AG Tom Miller lands in GOP crosshairs

By Chris Rizo | Mar 15, 2010

Tom Miller (D)

Brenna Findley (R)

Matthew Strawn (R)

DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline)-Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has found himself in the Republican Party's crosshairs, with the GOP trying hard this year to unseat the longtime Democratic stalwart.

This year, Miller is seeking an eighth term as the Hawkeye State's chief legal officer. Miller, 65, is being challenged by Republican Brenna Findley of Dexter, a 33-year-old attorney and congressional staffer.

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matthew Strawn told Legal Newsline that the GOP is definitely vying to unseat Miller, and their party's nominee will have "no shortage of resources" needed to do just that.

"We're very excited about giving Mr. Miller a competitive election for the first time in a few years," Strawn said.

This year, the attorney general race coincides with a "very, very competitive" gubernatorial contest, and the state's senior U.S. senator, Chuck Grassley, being at the top of the Republican ticket, he said.

"Both of those things will mean that there will be no shortage of resources on the ground to help our down-ballot Republicans, especially in the attorney general's race," Strawn said.

He and other GOP insiders say Findley will be a formidable candidate against Miller.

"She is a great candidate with a lot of energy," said Adam Temple, spokesman for the Republican Attorneys General Association, nothing that Findley has shown her vigor by stepping up to run against a longtime incumbent attorney general.

"It just isn't a good time to be a Democrat (officeholder) right now," Temple said, declining to speak directly to Miller's record.

Not so, said Travis Berry, executive director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

While conceding that Democrats might have a tougher go-of-it this election cycle than than they had in recent ones, Berry said Miller is going into reelection in good shape, as a trusted name in Hawkeye politics.

Berry noted that, among other things, Miller is popular in the state, is proven fundraiser and is a reliable "vote-getter," even after he left office for four years to run for Iowa governor.

Still, outside political observers say Miller could face a real challenge from Findley.

There is little doubt that Miller is going to have to campaign more so this year than he has been forced to in year's past, said Arthur Sanders, chair of the Political Science Department at Drake University in Des Moines.

"He's about as safe as a Democratic incumbent can be in this particular electoral environment," Sanders said, alluding to Republicans' uptick in public support perhaps most dramatically witnessed this year in Massachusetts, where a Republican won the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by the late liberal icon Ted Kennedy.

As for money, Miller should have plenty of that should he have a fight on his hands. Sanders noted that Miller has a "very good" fundraising machine.

Besides, he said, Miller is a popular political figure in the state, noting that constituents perceive him as having done a "good job," he's never been embroiled in scandal and he does not have budgetary issues to grapple with, as say the governor does, which can erode popularity.

"That has kept him really above the fray," Sanders said.

Miller has served as Iowa attorney general since 1979, except from 1991 to 1995, during which time he was a partner at the Des Moines law office of Faegre & Benson. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1990.

One of Findley's principle arguments against Miller is that he has been in office too long. It's time for a change, she says.

"Tom Miller has spanned four decades in the job and I think Iowans are ready for a new direction and a fresh perspective," Findley said last month.

As the race plays out, Miller's time spent outside the state will likely become an issue. An attendee at the recent National Association of Attorneys General meeting pointed out that Miller has logged scores of miles attending meetings around the nation.

Among them: confabs for NAAG, DAGA and CWAG, the Conference of Western Attorneys General, where water resources, public lands, border problems and tribal issues typically dominate the agendas.

As one of the nation's leading state attorneys general when it comes to consumer protection, Miller too has been at the center of several efforts on behalf of the states, including a stint as NAAG's president, and chairman of the group's Tobacco Committee.

Currently, he co-leads the State Foreclosure Prevention Working Group, made up of a dozen state attorneys general and banking regulators trying to stem the tide of Americans losing their homes. And more recently, Miller has been pressing the U.S. Senate to approve the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

A senior aide to U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, Findley earned her law degree from the University of Chicago. She received her bachelor's degree from Drake University. Miller graduated from Loras College and received his law degree from Harvard Law School.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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