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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Iowa primary election results thread

Polls close at 9 pm, and I’ll be updating this post regularly with primary election results. Rumor has it that turnout was relatively low, even on the Republican side where there are hard-fought primaries for U.S. Senate and the third Congressional district. According to the Polk County Auditor’s office, as of this afternoon only 1,506 absentee ballots had been requested and 1,350 absentee ballots received for today’s GOP primary. Keep in mind that roughly half of all Republican voters in IA-03 live in Polk County, and six campaigns were competing for their votes. Not to mention that five U.S. Senate candidates should have been locking in early votes in Iowa’s largest county.

By comparison, 2,883 Democratic primary absentee ballots were requested in Polk County, and 2,296 of those returned by today. The lion’s share were from Iowa Senate district 17 in Des Moines, where three candidates are seeking to replace Jack Hatch (2,475 absentee ballots requested and 1,950 returned). Democratic campaigns have long pushed early voting more than Republicans, but still—that’s a shocking failure to GOTV by the various Republican campaigns.

Share any comments about any Iowa campaigns in this thread, as well as any interesting anecdotes from voting today.

UPDATE: Polls are now closed and updates will continue after the jump.

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Walt Rogers exits IA-01 race, will seek third term in Iowa House district 60

I didn’t see this coming, but perhaps I should have, given his less than stellar fourth quarter fundraising report: State Representative Walt Rogers is ending his Congressional campaign in Iowa’s first district. Instead, he will seek re-election to Iowa House district 60. His official statement is after the jump.

Rogers has long been considered a rising star in the Iowa House Republican caucus. He won re-election in 2012 despite President Barack Obama carrying his district by a narrow margin. He hired campaign staffers while his Congressional bid was still in the exploratory phase and quickly gained support from former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and several state lawmakers. But he faced a tough race against Rod Blum in the GOP primary. In addition to almost winning the Republican nomination in IA-01 in 2012, Blum had support from activists on the party’s “Liberty” wing and a financial advantage over Rogers at the end of 2013.

Even if Rogers won the IA-01 primary, he would face an uphill battle in a Congressional district with 158,970 active registered Democrats, 133,746 Republicans, and 192,496 no-party voters as of February 2014.

Returning to the Iowa legislature looks like a safer bet for Rogers. I have not yet heard of a Democratic candidate in House district 60. I posted a district map below, along with the latest voter registration numbers.

I consider Blum overwhelmingly favored to beat Steve Rathje in the IA-01 primary now. Although I don’t agree with Blum about many things, I admire his campaign work ethic and discipline. he has now scared off two Republicans with much stronger establishment connections. I believe Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen chickened out of this race because he was afraid he would lose the primary. Blum had already started making a case against Paulsen.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that just last month, former U.S. Representative and gubernatorial nominee Jim Nussle had endorsed Rogers in the GOP primary. He really did look like the preferred establishment candidate. I also forgot to mention that Marshalltown-based attorney Gail Boliver joined the Republican field in December. It’s hard for me to see a social moderate and fiscal conservative winning a GOP primary, especially since Blum has been campaigning across the district for more than a year now.

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Walt Rogers launches GOP campaign in IA-01

State Representative Walt Rogers announced on Simon Conway’s WHO radio show this afternoon that he will seek the Republican nomination in Iowa’s first Congressional district. After the jump I’ve posted today’s announcement, along with a September 24 press release about staff hiring by the exploratory committee Rogers established a few weeks ago.

Rogers is the third declared Republican candidate in IA-01, after Steve Rathje and Rod Blum. Former State Senator and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate sounds ready to join the race soon, and former State Representative Renee Schulte is considering it. The eventual GOP nominee will probably go into the general election as a slight underdog. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the first Congressional district contains 162,238 active registered Democrats, 136,263 Republicans, and 193,958 no-party voters.

Rogers’ decision creates an open seat in Iowa House district 60, covering parts of Cedar Falls and Waterloo. I considered Rogers the favorite to be re-elected in 2014, but an open-seat race could be more competitive. President Barack Obama carried Iowa House district 60 in last year’s general election, but Republicans have a slight voter registration advantage there. Iowa politics-watchers expect Matt Reisetter, the GOP nominee in Senate district 30 last year, to seek the open seat in House district 60. My understanding is that at this time, Rogers’ 2012 Democratic nominee Bob Greenwood is not planning to run for the state legislature again.

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IA-01: Republican Walt Rogers forming exploratory committee (updated)

State Representative Walt Rogers inched closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa’s open first district, telling a group of Delaware County Republicans last night that he is forming an exploratory committee. Speaking to journalist Mike Wiser, Rogers said he would evaluate his potential to raise money, adding that each of his Iowa House colleagues in IA-01 have "encouraged me to run." The following Iowa House Republicans represent parts of this Congressional district: Speaker Kraig Paulsen, Brian Moore, Lee Hein, Quentin Stanerson, Sandy Salmon, David Maxwell, Dawn Pettengill, and Josh Byrnes.

Bleeding Heartland recently posted background on Rogers here. I doubt fundraising will be a problem for him. Not only did he raise more than the average state lawmaker for his 2012 re-election bid, he has national connections. In fact, Rogers just returned from the GOPAC Emerging Leaders Summit in Tennessee. The two declared Republican candidates in IA-01, Steve Rathje and Rod Blum, are not powerhouse fundraisers.

Assuming Rogers runs for Congress, his main competition in the GOP primary will probably be Blum. He narrowly lost the 2012 primary to establishment favorite Ben Lange and is organizing around the district, including in Rogers’ home base of Black Hawk County. Blum would likely paint Rogers as a compromiser and opportunist, like he described Speaker Paulsen. Although Rogers wouldn’t bring as much baggage into this race as Paulsen might have done, he may be vulnerable to similar attacks as a member of the Iowa House Republican leadership team.

I am seeking comment from two Republicans in Linn County who are said to be considering the IA-01 race as well: former State Representative Renee Schulte and Paul Pate, a former state senator, Cedar Rapids mayor, and Iowa Secretary of State.

Side note: if Rogers runs for IA-01, both parties are likely to target the vacant Iowa House district 60 in Cedar Falls and Waterloo. While Republicans have a slight voter registration advantage there, no-party voters are the largest group, and President Barack Obama carried House district 60 in last year’s general election.

UPDATE: Added the official announcement from Rogers after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: According to James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Pate will enter the IA-01 primary field soon.

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