Are women better candidates than men? (And other curiosities from the 2016 Iowa House elections)

After taking a closer look at the 2016 Iowa House election results, Kent R. Kroeger believes Iowa Democrats have reasons to worry but also reasons to be optimistic about their chances of taking back the chamber. You can contact the author at kentkroeger3@gmail.com.

The dataset used for the following analysis of 2016 Iowa House races with Democratic challengers or candidates for open seats can be found here: DATASET

When former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine asked in her July 2016 Huffington Post essay, “Is 2016 the year of the woman?”, she can be forgiven if her underlying assumption was that the U.S. would be electing its first female president four months later.

We know how that turned out. Yet, her question had a broader vision and was not dependent on the outcome of one presidential race in one country. The question springs from an emerging body of evidence that women may make for better politicians than men. Given that only 19 percent of U.S. congressional seats are currently held by women, it may seem ridiculous to ask such a question. And since 2000, the percentage of women in state legislatures has plateaued (see graph below). Nonetheless, looking across a longer time span, there is no question more and more women are running and winning elective office in this country.

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Gary Kroeger considering a challenge to Walt Rogers in Iowa House district 60

March 2 update: Kroeger ended his Congressional campaign. Added his comments on switching to the state legislative race at the end of this post.

One of the three Democratic candidates in Iowa’s first Congressional district may file instead as a candidate in Iowa House district 60, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls. I sought comment from Gary Kroeger this morning after Pat Rynard mentioned “talk in some Democratic circles” that Kroeger may switch to the statehouse race. Kroeger replied, “I am considering whatever is best for the Democratic Party in terms of my candidacy. State races are also imperative.”

Kroeger launched his Congressional campaign last April, positioning himself for the primary as “an unapologetic progressive, lifelong progressive and a proud lifelong Democrat.” Since Ravi Patel exited that race and Pat Murphy launched his second Congressional campaign last summer, Murphy has claimed the labels of “progressive” and “lifelong Democrat.” A longtime Iowa legislator and the 2014 nominee in IA-01, Murphy is better known around the district than Kroeger, who has trailed far behind Murphy and Monica Vernon in the few opinion polls released so far. Raising enough money to run a district-wide campaign has also proved challenging for Kroeger. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has endorsed Vernon, while the Blue America PAC is supporting Murphy.

That said, the kind of money Kroeger has raised for his IA-01 campaign would go very far in a state legislative race. His local name recognition would make him a strong challenger to three-term State Representative Walt Rogers.

Rogers defeated Democratic incumbent Doris Kelley in the previous version of this swing district in 2010. He held the seat in 2012 by more than 600 votes, even as residents of House district 60 preferred President Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by 50.15 percent to 48.91 percent.

A rising star in the Iowa House GOP caucus, Rogers launched his own Congressional campaign in IA-01 in 2013 but abandoned that race a few months later to seek a third term in the state legislature. He easily defeated Democratic challenger Karyn Finn amid the 2014 Republican wave. Joni Ernst outpolled Bruce Braley among House district 60 voters by nearly a 10-point margin, even though Braley himself is from Black Hawk County.

The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office show that House district 60 contains 5,887 active registered Democrats, 7,007 Republicans, and 7,950 no-party voters. Those numbers do not include people who changed their party registration on February 1 in order to participate in the Iowa caucuses. A presidential year electorate creates a better opportunity for a Democratic challenger here.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. A map of House district 60 is after the jump. UPDATE: The Secretary of State’s Office just posted updated voter registration totals, showing 6,164 active registered Democrats, 7,253 Republicans, and 7,208 no-party voters for this House district.

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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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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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