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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of October 1)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 02, 2014 at 09:17:21 AM CDT

The latest Iowa GOP mass mailing of absentee ballot requests appears to be bearing fruit. For the first time since the Iowa Secretary of State's Office started releasing early voting numbers on September 22, Republicans added more absentee ballot requests than Democrats did over the past day. The statewide Democrats advantage in ballot requests now stands at roughly 42,500, down from about 44,000 yesterday.

Follow me after the jump for updated early voting numbers, including ballots returned as well as those requested. Click here for previous tables to look for trends in the numbers. Democrats continue to lead in ballot requests in all four Congressional districts. The largest margin remains in IA-02, where four-term Representative Dave Loebsack faces Republican challenger Mariannette Miller-Meeks for the third time. Several Iowa Senate seats targeted by both parties are located within that Congressional district.

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Iowa Senate Democrats roll out state government reforms

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 01, 2014 at 15:00:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Senate Oversight Committee met yesterday to approve a wide range of recommendations on state government management, contracting, and labor practices. O. Kay Henderson posted audio from the committee meeting at Radio Iowa. On a 3-2 party-line vote, Democrats on the committee approved recommendations in the following nine areas:

• A ban on secret settlements and hush money
• Expanded whistleblower protections
• Anti-cronyism measures
• Reform of the state's "do-not-hire" database
• A ban on no-bid contracts for state projects
• Increase accountability in state infrastructure projects
• Protect Iowans right to fair hearings by preventing political appointees and at-will employees from supervising or evaluating judges
• Restore integrity to Iowa's unemployment trust fund by appointing trusted and transparent leadership
• Require that the Legislature be notified when the Governor receives reports of founded workplace violence in state agencies.

One of the Republicans who voted against the recommendations, State Senator Julia Garrett, characterized the Democratic proposals as "political theater" not "borne out by the facts."

"No laws were broken. No codes of ethics were violated," Garrett said. "Instead, we have discovered that there is a difference of opinion in management philosophies...and we have learned that sometimes front-line workers don't care for or particularly agree with their bosses."

In Garrett's view, Governor Terry Branstad is running the state "exceptionally well" and should get more credit for ending secret settlements through an executive order. However, witnesses appearing before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee in recent months testified to many problems in state government beyond settlements that included confidentiality clauses (which were the first scandals to get widespread attention). Committee Chair Janet Petersen mentioned several of them in her opening remarks for yesterday's meeting. After the jump I've posted a more detailed list of recommendations, along with findings that prompted them. Whether these proposals go anywhere during the 2015 legislative session will depend on party control of the Iowa House and Senate after the November election.

Rod Boshart paraphrased Petersen as predicting that if Branstad is re-elected, several of his appointees who were involved in these scandals may have trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate, "notably Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert."

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 30)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 01, 2014 at 08:51:23 AM CDT

Every weekday through November 4, Bleeding Heartland will post updated totals absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts, based on data from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. The latest tables are after the jump. Previous tables are here.

Every day since September 22, Democrats have added more absentee ballot requests than Republicans, but not by much today. The Iowa GOP would be happy to reverse that trend as soon as possible.  

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 29)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 30, 2014 at 09:34:08 AM CDT

Every weekday through November 4, Bleeding Heartland will post updated totals absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts, based on data from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. The latest tables are after the jump. Previous tables are here. If turnout in this year's election is roughly on the level of 2010, with about 1.1 million Iowans participating, than approximately 15 percent of those who will vote have already requested early ballots.

Today Nate Cohn posted his analysis of the Iowa early voting numbers at the New York Times' Upshot blog. His main takeaways:

Over all, the early voting tallies in Iowa tell us that both Democrats and Republicans are better mobilized than in 2010 - which is no surprise in a state where there was no competitive contest that year - but not as well mobilized as in 2012. The Republicans are more obviously outperforming their past figures, but Democrats may be doing a better job of turning out marginal voters. The early vote tallies seem consistent with the polls: a close contest in which either side could prevail.

I agree with the broad conclusions but think Cohn is missing a few important factors.

First, every day since the Iowa Secretary of State's Office started updating the absentee ballot figures, Democrats have added more ballot requests than Republicans. We don't know whether that trend will continue for the next five weeks, but it's encouraging for Democrats.

Second, Cohn ignores the no-party voters who have requested early ballots (about 35,000 people as of yesterday). But independents added considerably to President Barack Obama's advantage in the early vote in 2012. On the eve of that general election, registered Iowa Democrats who had returned early ballots outnumbered registered Republicans who had done so by about 65,000. But Obama received 137,355 more early votes in Iowa than Romney, meaning he must have been supported by about two-thirds of the roughly 200,000 no-party voters who cast early ballots. Democratic canvassers have done more this year than Republicans to target independent voters, which could add to the party's early voting advantage.

