In Memoriam: Ed Campbell

“When his friends get to heaven, Ed will have the joint organized and it won’t take us long to get through security.”  — Ned Chiodo, long-time friend of the late Ed Campbell.

Ed Campbell, a fixture in Iowa politics for decades, died late Thursday, just before midnight.  He was 75.  I just spoke with his long-time friend, Ned Chiodo, who described Campbell as a “giant among giants” when it came to politics.  

The Iowa Democratic Party just issued a statement:

DES MOINES, IA – Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan released the statement below following the passing of former Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ed Campbell:

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Edward Campbell. He was a talented campaigner and advocate, a dedicated public servant, a mentor, and simply a great friend to so many.

“Ed Campbell believed in building a better future for all Iowans. We are so grateful for his years of service in the U.S. Army, the Governor’s office, Senator John Culver’s office and as Chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party which were spent in that effort.

“As Chairman and for years beyond, Ed was a passionate advocate for Democrats and our causes.

“Our thoughts and our prayers are with his wife Bonnie and their family.  We will all miss our friend.”

I’ve known Ed Campbell for years.  He had keen political instincts.  It was almost as if he were prescient. He picked presidential contenders Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Bill Clinton in 1992, long before either was considered anything more than a long-shot.  Walter Mondale once joked that having Ed around was like having polling data at your fingertips, without having to pay for a poll.

Chiodo said everybody who was anybody in the political world knew Ed Campbell.  He was the Madonna or Cher of Iowa politics.  “When somebody asked, “How’s Ed?’ everybody knew who they were talking about,” Chiodo said.

Campbell, a native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, was chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party from 1977 ’til 1982.  Before that, in 1965, he went to work as an aide to Governor Harold Hughes and Campbell followed Hughes to Washington when Hughes became a senator.  In 1974, Campbell came back to Iowa and ran John Culver’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. 

After his stint as party chairman, Campbell ran for governor in 1982, losing in the Democratic primary to eventual party nominee Roxanne Conlin. 

Campbell met his future wife, Bonnie, when they were both working for U.S. senators in Washington, D.C.  Later, Bonnie Campbell also served as Iowa Democratic Party chair, during the 1988 Caucuses.  She was elected Iowa’s attorney general in 1990.  In 1994, Bonnie Campbell was the Democratic nominee for governor.

Des Moines clothier Bill Reichardt challenged Bonnie Campbell in a party primary in 1994.  There is one memorable moment from that campaign for me.  Ed Campbell was so incensed about something Reichardt said that he called the Radio Iowa newsroom and wanted to speak on behalf of his wife’s campaign.  When the tape was rolling, an angry Ed Campbell said this of his wife’s opponent:  “People who live in glass houses should look in the mirror.”

Campbell was a statehouse lobbyist when I first started covering the Iowa legislature in the mid-1980s.  One of his lobbying assistants was Chet Culver, son of Campbell’s old boss, who is now Iowa’s governor.  Chiodo, a former state legislator who had represented the south side of Des Moines, was Campbell’s lobbying partner.  Chiodo described Campbell as indefatigable. “I don’t remember in all the years that we worked together that Edward ever went to bed before I did or got up after I did,” Chiodo said.

Politics was the sport Campbell loved best, according to Chiodo.  “He understood the dynamics of people better than anybody I ever ran across in the political world and he did it just in the normal course of his everyday life,” Chiodo said. “You could never have a better friend in a political sense, or a worse enemy, than Ed Campbell.”

Chiodo shared a few stories of when he saw Campbell “go to the matt” for someone, even a few of his political foes.   “Nobody can imagine the people he has helped with their burden and they would be shocked if they did,” Chiodo said.  “A more kind-hearted soul you’d never find.”

Then Chiodo added what you saw as the opening quote in this post: “When his friends get to heaven, Ed will have the joint organized and it won’t take us long to get through security.”

UPDATE: here are some of the statements which have been issued by Iowa elected officials.  (There’s a second UPDATE below with Bill Clinton’s statement.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement on the passing of Edward Campbell.

“Ruth and I are both deeply saddened by the loss of our long-time friend Ed Campbell.  Ed was a devoted Iowan whose passion was creating opportunities for future generations to advance.  His wise counsel guided numerous Iowa civic leaders and public servants through their careers – including me through my own.

“Our thoughts and our prayers are with Ed’s wife, and our friend, Bonnie.”


The Governor has issued the following statement on the passing of Edward Campbell:

“I am deeply saddened that my friend and political mentor Ed Campbell has passed away.  He taught and showed me how one person can truly make a difference and I will be forever grateful for his friendship, guidance and advice.  I also will never forget how kind and supportive he was to me when I was just getting my start in politics more than 20 years ago.

“The political world has lost a real champion of ideas, who committed much of his life to public service and was at the heart and soul of Democratic Party politics in Iowa for the last half century.  

“My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Bonnie, and Ed’s entire family. 


DES MOINES – Lt. Governor Patty Judge issued the following statement on the passing of Edward Campbell:

“Ed Campbell was a legend in Iowa politics. His warm personality, tenacious spirit, and never-ending commitment to this state and to Iowans was evident in everything he did. But more than that, Ed was a dear and long-time friend to me and my husband, John. 

“All who knew Ed feel a sense of emptiness today. We know we will never hear him tell another joke, or see the passion that set him apart. And our heart goes out to the love of his life, Bonnie.”

UPDATE II:  Statement from President Bill Clinton on the Passing of Edward Campbell
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend Ed Campbell. Ed left an indelible mark on Iowa and our nation, from overseeing the establishment of community colleges in Iowa as a special assistant to Governor Harold Hughes to helping elect Democratic candidates to statewide and national office as the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. Hillary and I were blessed to have Ed’s friendship, support, and sage advice. We will always be grateful to him and Bonnie. Our prayers are with her and with Ed’s many family and friends.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.