Iowa Democrats and Republicans gathered for district conventions on Saturday. Jim Gibbons, the National Republican Campaign Committee's favorite in the seven-way IA-03 primary, had supporters wearing "Burn the Boats" t-shirts. He explained the symbolism toward the end of his speech to the delegates:
Gibbons talks about being a competitor, wanting to take down the champion and why this will be a tough race. Here is my rough transcript of the most intriguing part, beginning around the 3:30 mark:
If you look around this group right here, you'll see people who have never been a part of this process. They're new, they're young people, they've got those "Burn the Boats" shirts on. People ask, "What's that about?" Let me give you the explanation.
In the 1500s, the conqueror [Hernando] Cortés was going up against the Aztec army. He decided that to motivate his people, to get them fired up about the job that they had to do--they were outnumbered vastly--he made the decision: burn the boats. If we're successful, we'll go home in their boats.
That's the attitude of this campaign. That's what I'm about. I'm totally committed to beating Leonard Boswell. I have the resources, the will, the determination to beat him in November. I'm asking you to join me in this fight. We will win in November. I'm burning my boats, and I'm attacking the island, thank you and God bless.
Technically, Cortés scuttled (not burned) his ships in order to prevent another mutiny after one failed attempt. He wasn't motivating his troops by the prospect of winning and going home in Aztec boats; he was making them give up hope of returning from the new world. According to Wikipedia, the "popular misconception that Cortés burned the ships [...] may have come from a mistranslation of the version of the story written in Latin."
I get Gibbons' point: he's all in to win this race, having quit his job as a financial adviser when he decided to run for Congress. He's drawing an unspoken contrast with his chief Republican rival Brad Zaun, who has his Iowa Senate seat and a job in real estate to go back to if he loses to Boswell. Still, "burn the boats" seems weird for a campaign slogan, and I have to wonder whose idea it was to pick a greedy and brutal Spanish conquistador for a role model.
The Republican Governors Association has embraced the symbolism of [Guy] Fawkes, launching a rather striking website, RememberNovember.com, with a video that showcases far more Hollywood savvy than one can usually expect from Republicans. Again, the Fawkes tale has been twisted a bit. This time, President Obama plays the roll of King James, the Democratic leadership is Parliament, and the Republican Party represents the aggrieved Catholic mass.
I've spent a few Guy Fawkes Days in the UK. The holiday is marked by fireworks and bonfires to celebrate the failure of Fawkes' plot. There's even a nursery rhyme, "Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot." Republicans may have embraced the wrong hero out of confusion. Or perhaps Steve Benen is right: "the Republican mainstream made a right turn at scary, and have arrived right at stark raving mad."
Any comments about campaign strategy or sloganeering are welcome in this thread. I love the official statements from tea party favorite Dave Funk's campaign in Iowa's third district. Those often start out with the words, "Congress needs Funk."
President Barack Obama signed the bill last night, but Congress will revisit this issue soon, because the new law extends unemployment benefits only until June 2 and other measures through the end of May.
Swing State Project posted its initial competitive House ratings chart yesterday. On one level, the chart is terrifying, because Democrats hold so many more of the seats in play than Republicans do. On the other hand, I found the chart a bit reassuring, in that Republicans would have to win about two-thirds of the tossup seats and about one-third of the "lean Democrat" seats in order to take back the House majority. That is a tall order when the National Republican Congressional Committee has so much less cash on hand than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Republican National Committee is spending like there's no election in seven months. Corporate-funded PACs and Republican 527s will spend money on behalf of many GOP candidates, but I still think the cash-strapped NRCC will end up leaving seats on the table.
I'll get the ball rolling by talking about Iowa's third district, where seven Republican challengers are competing for the right to face seven-term incumbent Leonard Boswell. I haven't seen any public or internal polling on this race. Swing State Project's "lean D" rating is defensible, because Boswell underperformed the top of the Democratic ticket in 2006 and 2008. However, Boswell is continuing to raise money while the winner of the GOP primary will probably be broke. Many people on the ground believe State Senator Brad Zaun will beat the insiders' favorite Jim Gibbons in that primary, which could put the NRCC off making big play for this district. Even if Gibbons wins the primary, I doubt the NRCC will spend serious money here. Iowa is losing a district after the 2010 census, and the winner of the IA-03 election will probably be thrown into the same district as Tom Latham, who currently represents IA-04. So beating Boswell wouldn't deliver a long-term gain for the GOP. Republicans have dozens of targets that look more inviting than this district.