Third, Cohn repeatedly characterizes the 2010 midterm election in Iowa as uncompetitive, presumably because Terry Branstad and Chuck Grassley were heavily favored in the races for governor and U.S. senator. But aside from the national mood that favored Republicans in 2010, one huge factor driving turnout in Iowa was the first judicial retention elections following the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision allowing same-sex marriage. That motivation for social conservatives is absent this year because no one on the Supreme Court is up for retention. Branstad recruited unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Sam Clovis to run for state treasurer right after this year's Republican primary in an obvious attempt to give that part of the GOP base more reason to turn out. I'm skeptical that social conservatives will be as energized to vote for the Republican ticket as they were in 2010.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 28)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Sep 29, 2014 at 10:20:00 AM CDT

Every weekday through November 4, Bleeding Heartland will post updated totals absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts. Follow me after the jump for the latest tables. I took the numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. Previous tables are here.

As of September 28, registered Iowa Democrats have requested about 40,000 more ballots than Republicans have. Democrats also claim to have generated a higher percentage of ballot requests than Republicans among Iowans who did not vote in the 2010 midterm election.  

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 25)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2014 at 10:20:00 AM CDT

Thousands of Iowans took advantage of the first day for in-person early voting yesterday. The latest totals for absentee ballots requested and returned, statewide and in Iowa's four Congressional districts, are after the jump. I took the numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State's website. To spot trends in the numbers, you can find tables from earlier this week here.

Both parties have been pushing early voting, and both have generated more absentee ballot requests than at the same point in Iowa's last midterm elections. For now, Democrats are running ahead in the early vote statewide and in each Congressional district, but the numbers are far from decisive.

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 24)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 25, 2014 at 09:35:00 AM CDT

Based on the latest data from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, I've updated tables showing how many absentee ballots Iowans have requested and returned, statewide and in the four Congressional districts. Democrats still lead in ballot requests statewide and in each district, as you can see below. The largest lead is in IA-02; the smallest in IA-04.

Tables from previous days can be viewed here. The number of ballots returned is creeping up slowly, but that will change very soon. Early voting in-person begins today, and every vote cast at a county auditor's office counts as a ballot requested and a ballot returned on the same day. Also, more and more Iowans who are voting by mail will receive their ballots by this weekend.

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 23)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 24, 2014 at 10:35:00 AM CDT

Based on the latest data from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office, I've updated after the jump tables showing how many absentee ballots Iowans have requested and returned, statewide and in the four Congressional districts.

Tables from previous days can be viewed here. Note that the number of ballots returned is still quite low, because most of the 99 county auditors are starting to mail ballots this week. In-person early voting begins tomorrow, 40 days before the general election.

Among the four Congressional districts, IA-02 has both the largest number of ballot requests so far and the largest difference between the Democratic and Republican numbers. That's bad news for Mariannette Miller-Meeks in her third attempt to unseat Representative Dave Loebsack, an uphill battle in my opinion. It may also be good news for Democrats hoping to maintain or expand their Iowa Senate majority, because several of the most competitive Iowa Senate districts are located within the second Congressional district (namely, Senate district 39, Senate district 41, Senate district 15, and to a lesser extent Senate district 49).

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Latest Iowa absentee ballot numbers (as of September 22)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 23, 2014 at 09:37:46 AM CDT

You might be an Iowa politics junkie if you are excited to see the new absentee ballot numbers in the morning. Follow me after the jump for tables showing the absentee ballots requested and returned statewide and in each of the four Congressional districts, updated to include the latest data from the Iowa Secretary of State's Office.

I'm compiling all the tables on this page to make it easier to spot trends in the numbers. Note that the number of ballots returned is still quite low, because most of the 99 county auditors are starting to mail ballots this week.

Yesterday, some Iowa Republicans were crowing about how much better their party is doing this year on early GOTV. Although Democrats have requested more ballots than Republicans, GOP ballot requests were up by a greater percentage than Democratic requests compared to the 2010 campaign. I suspect one factor is the Republican mass mailing of absentee ballot request forms, which hit mailboxes shortly after Labor Day and created a surge in ballot requests to county auditors.

