The following is the full transcript of the Progressive‘s interview with Selden Spencer. An abbreviated version appeared in the print version of Issue 2.4 as “A Quickie with Selden Spencer.”
Selden Spencer is a neurologist from Huxley who works at McFarland Clinic in Ames. In 2006, he challenged Republican Congressman Tom Latham in Iowa’s 4th district. A political novice, Spencer nevertheless attracted a solid following of party activists largely in response to his opposition to the Iraq war and Latham’s consistent support of the Bush administration’s agenda. Spencer lost the election but earned 43 percent of the vote, and has opted not to seek the seat again this year. He spoke recently with the Progressive about his decision and his future plans with the Democratic Party.
Gavin Aronsen: What made you decide to not run again?
Selden Spencer: I did not see matters lining up that would allow me to make a competitive race financially. This was mapped out last August and September, and I felt that it would be in the best interest of the Democrats to have a candidate that might be able to give us [the] best [chance], and my presence would not allow that to happen.
So other candidates have come forward and I hope they can elicit the kind of support that will be necessary to have a competitive campaign.
GA: A Democratic primary appears likely for this election cycle, whereas in the past the party has had to scramble just to find anyone willing to run. Is this a sign of a changing tide ahead?
SS: I think that in the back of everybody’s mind they assume it’s going to be a Democratic year and that the tide is with them and they will be able to ride that tide. I think that’s part of it, and they may be right.
GA: How can the eventual Democratic nominee for 2008 build on the momentum that you helped to establish in your 2006 bid?
SS: I guess the most important thing to know, and which I learned, is that there are very strong county committees throughout the district. I think there were probably two or three counties where the committee structure was not very solid. So the 4th district, as represented by leadership in each of the 28 counties, is very much intact, and that is the structure upon which any candidate – if they can tap into that structure – will have a good launching pad.
It’s a complicated question in many respects, and I’m kind of struggling with it myself in the sense that I desperately want to help a candidate win but I don’t want to be a distraction for that candidate. Volunteers that helped me in my prior campaign may not necessarily be people that will go for another candidate that steps up. And that’s just a fact of life, and everybody brings along their own demographic. A younger candidate’s probably going to be recruiting lots of young people. They’ve got to have full sway to carry forward and I did not want to be a distraction. By the same token I want to help that candidate win, because what matters to me is that we get a Democratic voice in Congress.
And I think it’s doable. [But] for lots of complicated reasons, both the National Committee and my own personal consultants did not see me as the candidate that could do that.
GA: Do you plan on taking any active roles in any campaigns this cycle?
SS: Yeah. What I’m interested in right now [is] I’ve been engaged with some things at the capitol, both with children’s health care – the [State Children's Health Insurance Program] – and then also with the Wellness Commission to try to get some standards in schools to reduce childhood obesity. So that’s an interesting legislative activity that I’m involved in.
But in terms of political activities, I’m living in Huxley and I would like to have a voice in the state legislature that I would be comfortable with. We’re currently represented by [Republican State Representative Dave] Deyoe, and there are candidates that are working in my state district that I hope I [can] help.
I would like to be more familiar and comfortable with south Story County, really knowing the Democrats in Collins-Maxwell, Cambridge, Slater, [and] Huxley, because I think that’s been an underperforming area for Story County in general for the Democratic Party.
Sue Dinsdale and I held the [January 3] precinct at Ballard High School and we had 250 people show up for the Democratic caucus. I want to know all 250 people and I want them to step up and to start taking a role in the democratic process. I think the Republicans do a far better job of identifying people and engaging people and I certainly know in Story County it’s very easy to get lulled into being occupied with Ames and Ames politics – a lot of strong personalities, a lot of good leadership there, but I think Story County has underperformed in south Story and I think it’s also underperformed in north Story – Story City and Roland and Zearing and McCallsburg and all those towns.
We need to do a better job. And that’s going to be critically important in many respects with regards to the presidential campaign. I think it’s not going to be at all easy for Iowa to go for a Democrat in the presidential. We’d better not be assuming, whomever our candidate is, that they can have a walk in Iowa. It isn’t going to happen.
GA: In 2012, Iowa is expected to lose one of its five congressional seats. Do you see any implications that could help or hurt the Democratic Party?
SS: I think about it all the time. My hope would be that we will have a candidate that wins the congressional seat from Tom Latham, in which case he or she will be in a position to win again in 2010 and then as the 4th district changes we’ll just have to see where the lines are drawn. But I think there’s only good to come from winning this district now and then letting the chips fall out later.
It will fall to the state legislators and the computer models to redraw the district, and I don’t think anybody should imagine that there will be an open seat in 2012. I think there will be either Latham or [5th district Representative Steve] King or somebody will have already a pretty good stake in whatever the 4th district looks like.
GA: [2nd district Representative Dave] Loebsack just endorsed [Representative Leonard] Boswell over Ed Fallon – who’s challenging [Boswell] in the 3rd Congressional District – as did [Iowa Senator Tom] Harkin. Are you going to endorse anyone?
SS: No, I don’t think so. I kind of have privately wondered whether Ed Fallon would not serve better to start working to run against [Iowa Senator Charles] Grassley. He is the guy who has statewide experience and has a stark contrast with Grassley. I understand Ed’s position and I think he is an attractive candidate, but at this point I’m going to stay out of that fight. I don’t want any piece of that, really.