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Campaigning: Extra crispy

Nieland alters annual fish fry for campaign purpose

ALTOONA — While their son was busy tending to party guests, Norm and Sherry Nieland, parents of the Democratic candidate for Iowa Senate District 15, were operating the fish fry station like experts. With the help of friend Stacy Witzky, Sherry battered and breaded the crappie fillets in separate buckets while her husband manned the three fryers and emptied the finished product into a container to keep warm.

Sherry was moderating the pace and flow of fish sticks, letting Norm know when a new batch was ready. Witzky made sure each fillet was cleaned and ready for breadcrumbs. Norm just had to check the fish was cooked and to keep away would-be stragglers who dared to eat a fillet before serving time.

The fry cook team was moving like a well-oiled machine Sunday afternoon in Pine Hollow Stables, and they ought to be since it was the 20th year now-candidate Dan Nieland had organized the annual fish fry. Though it initially began as a relaxed get-together with colleagues, friends and family members, the fish fry has since been intertwined with Nieland’s political endeavors.

“Last year we did it, too, when I was on the ticket for the primary for the House (seat),” Nieland said, noting the event’s significance to his campaign. “That would be the first time we really had any political undertones or overtones. This year was just a perfect segue.”

Organized on Nieland’s 50-acre property with 90 horses, three different barns, several lots, a very full pond and a pasture out back, Nieland feels right at home talking with any table of people he comes across. He has had plenty of practice thanks to the many hours of door knocking throughout his district.

Just about everybody was invited to the fish fry, Nieland added. Jasper County and Polk County constituents and supporters lined up at Nieland’s Altoona ranch Pine Hollow Stables, including State Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, and Democratic candidate for Iowa House District 30 Kent Balduchi, who is running for the spot Nieland and Iowa Senate District 15 competitor, Zach Nunn, vied for previously.

Another guest was Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen, who delivered a speech midway through the afternoon fish fry reiterating the party’s qualms with the state’s privatization of Medicaid and rallying supporters riding the momentum of the supposed Democratic “blue wave” leading up to the November elections.

“It’s nice to see some blue skies — 2018 has to be a year of blue skies and a much bluer Senate,” Petersen said. “If Iowa sees some of the same trends that we’re seeing across the country, especially in suburban areas in particular, we have a real opportunity to swing those seats back under Democratic control. That holds true for this district as well.”

With the Iowa Senate District 15 seat up for grabs, Nieland is arriving to the race a bit later than usual and uses any available time to reach out to voters. Just before the fish fry began, Nieland was knocking on doors in Altoona for three straight hours. So far, he said, campaign work is going well. An afternoon fish fry with supporters is a small moment of relaxation for Nieland and his team.

“There’s still so much energy (in the campaign),” Nieland said. “You feed off that ... Knock on wood, I haven’t been thrown off of anybody’s doorstep yet.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

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