The Iowa Democratic Party's mass mailing of absentee ballot request forms reached supporters between September 18 and 20. Over the next week to ten days, I'll be closely watching the Democratic numbers to see whether the "low-hanging fruit" produce a big jump in ballot requests. Since yesterday, Democrats added significantly more ballot requests than Republicans did in each of the four Congressional districts. Statewide, total ballots requested by Democrats increased from 57,869 as of September 21 to 63,485 as of September 22. Republican requests increased from 31,099 to 33,073.  

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Iowa absentee ballot numbers in the 2014 general election

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Sep 22, 2014 at 11:52:18 AM CDT

This morning the Iowa Secretary of State's Office started posting absentee ballot statistics for this year's general election. They will update the chart on weekdays here (pdf).

As in 2012, Bleeding Heartland will update the absentee ballot totals daily as they become available. The first set of numbers are after the jump. I've organized the data a bit differently from the Secretary of State's Office. For each day's totals, I will create two charts: the first shows the number of absentee ballots Iowans have requested, in each of the four Congressional districts and statewide. The second shows the number of absentee ballots county auditors have received from voters, in each of the four Congressional districts and statewide. (For now, those numbers are small, because most of the county auditors have not yet mailed ballots to voters who requested them.)

In-person early voting will begin on September 25 at county auditors' offices. Some counties will open satellite locations for in-person early voting as well. When an Iowan votes early at the auditor's office, that counts as an absentee ballot requested by the voter and as an absentee ballot received by the auditor on the same day.

Today's press release from the Secretary of State's Office noted that "demand for absentee ballots with 43 days before the election is much higher this year for all party affiliations than at a similar point in 2010." Absentee ballot requests as of September 21 totaled 112,178 statewide, compared to 56,725 at this point in Iowa's last midterm election campaign. Registered Democrats had requested 57,869 absentee ballots (versus 34,318 at this point in 2010), Republicans had requested 31,099 ballots (12,710 in 2010), and no-party voters had requested 23,043 ballots (9,664 in 2010). Click here for more information about voting early, or to download an absentee ballot request form.

Note that not every mailed-in absentee ballot will count. Some ballots mailed late will not get a postmark proving voters sent them before election day. John Deeth goes over other common errors that can lead to absentee ballots not being counted, such as voters not signing the "affidavit envelope" or re-opening the affidavit envelope after sealing it. Everyone planning to vote by mail needs to read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly.

UPDATE: I should have noted that if this year's turnout is similar to 2010, about 1.1 million Iowans will cast ballots, meaning that roughly 10 percent of those likely to participate in the midterm have already requested a ballot. The Republican Party of Iowa's first mass mailing of absentee ballot request forms went out in early September, while the Iowa Democratic Party's went out last week.

SECOND UPDATE: Adding latest daily numbers after the jump.

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Weekend open thread: Final Harkin Steak Fry edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 14, 2014 at 12:35:32 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

The weather is perfect in Indianola this afternoon for the roughly 5,000 people expected to attend Senator Tom Harkin's final "Steak Fry" event. At least 200 journalists will be on hand, mostly to see Hillary Clinton's first appearance in Iowa since the 2008 caucuses. If you see a lot of "Hillary doesn't appear to have much of an Iowa problem" stories tonight and tomorrow, remember that you heard it here first, and repeatedly.

I stand by my prediction that Hillary Clinton will face only token Democratic opposition in Iowa and elsewhere if she runs for president again. But in case she doesn't run, 2012 Harkin Steak Fry headliner Martin O'Malley is building up a lot of goodwill among Iowa Democrats. In addition to raising money for key Iowa Senate candidates this summer, the Maryland governor's political action committee is funding staffers for the Iowa Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch, and secretary of state candidate Brad Anderson. I still don't see O'Malley running against Clinton in any scenario.

President Bill Clinton will speak today as well. That's got to be a tough act to follow. No one can get a crowd of Democrats going like he can. I'll update this post later with highlights from the event and news coverage. I hope other Bleeding Heartland readers will share their impressions. C-SPAN will carry the main speeches, starting at 2:00 pm. That will be on channel 95 in the Des Moines area.

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Iowa judge sentences medical marijuana user to probation

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 10, 2014 at 13:27:00 PM CDT

In a case being watched by medical marijuana advocates across the country, cancer patient Benton Mackenzie received three years of probation rather than a prison term for his conviction in July on drug charges. Mackenzie had grown marijuana plants on his parents' property in order to extract cannabis oil, and his wife and son also faced drug charges. At the trial, District Court Judge Henry Latham did not allow Mackenzie's attorney to tell the jury that the defendant was trying to treat his angiosarcoma. Yesterday, the same judge sentenced both Mackenzie and his wife Loretta Mackenzie to probation, in line with the prosecutor's recommendation in the case. After the jump I've posted excerpts from Brian Wellner's report for the Quad-City Times and Grant Rodgers' report for the Des Moines Register. Libertarian candidate for governor Lee Hieb, a medical doctor, attended yesterday's hearing and afterward called for a change in public policy to give people "the right to choose our own cancer care." Mackenzie expressed hope that he will be the "last person" to be prosecuted under similar circumstances.

