Bill Dix is the new Iowa Senate minority leader

After another disappointing election cycle, Iowa Senate Republicans chose Bill Dix to be the new leader of their caucus yesterday.

A year ago, Dix failed to oust minority leader Paul McKinley. Jerry Behn, chosen by his colleagues to lead Senate Republicans during the 2012 legislative session, said in a written statement yesterday that he did not seek re-election to the position. That’s just as well, because his colleagues are surely frustrated that they will be in the minority for another two years. Republicans will have at most 24 seats in the upper chamber, if the GOP candidate’s small lead in Senate district 28 holds and if the Republican wins the December 11 special election in Senate district 22.

First-term Senator Rick Bertrand will be the new minority whip in the upper chamber, replacing Brad Zaun.

Three of the five assistant minority leaders chosen last year remain in that position: Roby Smith, David Johnson, and Tim Kapucian. Senate Republicans also chose two new assistant minority leaders yesterday: Randy Feenstra and Joni Ernst. They replace Pat Ward, who passed away last month, and Merlin Bartz, who lost his re-election bid.

Dix is a first-term senator, having beaten a Democratic incumbent in 2010. He previously served five terms in the Iowa House, rising to the position of Appropriations Committee chair. Among Iowa Republican lawmakers, Dix is one of the strongest fundraisers. This year Behn and outgoing minority whip Brad Zaun underperformed in that department, relying on Governor Terry Branstad and others to raise money for the competitive Senate races.

Dix will be the sixth leader of Iowa Senate Republicans since 2006, when they shared power with Democrats in a 25-25 chamber.

Looking ahead to the 2014 elections, Democrats will hold fourteen of the 25 Iowa Senate districts on the ballot. Republicans tend to run challengers everywhere, but only a few of the Democratic-held seats look potentially competitive, especially if any of the following incumbents retire: Daryl Beall (Senate district 5), Dennis Black (district 15), Amanda Ragan (district 27), and Rita Hart (district 49).

Of the eleven Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2014, only two represent districts with a significant Democratic voter registration advantage: Bertrand (Senate district 7, Sioux City) and Mark Chelgren (district 41, including Ottumwa and Fairfield). Sandy Greiner’s district 39 is relatively balanced in terms of voter registration, but the incumbent is well-known and can raise tons of money thanks to her long previous incumbency and involvement with the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund.

The latest voter registration totals for all Iowa Senate districts are here (pdf), but those do not reflect people who registered to vote on election day. All of the odd-numbered districts will be on the ballot in 2014.

LATE UPDATE: Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson pointed out some interesting trivia.

Dix, at the age of 49, is the youngest senator to win a top leadership spot in the senate since November of 1996, when Mike Gronstal was elected Senate Democratic Leader. Gronstal, who was 46 years old back then, was re-elected Senate Democratic Leader this past Sunday. Senator Dix, who is from Shell Rock, was elected Senate Republican leader last week. Dix turns 50 November 28.

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