The Republican primary in Iowa’s new 1st Congressional District ended before it started, as Bettendrof businessman Kyle Kuehl ended his candidacy on Tuesday, leaving incumbent Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks the only Republican running for the seat. Kuehl announced his decision shortly before the State Objection Panel heard a challenge to the validity of the nominating petition he filed with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office earlier this month.
“I’m proud to say I have zero political experience, and I know that’s exactly what Iowans are looking for,” Kuehl said in the campaign kickoff video he posted online on Jan. 5. Kuehl may have thought that boast would help him in his effort to present himself as a more conservative candidate than Miller-Meeks, but it may also explain why the State Objection Board decided to uphold the challenge seeking to exclude him for the June primary ballot.
The panel, which hears all challenges to candidate qualifications and is made up of Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, and State Auditor Rob Sand and Attorney General Tom Miller, both Democrats, found numerous problems with Kuehl’s nominating petition, including a failure to properly fill out the name of the office being sought on many pages and incomplete signatures. The board voted unanimously to uphold the challenge.
Neither the candidate nor any representative from his campaign attended the board meeting on Tuesday to defend his petition. An attorney with the Secretary of State’s Office said Kuehl had emailed the office on Monday to say he planned to withdraw as a candidate.
The challenge to Kuehl’s candidacy was filed by attorney Alan Ostergren, who represented Miller-Meeks during the 2020 recount that ended with her six-vote victory. Ostergren is well-known for work on behalf of other Republican candidates and the state party. He represented the Iowa Republican Party and the Trump campaign in the 2020 lawsuits that resulted in thousands of absentee ballot request forms sent by county auditors in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury being ruled invalid.
Ostergren also filed challenges to the nominating petitions of Democratic Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer and Attorney General Miller, but both of the challenges failed on Tuesday. Miller recused himself from the panel while his petition was being reviewed. His place was filled by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.
This is not the first time a challenge filed with the State Objection Panel has cleared the field for a Republican incumbent. In 2018, a Republican party activist filed a successful objection that removed Ron Corbett from the primary ballot. Corbett, a Republican and the former mayor of Cedar Rapids, was running as moderate alternative to Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Miller-Meeks announced in November she would run in the newly created 1st Congressional District, which includes Johnson County and closely resembles the 2nd District she currently represents. But the new 1st District does not include Wapello County, where Miller-Meeks’ hometown of Ottumwa is located. Wapello is now in the 3rd District, represented by incumbent Democrat Cindy Axne. Congressional candidates are not legally required to live in their districts, but it is traditional and last year, Miller-Meeks said she would be moving into the 1st District.
On the candidate list for the June primary ballot released earlier this month by the Secretary of State’s Office still listed an Ottumwa address for Miller-Meeks. Little Village emailed the Miller-Meeks campaign on March 22 to ask where she currently resides, but has not yet received a reply.
With no primary challenger remaining, Miller-Meeks will face Democrat Christina Bohannan in the November election. Bohannan, currently a member of the Iowa House and professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, is a resident of Iowa City, where she has lived for 22 years.