The Mackenzie family wants to move to Oregon, where a doctor has approved Benton Mackenzie for participation in that state's medical marijuana program. Probation officers in Iowa would have to sign off on the move before the family could leave the state. Mackenzie also plans to appeal "in an effort to get the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in a 2005 case that bars Iowans from using claims of medical necessity as a defense to growing marijuana."

I still think it was a waste of taxpayer money to prosecute a critically ill person for growing marijuana intended for personal use. Iowa lawmakers should make cannabis more accessible to people who can demonstrate a medical need for it.

LATE UPDATE: Judge Latham sentenced Benton Mackenzie's close friend Stephen Bloomer to five years in prison for helping the cancer patient buy materials for growing marijuana. Bloomer is free on bond pending consideration of his appeal. Scroll to the end of this post for more details on that case. What a travesty.

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Three reasons it's too soon for Iowa Democrats to celebrate an early voting lead

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 09, 2014 at 16:35:42 PM CDT

Part of a series on GOTV in Iowa this year

Less than two weeks remain before county auditors start mailing absentee ballots to Iowa voters. On September 22, the Iowa Secretary of State's Office will start releasing updates on absentee ballots requested and returned statewide and by Congressional district. As in 2012, Bleeding Heartland will post those totals daily.

Data from a few of the larger counties indicate that the Iowa Democratic Party's head start on canvassing this summer has produced a clear advantage on absentee ballots requested. Iowa Republican blogger Craig Robinson is fretting about the GOP "getting out worked when it comes to early voting." Former Iowa Senate GOP staffer Don McDowell is upset with conservatives who refuse to vote before election day. He has seen more than a few statehouse races lost narrowly after Republican candidates were crushed in the early vote.

However, it's way too soon for Democrats to be over-confident about this year's early vote lead, for three reasons.

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Weekend open thread: Political corruption edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 07, 2014 at 13:10:56 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I've been reading about the recent convictions of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell on federal corruption charges. Both are likely to do prison time for accepting money and favors for personal benefit. Incidentally, McDonnell refused a deal that would have required him to plead guilty to just one charge, sparing his wife from prosecution. Iowa's own former State Senator Kent Sorenson showed more chivalry--or was it wisdom, for once?--when he agreed to plead guilty on corruption charges, protecting his own wife from prosecution in connection with illegal payments.

While I have no problem with prosecuting greedy politicians, it occurs to me that the McDonnells' outrageous actions (such as letting a wealthy businessman cater their daughter's wedding) were less damaging to the public welfare than many more prevalent forms of "legal corruption." No governor will be prosecuted for appointing wealthy donors to powerful state positions, where they may promote their own businesses or interfere with those they see threatening their industry. No governor will ever be prosecuted for giving interest groups undue influence on public policy, either covertly or openly. In the August 31 Sunday Des Moines Register, Richard Doak wrote an excellent piece on how Governor Terry Branstad has "put state government at the service of one segment of the people: the business community." I've posted excerpts after the jump. Doak's not talking about criminal activity, but he cites policies that have harmed Iowa more than any luxury vacation for the McDonnells could ever harm Virginia.

On a related note, the Brennan Center for Justice recently published a disturbing report on trends in federal campaign spending:

In recent cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Supreme Court has been narrowing what counts as corruption in campaign finance cases to mere quid pro quo corruption. Quid pro quo is Latin meaning "this for that." In other words only explicit exchanges of gifts for votes or campaign cash for official acts will count as corruption for the Roberts Supreme Court. But a new study entitled, "The New Soft Money" from Professor Daniel Tokaji and Renata Strause calls this narrow read of corruption into question.  

Speaking of "dark money," Iowa's third Congressional district was among thirteen tossup U.S. House races examined in a separate Brennan Center report on outside political spending. A growing trend (not yet seen in IA-03) is for a super-PAC to be formed supporting a single Congressional candidate, giving "big donors a way of evading federal contribution limits."

UPDATE: Over at the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's blog, Adam Rappaport illustrates another example of legalized corruption: "issue ads" funded by dark money, which are clearly intended to influence elections. Although the "tax code plainly says section 501(c)(4) organizations must be 'exclusively' engaged in non-political activity," the IRS interpretation allows dark money groups to fund blatant electioneering communications.  

