the constitution. Things have already got to a standstill. There are two ways to go: A controlled crash landing, or just a crash landing. I think a controlled crash landing now and restructuring for the future.”

He and his wife of 31 years, Charlotte, passed petitions throughout the district to get on a ballot as the “Ron Paul or Patrick Buchanan in this election.” But not many signatures are from Scott County.

“It’s about as far away for me as it would be for Bobby Schilling to come over to this end of the district,” Phillips said. His dad lived in Davenport before passing away in January. He has relatives in Bettendorf, Donahue and Dixon. “I’m familiar with that area, but not so much as a politician,” he said.

Don’t expect any broadcast, web or print advertising of his largely self-funded campaign. He calculates the best-funded candidates – Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Bobby Schilling – don’t inspire Second District Republicans.

He’s not doing yard signs, figuring they won’t be displayed by Republicans publicly backing his opponents.

“There are people who openly support other candidates, but in secret they like what I say and they like me. I don’t know what they’ll do in the closet or voting booth. That’s to be determined, I guess.”

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Bobby Schilling: 'The establishment folks have a lot of pressure put on them to endorse Mariannette, and I’m fine with that. I’m not an establishment guy.'

Bobby Schilling knocked off an Illinois Democratic congressional incumbent, and that’s the experience he believes most pertinent to Iowa Republicans looking to win back Iowa’s Second Congressional District.

He acknowledges even bigger lessons from his subsequent loss as an incumbent to a Democratic challenger in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.

The 56-year-old and his family can see his old district from their home built atop the old Olathea Golf Course bluff near LeClaire.

He believes Iowa’s Second District bloc of independent voters – outnumbering either Republicans or Democrats – is his key to a primary and general election win.

“I’ve got the same message as when I defeated Phil Hare in 2010. I’m a pragmatic guy. A lot of union guys – they used to be Reagan Democrats, but I call them Trump Democrats now – want someone to move things forward. I can pull those guys over in droves.”

Almost all elected Republicans in Scott County have aligned with Marianette Miller-Meeks. Schilling is confident not all of those public endorsements come with GOP primary votes.

“The establishment folks have a lot of pressure put on them to endorse Mariannette, and I’m fine with that. I’m not an establishment guy. I’m more like a Trump person. She can have all the establishment endorsement she wants. I’ve got Jim Jordan.”

Jordan is an Ohio congressman who founded the House Freedom Caucus to challenge established conservatives.

Schilling campaigned in Illinois as a Catholic, pro-life father of 10 and pizza storeowner. He adds a Hawkeye twist to this campaign: “I have more ties to Iowa than Miller-Meeks will ever had.”

His grandfather operated Schilling’s Jewelers for 58 years in Cedar Falls, where Schilling’s dad was raised. “I have cousins, aunts, uncles all from Waterloo; cousins from Tipton. My niece and nephew worked for Chuck Grassley. My mom is buried in Iowa. My dad is on the Arsenal. When you don’t want to talk about issues, you throw out the term, “carpetbagger.’ Hillary is a carpetbagger. I moved to Iowa because I was pushed out of Illinois.”

Schilling said Rock Island County property tax increases shoved him out more than his 2012 election loss to Rep. Cheri Bustos.

He and his family are remodeling a downtown Camanche building for a new pizza store, and he intends more Iowa outlets, whether or not he’s elected.

Loebsack’s retirement presented a job opening he believes fits his experience.

He said he encountered obstructions from state Republican leaders who discounted challengers to Miller-Meeks. “I just thought it would be more of a neutral thing, but it definitely has not been neutral … After I defeat her in the primary, that will completely change around,” he said.

Schilling touts internal poll numbers showing 63 percent undecided in the primary.

He’s reaching them through the Bobby Schilling Platform, a 12-page tabloid newspaper replete with photos and stories of his life and congressional service. It takes on Miller-Meeks directly and includes a photo of her embracing former state Sen. Maggie Tinsman a pro-choice Republican ousted by a pro-life candidate.

This campaign’s shift to mostly mail-in voting boosted Schilling’s newspaper order from 30,000 to 50,000 copies, all voters requesting ballots.

Voters likely won’t see Schilling television ads, and little Twitter.

“Twitter I see more as keeping media folks and others who are political activists engaged and where we’re at. Facebook is more for voters out in the district, and interested in seeing what we talked about.”

He and Christie chatted an hour May 7 from their LeClaire home, focusing first on his distinctions with Miller-Meeks on abortion. They took a few questions and bantered about a family fender bender on the driveway.

“We had 2,693 views on that video,” he said.

He’s counting on that digital grassroots to win the primary.

“When you look at this seat, I think Iowa’s second district, next to Steve King’s seat, is most winnable in this state for Republicans. I think they’ve never had somebody who’s had a background like me, with union experience and small business experience.”

“You can’t come in and lecture them because you’re smarter than everyone in the room. That’s one of the biggest contrasts we have. I talk on a level like a regular person. I can go out and relate to the people, which is a big deal.”

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