Former Iowa Democratic Congressional candidate J.D. Scholten speaks during a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse in Des Moines.

Twice this month Iowa political reporters have attended a press conference to hear an individual say he is not running for office.

J.D. Scholten, the Democrats’ David who almost slayed the Republican Goliath, U.S. Rep. Steve King, last week gathered reporters at the Iowa Capitol for a press conference, the topic of which he did not divulge in advance.

The political beasts that they are, Iowa reporters wondered for which office Scholten might be announcing his candidacy.

Was he announcing another run against King in the 4th Congressional District?

Was he going to run for the U.S. Senate against U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst?

The answer was none of the above.

Scholten announced he is forming a nonprofit organization to educate low-income Iowa workers about state and federal income tax credits that could help boost their bottom line. Scholten said many workers are not aware of the tax credits, and thus are leaving money on the table that could otherwise help them pay for necessities like groceries and utility bills.

Like Tom Steyer before him, Scholten gathered Iowa reporters to tell them not that he’s running for office, but that he is going to devote his time to a passion project on a public issue.

Steyer, the California billionaire Democrat, earlier this month called a press conference in downtown Des Moines to announce he will not run for president and instead focus on his organization, which is drumming up support to impeach President Donald Trump.

Of course, Scholten also said he has not ruled out any future campaign. He insisted he is, for the time being, focused on his “Working Hero Iowa” campaign on the income tax credits; but he also said he is leaving the door open.

This is not to question Scholten’s sincerity about the “Working Hero Iowa” campaign. But with everything like this — especially in Iowa — there is a political element. And the campaign could very much help Scholten if he does decide down the road to put his name on the ballot again.

Scholten said he will hold “Working Hero Iowa” events all across the state. He described it as similar to a campaign, in that he’ll be working to drum up grassroots support and volunteers to the cause. He wants to raise awareness through these public events and earned media.

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All of those things would help the program’s cause; they also would help Scholten’s cause, politically speaking. If ever he does run for office again, in the interim he could spend his time in worse ways than barnstorming the state, talking to Iowans about a working class issue, creating a statewide network of contacts and making the occasional media appearance.

Whether Scholten will run for the Senate in 2020 — or any other office — remains to be seen. But in the meantime, he is keeping the brand alive.

More hopefuls

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg last week announced they are entering the ever-growing field of Democrats seeking that party’s nomination for president.

And both are preparing their first Iowa trips.

Harris will participate in a CNN-hosted town hall Monday at Drake University in Des Moines.

(Shameless plug: If you tune into CNN early, say around 3 p.m. for “The Lead” with Jake Tapper, you may see your favorite Lee Enterprises Des Moines Bureau Chief.)

Buttigieg is planning a trip to Iowa this weekend, his campaign said.

Session standards

The Iowa Legislature’s 2019 session is official: Last week we saw a bill pertaining to Iowa’s bottle deposit law and another on traffic cameras.

File this under “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.


State house reporter for The Courier/Lee Enterprises.

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