Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Commentary: The Great Senate Race That Never Was

CARROLL -- Carroll County, Iowa, has long been known as a place that grows and nurtures priests and nuns — and even bishops — right along with the crops.

We have fertile ground for the faithful, that’s for certain.

But Carroll County missed an opportunity to have two of its native sons run for the U.S. Senate in what would have been the most substantive, inspiring political contest in the state’s history.

Imagine this: We could have had a race between the late Coon Rapids banker and internationally acclaimed agri-businessman John Chrystal, a Democrat, and Carroll County native and former lieutenant governor Art Neu, a Republican attorney who has served on numerous key panels and commissions, most recently the Board of Corrections.

Think how different the commercials would have been. Actually, there may not have been any commercials in a Neu/Chrystal race.

But it would have been high-minded and full of witty exchanges. You would have had a race where the two candidates liked each other, and one in which both men would rather be right than win.

“Arthur and John would have run the most decent, civil, lofty race we have seen, certainly in recent memory,” says David Oman, a former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party.

Oman says the hypothetical Chrystal/Neu match-up would have been a race centered mostly on economics, as they shared similar views on social issues and believed, similarly, in an expansive, global role for the state and country.

“The geography would have been fascinating, with both from west central Iowa,” Oman said. “Both would have had to work to get known in eastern Iowa.”

Oman said there would have been lots of cross-over voting.

And lots of humor.

“Arthur would have needled John in debates and his (Arthur’s) humor would have won friends,” Oman said.

Some very influential Iowans would tell you that Chrystal could have been more than a senator, that he had the potential for national leadership of the highest order.

Speaking at Chrystal’s memorial service in the winter of the year 2000, Michael Gartner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a good friend of Neu’s, said this of Chrystal: “Twelve years ago, I wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal saying John would be the perfect vice-presidential candidate — that he was smart and honest and caring, that he understood the nation and the world, that he knew about farm and factory, that he was a businessman with a soul and a savior with a brain.”

Even with that Pulitzer pen, Gartner probably couldn’t summon up such eloquence and praise for any of the people seeking offices in Iowa today.

Around the state, Neu remains one of our most respected political figures. Whether you’re walking around downtown Fort Madison with him or eating at a restaurant in Fort Dodge, you see it. Neu is approached by people who remember his service, and admire his continued involvement in state matters.

The Neu/Chrystal showdown would be all the more attractive today as even the most casual television viewer is bombarded with awful, negative ads that aren’t remotely creative and are just downright mean and often flatly false.

It could have been so much better.

How much pride would we as Carroll County residents have had in seeing our best — and the state’s best, for that matter — compete for the U.S. Senate?

We’ll never know.

But it’s something to think about when you’re watching politics in Iowa today.

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