Unopposed in 2008, defeated in 2010

Reading up on the carnage that was last week’s Congressional elections, I noticed that two House Democrats lost their seats despite having run unopposed in 2008. The unlikely losers were Rick Boucher in Virginia’s ninth district and Phil Hare in Illinois’ seventeenth district, including the Quad Cities area (though polls had shown Hare in trouble this fall).

I wondered whether any Iowa Democrats suffered the same fate. It turns out that three of the 13 Iowa House incumbents defeated last week did not have a Republican opponent in 2008. In each case, special circumstances may have exacerbated the generally bad environment for Democratic candidates this year.

House district 25

The most shocking Iowa House result for me was Tom Schueller losing to Brian Moore district 25 by 149 votes, according to the unofficial results. As of November 1, this district covering Jackson County and parts of Dubuque and Clinton counties had 9049 registered Democrats, 4394 Republicans and 8350 no-party voters. Schueller carried this district with 60 percent of the vote in the last midterm election, and Republicans did not field a candidate against him in 2008.

Moore was one of four candidates in the Democratic primary for the open Senate district 13 this year. He finished second to Tod Bowman in June, drawing more than a quarter of the votes. Soon after,

Moore said the Republicans asked if he would consider switching parties and running for the House seat. He said the demographics showed voters changed parties to vote for him in June.

“I hadn’t really thought of it. Some had asked me if I would run as an independent this fall. But I didn’t want to do that,” Moore said. “I think I’ve shown a point of view that people want something different.

“The viewpoints have changed since I joined the Democratic Party in the 1980s. My viewpoints are not in line now. The Democrats are more liberal,” Moore said. “My viewpoints are the same with family values and responsibility for spending.”

Moore said he has no complaints about Schueller.

“But they tell me he has aligned with the Democratic Party on almost all his votes,” Moore said. “I will represent the voter and not just the party. The Republican Party said they can deal with that.”

To my knowledge, Moore did not advertise or send out direct mail during the general election campaign. At candidate forums he called for focusing state spending on “essential needs” and spending no more than the state takes in.

I have to hand it to Republicans. They found a candidate with crossover appeal and convinced him to run, even though he had “no complaints” about the incumbent in his district. Iowa Democrats were caught napping here.

I’ll be interested to see how often Moore votes differently from the rest of the House Republican caucus. This seat should be a top target for Democrats in 2012.

House district 42

Another election-night shocker was Geri Huser falling 159 votes short against Kim Pearson in House district 42. Huser was first elected to the Iowa House in 1996. Her district covers traditionally Democratic areas in eastern Polk County and part of western Jasper County. Republicans did not field candidates against Huser in 2006 or 2008. She did have a Democratic primary challenger backed by some labor unions in 2008, but she won that primary easily.

District 42 has grown substantially since 2000, and quite a few Republicans moved into new subdivisions in Bondurant, Altoona, Pleasant Hill, Runnells and other Polk County communities. As of November 1, 2010, Democrats still outnumbered Republicans in House district 42, but not by much: there were 8870 registered Democrats, 7515 Republicans and 7340 independents.

This race was off the radar for most observers during the campaign. The Republican-leaning Iowa Industry PAC and Iowa Farm Bureau Federation both endorsed Huser, and those groups don’t typically back Democrats who have serious challengers.

Kim Pearson worked hard making voter contacts during the campaign. A strong movement conservative, she had an unusually large volunteer base of tea party activists and people involved with the 9.12 Project and Save Our American Republic. She ran radio advertising in Des Moines, which falsely accused Huser of supporting abortion “up to the day of delivery.” She also got plenty of free publicity on Steve Deace’s drive-time WHO radio show.

District 42 was one of only two Iowa races in which a third-party candidate arguably affected the outcome. Dan Nieland of Altoona ran with no party affiliation and won 514 votes (3.6 percent). He campaigned on a broad anti-incumbent message about accountability. There’s no guarantee Huser would have defeated Pearson without Nieland in the race, but one can’t help wondering.

District 42 has excess population now, and Pearson’s chances of keeping this seat in Republican hands will depend partly on which areas get cut when the new map is drawn.

House district 48

Although four-term incumbent Donovan Olson did not have a Republican opponent in 2008, the GOP spent heavily to beat him in House district 48 this year. Des Moines television stations ran countless commercials promoting challenger Chip Baltimore or accusing Olson of voting for the dreaded “heated sidewalks.” Independents have a plurality in this district, which covers most of Boone County and a small part of Dallas County (including Perry). The November 1 registration numbers were 6776 Democrats, 5521 Republicans and 8152 no-party voters.

Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native commented last week that Olson faced a “perfect storm,” because Governor-elect Terry Branstad has been living in this district. That must have boosted Republican turnout and probably helped the GOP with independents who know Branstad personally. Connections to Branstad helped Baltimore raise lots of money for the race too. Even so, Olson only lost by a couple dozen votes. He should consider challenging Baltimore in 2012, or perhaps running for Senate district 24, depending on how the new map is drawn.

  • Interesting

    The Huser race particularly baffles me because I would have assumed that socially moderate independents would have backed her based on some of the positions Pearson takes.  It doesn’t sound like a lot of those folks went to the polls though, but its hard to say.  

    • I think she took it for granted

      Her campaign wasn’t very visible–I don’t recall hearing any radio ads (a bunch for Pearson), and I don’t recall seeing any signs the many times I drove through the district on highway 163. I’d be surprised if Huser matched Pearson in terms of door-knocking. A lot of Democratic activism in eastern Polk County was focused on re-electing Tom Hockensmith as supervisor.

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