Democrat Jessica Kean to face GOP's Andy McKean in Iowa House district 58

Democrats have a new candidate in Iowa House district 58, which will likely be targeted by both parties. Jessica Kean, who works for a non-profit organization in Maquoketa, will seek the nomination at a special convention next month. Previous Democratic candidate Peter Hird had been running for the seat since last October and was unopposed in the primary, but yesterday he announced plans to end his campaign for unspecified "personal reasons," following "much deliberation." The party’s new recruit Kean will be favored at the special convention, even if other Democrats enter the fray.

Among the most Democratic-leaning Iowa legislative seats currently held by a Republican, House district 58 is a must-win for Democrats to have any hope of regaining control of the lower chamber, where the party now holds 43 of the 100 seats. It became one of the top pickup opportunities when GOP State Representative Brian Moore decided not to seek re-election, joining more than half a dozen of his colleagues this cycle.

I assumed Moore would be a one-term wonder after his shocking, narrow victory in 2010. But his constituents re-elected him even as Barack Obama received 55.6 percent of the vote in House district 58 in 2012. Only residents of House district 91 in the Muscatine area gave a higher share of their votes to the president while electing a Republican to the Iowa House. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 58 contains 7,038 active registered Democrats, 5,236 Republicans, and 8,567 no-party voters.

The GOP candidate in House district 58 is former state lawmaker Andy McKean. He easily won a three-way primary with more than 62 percent of the vote. He served fourteen years in the Iowa House and ten in the Senate before retiring in 2002 to run successfully for Jones County supervisor.

Given McKean’s political experience and long career as an attorney in the Anamosa area, I am surprised he hasn’t raised more money for his House campaign. He reported $8,351.00 in contributions by mid-May, mostly from individuals, but spent almost all of that cash before the June primary. He raised another $5,115.00 in the next reporting period, of which $3,000 came from a PAC representing general contractors. As of July 14, McKean had just $4,594.23 cash on hand. House Republican leaders will probably need to spend part of Speaker Linda Upmeyer’s huge war chest defending this seat.

I enclose below background on both candidates and a map of the district, which covers all of Jackson County, much of Jones County, and two rural Dubuque County townships. Donald Trump carried Jackson County and most of the Jones County precincts in the February 1 precinct caucuses, while Marco Rubio carried the Dubuque County precincts. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton carried Jackson County; the Jones County precincts were a mixed bag, and the Dubuque precincts were a tie.

More voters in House district 58 live in Jackson County (Kean’s base) than in Jones County, where McKean has lived for decades. On the other hand, Kean is a first-time candidate, whereas McKean has been elected to the state legislature ten times.

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Republican Brian Moore retiring, opening up Iowa House district 58

One of the best pickup opportunities for Democrats in the Iowa House got better on Thursday, as three-term Republican State Representative Brian Moore told KMAQ Radio in Maquoketa that he will not run for re-election in House district 58. After an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in an Iowa Senate district, Moore switched parties, filed in a House seat where there was no Republican challenger, and pulled off one of the most shocking Iowa state legislative upsets in 2010. He won a re-match against Tom Schueller in the next election cycle and defeated challenger Kim Huckstadt by a comfortable margin in 2014.

House district 58 is among the most Democratic-leaning legislative seats currently held by a Republican. In 2012, Barack Obama received 55.6 percent of the vote here; only residents of House district 91 in the Muscatine area gave a higher percentage of their votes to the president while electing a Republican to the Iowa House. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 58 contains 6,968 active registered Democrats, 4,726 Republicans, and 9,151 no-party voters.

Moore has not always fallen in line with House Republican leaders. In late December, he told William Garbe of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald that he may break with his caucus during this year’s session to support a larger funding increase for K-12 schools. Fellow GOP State Representatives Quentin Stanerson and Ron Jorgensen are also retiring this year and are known to have been dissatisfied with the final compromise on education funding last year. Moore’s announcement will increase speculation that State Representative Josh Byrnes may not seek a fourth term in House district 51. He challenged Linda Upmeyer for the speaker’s chair last summer. After losing that contest, Byrnes criticized excessive partisanship and the failure to meet deadlines for approving school funding. In 2013, Byrnes and Moore were the only two House Republicans to vote with Democrats to expand Medicaid as foreseen under the Affordable Care Act.

