Steve King reflects on 2002 nominating convention

U.S. Rep. Steve King is tonight’s guest on the “Iowa Press” program that airs at 7:30 p.m. tonight on Iowa Public Television. (Video here, along with additional show times.) As you might suspect with a special nominating convention scheduled for the 21st of June to decide who the GOP nominee will be in Iowa’s third congressional district, King provided some insight into his own experience 12 years ago.

King got 30 percent of the vote in the 2002 GOP primary in the old fifth congressional district and, because he didn’t cross the 35 percent threshold, the party staged a district convention in Denison’s high school to choose a nominee. King said his campaign’s early analysis discovered 121 of the 533 delegates had donated to his campaign.  That wasn’t a guarantee of their vote, however, and King started calling those 121, along with other delegates who he and his staff thought were supporters already.

“And I realize after a few phone calls that those supporters want to talk and they want to talk a long time and I’m like that myself and so it wasn’t going to be very good to focus on that,” King said during today’s taping. “So, I said to my staff, why don’t you make the phone calls to these 121 and then we will solidify their support. If I need to talk to them I will. Meanwhile, we need to go see these people because, you know, once your phone rings six or eight times a day you get a little phone shy. So we went, Marilyn and I just joked about it, ambushing delegates is how we phrased it.

“…We had our campaign staff was solidifying those votes and holding them down and then I’d circle back to anybody they had doubt about. Meanwhile, I remember Marilyn and I, the first morning after, so that I’m going to say was the Thursday morning after the election, we would leave early in the dark and try to be where we were going to start when people started getting up. And we went down to Silver City in Mills County and Linda Thomas is a House delegate and pretty soon she just lit up and she said, let me call some more delegates in. I didn’t realize Silver City was the political epicenter of Mills County but when we left that day there were 10 delegates behind us that hadn’t been before. It was a great start and it gave us energy and we used that same tactic all the way through until the convention.”

I’ve talked with a few of the delegates who attended that 2002 convention in Denison over the past week.  They tell similar stories, of King showing up at their house to personally ask for their support.  During the show today, King said a face-to-face meeting is crucial in this kind of situation.

“To the delegates, this is the most important thing that they’re going to probably have the chance to do being active in politics<” King said during today’s taping. “Their vote is going to count more on this special nominating convention than probably any other time in their life. So, they will show up. They will vote. And if you’re going to make the sale you need to do it by looking them in the eye.”

King won that special nominating convention on the third ballot.  After the first round of balloting, John Redwine (a doctor from Sioux City who at the time was a state senator) was the lowest vote getter.  Redwine gave a parting speech to the crowd and endorsed King. During the second round of voting, Jeff Ballenger (a Council Bluffs businessman who has since been involved in organizing Honor Flights for WWII veterans) was the third place finisher. Ballenger gave a parting speech to the delegates and endorsed Brent Siegrist. Siegrist is from Council Bluffs and, back in 2002, was speaker of the Iowa House.  During that final round of voting, King won a narrow victory.  As King tells the story today, King and Siegrist were standing on stage together as the votes were being posted.  “Made you sweat,” Siegrist quipped to King.  King replied: “No rematch.”

King was also asked during the IPTV taping he saw any downside for a candidate to have to wait a couple of weeks to secure the nomination. King suggested it may help, as the prospect of a nominating convention draws media attention.  King was also asked if this is the best way to choose a candidate.  King’s answer, with a bit of an asterisk, was that a run-off rather than a nominating convention might be better.  (Read the Radio Iowa story here.)  Here was one observation: “The rules allow for too many things that make me a little nervous.”

For example, delegates at the district convention may nominate anyone, not just the candidates who collected enough petition signatures to get their names of the primary ballot.  (Iowa Democrats have different rules which restrict possible candidates at special nominating convention to only those on the primary ballot.)  King, however, said he has heard of no other candidate stepping forward or being pushed forward and he expects only the six candidates on this past Tuesday’s ballot to be competing in the June 21 event.

Finally, for the 513 delegates who will be attending the district convention June 21 in Creston, I’ve called Creston High School’s administrative offices a couple of times late this afternoon, but haven’t been able to reach someone to find out if there will be AIR CONDITIONING. (Yes, I watched the Spurs and the Heat in the heat last night.)  I did find a story in the Creston News Advertiser about the high efficiency rating for the heating and cooling system at the school, so that seems to indicate at least there is a chance of AC.  The 2002 nominating convention was held on the last Saturday in June in Denison High School, which did not have air conditioning.  King’s speech to delegates before the third round of voting: “It’s hot. Let’s vote.”

UPDATE: the convention site has been moved, to the Des Moines Christian School campus in Urbandale.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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