With less than two weeks before the election, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch is introducing himself to voters across the state.
One recent day on the campaign trail started in the southeast Iowa town of Albia. Former Democratic Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge hosted a house party for Senator Hatch.
“There aren’t a lot of votes in Albia,” Judge says. “But we do want to introduce him to as many of our friends and neighbors as we can so people know who he is, that he is a real person.”
That’s the name of the game for anyone running a statewide campaign for the first time. Retired tax auditor Jim Elliott is getting his first look at the candidate.
“I haven't seen him on television,” Elliott says, “I know he made a decision not to do television ads at least for now. I know they are expensive to put on.”
As the guests gather in the living room, Hatch outlines his top priorities including education and transportation infrastructure.
“We have a problem in this state with repairing roads and bridges,” Hatch says. “Iowa is the second highest state in needing bridge repair in the country.”
Retired postmaster from nearby Lovilla, Martha Viner, tells the senator what it's like to deliver mail when bridges go out.
“Eventually there were so many bridges closed we were going into Lucas County,” Viner says. "They needed to plow it in the winter, and the bridges couldn’t hold a snow maintainer. So we went a lot further to service our rural route and we still are.”
Hatch repeats his critique of Governor Branstad for not leading the way on increasing the gas tax. Leaving Patty Judge’s house, there is the traditional stop at the local radio station KIIC, then off to the Democratic stronghold of Ottumwa.
About a dozen townspeople give the senator a warm welcome at a UAW union hall where Hatch talks about training a more skilled Iowa workforce. He describes his plan to require kids to stay in school until they’re 18. Otherwise he says they’ll never be able to compete.
“Do you know why we let 16 and 17-year-olds quit high school?” Hatch asks. “Farming. They wanted their sons to return to the farm. This is 100 years old. It's not your father’s manufacturing plant anymore. You need to have skills to stay employed.”
When the talk returns to gasoline taxes, a Wapello county supervisor says they’re using local option sales taxes to keep roads and bridges passable, until more money comes their way from fuel taxes. Then it’s back into the Ford Escape and off to Oskaloosa. Hatch talks about the uphill fight against formidable Republican incumbent Terry Branstad.
“I'm still unknown by about 30% of Iowans,” Hatch says. “We think we'll close that gap. We are closing that gap in the next couple of weeks.”
Hatch admits raising money has been a challenge. He accuses Governor Branstad of hardball tactics in the money game.
“He's shut down the contributions to me from any of the state associations and interest groups,” Hatch says. “He's made it clear that contributions to me would have consequences.
“I have been told by a number of lobbyists that meetings have been canceled after my June reports came out with people who contributed to me who already had appointments with the governor’s office.”
In a statement, a Branstad spokesman responds, “Jack Hatch's desperate, struggling campaign continues to make ludicrous, baseless and false claims.”
Hatch adds there’s been tough competition for Democratic contributions, because of all the open U.S. congressional races. Patty Judge agrees there are only so many dollars to go around, but she’s not sure that’s been the major deterrent.
“It’s more likely that his opponent started this race with such a terrific advantage monetarily,” Judge says. “People have not been able to see a clear path for Jack.”
Back in the SUV, it’s off to Grinnell and Cedar Rapids as Jack Hatch strives to reach all 99 counties, a mission Patty Judge calls brutal. But there are some pleasures in the journey itself.
Hatch directs a brief detour to a field with the gravesite of civil war soldier Curtis King, the oldest soldier in the whole country to join the fight.
“He was in the greybeards,” Hatch says. “He was 82 when he served. He marched from here down into Missouri and into Kentucky and then he came back.
“This is one of the benefits of traveling the state, when you see a historic marker, and you see a gem like this.”
But there may be less time for sightseeing in the days ahead. Hatch and his running mate Monica Vernon plan a whirlwind bus tour of the state next week, which Hatch describes as a 24 hours a day journey. They hope to maximize the number of people who can say they’ve met Jack Hatch and will vote for him next month.