Democrat Peter Hird launched his campaign in House district 58 in October. I enclose below some background on Hird and a map of the district, which covers all of Jackson County, a large area in Jones County and two rural Dubuque County townships. Pat Rynard profiled Hird at Iowa Starting Line last month. I would not be surprised to see another Democrat file to run for this seat, since the winner of the primary will have a good chance of being elected in November.

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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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New data bolster supporters of raising Iowa's gas tax

The average cost of owning a car is lower in Iowa than in any other state, the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s B.A. Morelli reported on August 16, citing an analysis by Bankrate.com. Car insurance costs an average of $630 per year in Iowa, the lowest in the 50 states. Vehicle repairs cost Iowa drivers an average of $315 per year, also the lowest number for any state. The average cost of gasoline for Iowa drivers worked out to $998 a year, taking into account not only the price of gas but also vehicle miles traveled and fuel efficiency rates. That’s "middle of the pack," Morelli noted.

Iowa’s gasoline tax has not been increased since 1989, reaching a historic low in real terms. Meanwhile, Iowa road and bridge conditions continue to deteriorate. Three years ago, our state ranked third-worst in the country for structurally deficient bridges. The latest data indicate we are second-worst in that category, with more than 20 percent of the state’s bridges in need of repairs or replacement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch supports raising the gas tax, while Governor Terry Branstad has said he favors other ways to finance road and bridge work. The candidates clashed over that issue during last week’s debate. Branstad has left himself some wiggle room by not pledging to veto a gas tax increase.

The current leaders of the Iowa House and Senate Transportation Committees strongly support raising the gas tax to pay for road work. Bills to increase the tax by a total of 10 cents per gallon over several years passed committees in both chambers in recent years, but advocates were unable to recruit enough bipartisan support to pass them in the full Iowa House or Senate in either of the past two legislative sessions. Iowa House Transportation Committee Chair Josh Byrnes has promised to keep working on this issue, and State Representative Brian Moore, the vice chair of that committee, said this spring that a gas tax hike is “in the works” for 2015. He has emphasized that weight limits on structurally deficient bridges are bad for businesses like the livestock transportation company he owns.

Republicans Byrnes and Moore both represent Iowa House districts that may be targeted this fall, as does Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman, a Democrat. Prospects for raising the gas tax will depend in part on whether key advocates are re-elected in November. Regardless of which parties control the Iowa House and Senate after the midterm elections, a gas tax increase would have to be a bipartisan effort.

Democratic and Republican critics of increasing the gasoline tax have pointed out that consumption taxes tend to be regressive, hitting lower-income people harder. A gas tax hike would also disproportionately affect rural residents, who may need to travel further to work or shop. The Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has recommended reforms to address those concerns. I’ve posted the short summary after the jump; you can read more in depth on their ideas for “building a better gas tax” here. I would add that any increase to Iowa’s gas tax should be accompanied by “fix-it first” language, so that new road construction doesn’t swallow the most of the revenue that should be earmarked for repairs. Fixing roads and bridges gives taxpayers more bang for their buck and creates more jobs than building new roads or putting new lanes on existing roads, which (while sometimes needed) increase future maintenance costs.

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Analysis of the Obama-Romney vote in the Iowa House districts

The Daily Kos Elections team has been compiling 2012 presidential election results by state legislative district as well as by Congressional district, state by state. Last week the Iowa numbers were added to the database. I took a first stab at previewing the battle for control of the Iowa Senate next year, using data including the raw vote totals and percentages for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in each district.

The Daily Kos database includes Obama and Romney vote totals and percentages for each Iowa House district here. After the jump I’ve incorporated that information and other factors to predict which Iowa House districts will be competitive in 2014. Writing this post has been challenging, because every election cycle brings surprises, and many more seats in the lower chamber will be in play. Unlike the Iowa Senate, where only half of the 50 members are on the ballot in each general election, all 100 Iowa House members are on ballot in every even-numbered year. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the lower chamber.

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First look at the Obama and Romney ground games in Iowa

At this time four years ago, Barack Obama’s campaign had about 30 field offices up and running in Iowa, compared to six offices for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Obama’s campaign has had eight Iowa field offices open this summer and is rolling out another 26 offices around Iowa this weekend. So far, Mitt Romney’s campaign has ten Iowa field offices, in addition to the unified Republican headquarters in Urbandale.

After the jump, I compare the field office locations for each presidential campaign, grouped by Iowa Congressional district. Where relevant, I’ve also noted competitive Iowa House and Senate districts near the Obama and Romney field offices, although I doubt either presidential campaign will do much for down-ticket Democratic or Republican candidates.

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