A close look at Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races

Republicans are testing potentially damaging messages about Iowa House Democratic candidates, along with statements that might increase support for GOP candidates in battleground legislative districts. After listening to several recordings of these telephone polls and hearing accounts from other respondents, I have three big takeaways:

• Republicans are seeking ways to insulate themselves from voter anger over inadequate education funding and the Branstad administration’s botched Medicaid privatization;
• The time-honored GOP strategy of distorting obscure legislative votes is alive and well;
• The Iowa Democratic Party’s platform plank on legalizing all drugs may be used against candidates across the state.

Read on for much more about these surveys.

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Iowa Senate district 28 preview: Mike Breitbach vs. Jan Heikes

Hours after Democrats across the country had begun to celebrate President Barack Obama’s re-election on the night of November 7, 2012, Iowa’s political junkies were still on the edge of our seats, waiting for votes to be reported in the last few state Senate races. Sometime after 1 am, results from Senate district 42 in Iowa’s southeast corner confirmed that Democrats would control at least 26 seats in the upper chamber. For at least two more years, that firewall would stop Republicans from implementing some of the disastrous policies seen in places like Wisconsin, Kansas, or Ohio.

Democrats are still clinging to the ledge with a one-seat Iowa Senate majority. While Republicans have several districts to target in their quest for 26, Democrats have only one obvious pickup opportunity: Senate district 28 in the northeast corner of the state. This race was the “one that got away” four years ago, as former State Representative John Beard fell an agonizing 17 votes short against Republican Mike Breitbach in the battle for an open seat. Now Breitbach has the advantages of incumbency as he seeks re-election against Jan Heikes.

Follow me after the jump for more on this district’s political make-up and voting history, along with background on both candidates and Breitbach’s first television commercial.

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Ten Iowa legislative incumbents who raised surprisingly little for their re-election campaigns

Since the latest deadline for state legislative candidates to report to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board passed on May 19, I’ve been going through the forms filed by incumbents or challengers in potentially competitive races.

Some of the contribution totals were much lower than I expected to see.

Follow me after the jump for ten Iowa House or Senate incumbents who haven’t been focused on fundraising, even though they could face tough re-election campaigns.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature (post-filing edition)

Now that the deadline to compete in the Democratic or Republican primaries has passed, the field of candidates is set in most of the 100 Iowa House districts and 25 Iowa Senate districts that will be on the ballot this fall.

It’s time for a first look at chances to increase diversity in the state legislature for the next two years. The proportion of white lawmakers is unlikely to change, while the proportion of women could move in either direction.

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20 Iowa House races to watch tonight

Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process, we have an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts. In any given general election, depending on candidate recruitment, between one dozen and two dozen of the 100 Iowa House districts could be up for grabs. Democrats and Republicans spend big money on a much smaller number of districts; this year, only seven Iowa House races involved a large amount of television advertising. But the parties and candidates invest in direct mail and/or radio commercials in many more places than that.

Republicans go into election day favored to hold their Iowa House majority, which now stands at 53 seats to 47. Carolyn Fiddler has pegged seven “districts to watch” at her Statehouse Action blog, and in September, the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble discussed five districts he viewed as “key to Iowa House chamber control.” I see the playing field as much larger.

Follow me after the jump to review 20 Iowa House seats that will determine control of the chamber for the next two years.

Caveat: most years, there’s at least one shocking result in an Iowa House district neither party had their eye on. I’m thinking about Tami Weincek defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent in Waterloo in 2006, Kent Sorenson defeating a Democratic incumbent in Warren County in 2008, three Democratic state representatives who had run unopposed in 2008 losing in 2010, and Democrat Daniel Lundby taking out the seemingly safe Republican Nick Wagner in the Linn County suburbs in 2012. Wagner had run unopposed in the previous election.

So, while I don’t expect any of the “favored” seats discussed below to change hands, I would not rule out a surprise or two. That would be excellent news for the stealth challenger’s party.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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