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5-way GOP race for Iowa ag secretary too close to call; expected to go to convention

Clinton County, Iowa, farmer Dustin Johnson gets his tractor ready on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A five-way Republican primary race for Iowa agriculture secretary remained too close to call Wednesday with the incumbent apparently just shy of the threshold needed to secure the nomination.

Unofficial results indicated Mike Naig was just short of the 35 percent threshold needed to become the GOP nominee in the general election. However, provisional and absentee ballots still being counted could add to the tally, potentially allowing Naig to make up the difference.

If he does not, the nomination decision will be made at the Republican state convention scheduled for June 16 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said county auditors will finalize results — including provisional and absentee ballots — by June 12.

“At this point, we’re really focused on convention,” Naig said. “We’ll certainly be watching as the vote becomes official.”

Naig was named to the position by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in March after longtime agriculture secretary Bill Northey took a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Naig received more than 30,600 votes in the Republican primary, where Reynolds and other GOP state officials were unopposed.

State Sen. Dan Zubach, who chairs the agriculture committee, had the second-most votes at more than 18,800. Other Republican candidates are former Iowa Farm Bureau Federation president Craig Lang; former American Soybean Association chairman Ray Gaesser; and former Iowa Environmental Protection Commission chairman Chad Ingels.

On Wednesday afternoon, The Associated Press erroneously declared Naig the nominee but later retracted the call because he had not reached the 35 percent threshold.

Any of the five candidates could still emerge as the nominee at the convention.

Jesse Dougherty, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Iowa, said a candidate must receive a majority of delegate votes at the convention to become the nominee. Delegates start winnowing the lowest-performing candidates after the second round of voting to avoid gridlock.

The eventual Republican nominee will face Tim Gannon, a former USDA official who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Gannon said he plans to continue meeting with voters as the GOP nomination is finalized.

The agriculture secretary oversees about 320 state employees working on water quality, soil conservation, food safety and consumer protection. The secretary is part of the Executive Council, which handles a variety of key decisions including authorizing real estate transactions, accepting legal settlements and approving emergency funding.

Republicans have held the position for much of its history, although Democrats controlled it for the two decades prior to Northey’s election in 2006.