Flip the Iowa House

A view from the trenches by Christine Lewers, an organizer of a new group working to help Democratic candidates win Republican-held Iowa House districts. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Most Iowans don’t know who David Reid is. I didn’t either, until last spring, when the national Sister District Project sent an e-mail asking me to contribute to his campaign. I sent $20 and forgot about Reid until November 7, 2017, when Democrats in Virginia won fifteen Republican-held seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. Reid’s win was among them.

That got me wondering. Why not do the same thing in Iowa? The Sister District idea is to move resources from safe blue regions of the country to places where it can have the most impact: state legislative races where a Democratic challenger is taking on an incumbent in a flippable district.

Unfortunately, Iowa is not currently a focus of Sister District’s 2018 political strategy. That shouldn’t stop Iowa’s Democrats from building a similar strategy to help win back the state House themselves. I’m part of a politically active group of friends, neighbors and family that during the past year has marched and protested and called and more. None of that is enough. Democrats must win elections.

That’s why my group and I started Flip It Iowa.

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Fourteen Iowa House Democrats who seem content to stay in minority forever

Iowa Democrats are in a deep hole, controlling only 20 of the 50 seats in the state Senate and 41 of 100 in the House. On the plus side, strong candidate recruitment and a wave of Republican retirements are giving Democrats plenty of opportunities to pick up House seats. (The 2018 Iowa Senate map is less promising.)

Raising money can be challenging for leaders of a minority party, who don’t call the shots on legislation. Furthermore, Iowa Republicans have a natural advantage, since the policies they promote are often tailored to suit wealthy individuals or corporate interest groups. While money doesn’t always determine campaign outcomes, quite a few Democratic lawmakers and challengers lost in 2016 after being massively outspent on television commercials and direct mail (see here, here, and here for examples).

Yet the latest set of campaign financial disclosures reveal little sense of urgency among Democratic incumbents who could do much more to help others win competitive districts this November.

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Get ready for a wave of Iowa House Republican retirements (updated)

State legislator retirements are typically a problem for the party out of power. Members of the majority can chair committees, drive the agenda, and get plenty of attention from lobbyists. Life in the minority caucus is much less satisfying.

Although Iowa House Republicans enjoy a 59-41 majority, four GOP representatives have already confirmed plans to step down this year, with more retirements likely before the March 16 filing deadline. When incumbents don’t seek re-election, party leaders sometimes must spend more resources defending open seats, leaving less money available for top and especially second-tier targets.

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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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