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The 2014 Iowa ground game: 12 Canvassing dos and don'ts

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 12:21:02 PM CDT

First in a series of posts on GOTV in Iowa this year

Air time for television advertising has become the most expensive line-item in many election campaigns. Outside groups have spent millions of dollars already on Iowa commercials targeting U.S. Senate candidates Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst, with millions more to be spent over the next 60 days. Nevertheless, I don't know many people who believe attack ads will determine the outcome of close races like Iowa's U.S. Senate battle. Barring some extraordinary campaign event (such as a meltdown in the debates), the winner will be the candidate whose side does a better job of identifying its supporters and turning them out to vote.

The number of Iowans who voted in each of the last two midterm elections was about a third lower than the number who had voted in the most recent presidential election. If that trend holds, approximately 1.1 million Iowans will cast ballots in the 2014 general election. Braley and other Democrats can't afford to have turnout resemble 2010, when only 56.5 percent of registered Iowa Democrats voted, as opposed to 69 percent of registered Republicans.

The Iowa Democratic Party has been crowing about its bigger and better "coordinated campaign," an effort to build on the successful 2012 early voting program here. No question, Democrats got a big jump on the ground game while the Iowa GOP was mired in poor fundraising and a messy leadership transition. Democrats have had canvassers out every weekend for months, and so far have generated many more absentee ballot requests than Republicans. The Iowa GOP has stepped up its door-knocking over the past several weeks, and Governor Terry Branstad will spend part of his war chest to assist the early voting efforts.

Knocking on doors is one of the most valuable ways to volunteer for a campaign. For those willing to spend a few hours on a weeknight or a weekend afternoon, I've enclosed my best advice for canvassing after the jump. Please feel free to share your own experiences with canvassing (on either side of the door) in this thread. Six years ago, a guest diarist posted his top tips here.

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In Des Moines, a rare left-wing take on 1950s nostalgia and American exceptionalism

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 26, 2014 at 09:49:25 AM CDT

Sunday night, the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines marked its 100th anniversary at a dinner gathering downtown. The gala was unusual in several respects. For one thing, I don't recall seeing such a large and bipartisan group of Iowa politicians at any non-political local event before. Attendees included Senator Chuck Grassley, Governor Terry Branstad, State Senator Jack Hatch, Lieutenant Governor nominee Monica Vernon, Representative Bruce Braley, State Senator Joni Ernst, Representative Dave Loebsack, IA-03 candidates David Young and Staci Appel, State Senator Matt McCoy, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, State Representatives Helen Miller, Marti Anderson, and Peter Cownie, and several suburban mayors or city council members. (Insert your own "a priest, a rabbi, and an Iowa politician walk into a bar" joke here.)

The keynote speech was even more striking. It's standard practice to invite a Jewish celebrity to headline major Federation events. This year's guest was award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss. But other than a "Borscht belt"-inspired opening riff about learning to nod and say "Yes, dear" to his wife, Dreyfuss left obvious material aside. He didn't dwell on humorous anecdotes from his Hollywood career, or talk about how being Jewish helped his craft. Instead, Dreyfuss reminisced about a cultural place and time that could hardly be more foreign to his Iowa audience, regardless of age or religious background.

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Third-party and independent candidates in Iowa's 2014 elections

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 21, 2014 at 11:25:50 AM CDT

The filing period for general election candidates in Iowa closed last Friday, so it's a good time to review where candidates not representing either the Democratic or Republican Party are running for office. The full candidate list is on the Iowa Secretary of State's website (pdf(. After the jump I discuss all the federal, statewide, and state legislative races including at least one independent or minor-party candidate. Where possible, I've linked to campaign websites, so you can learn more about the candidates and their priorities.

Rarely has any Iowa election been affected by an independent or third-party candidate on the ballot. Arguably, the most recent case may have been the 2010 election in Iowa's first Congressional district. Final results showed that Democratic incumbent Bruce Braley defeated Republican challenger Ben Lange by 4,209 votes, while conservative candidates Rob Petsche and Jason Faulkner drew 4,087 votes and 2,092 votes, respectively.

Any comments about Iowa's 2014 elections are welcome in this thread.

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Hillary and Bill Clinton to headline the final Harkin Steak Fry

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 12:10:00 PM CDT

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton will be the star guests at Senator Tom Harkin's final steak fry on September 14 at the Indianola Balloon Field. Doors open at 12:30 pm, event runs from 1-4. Traffic can be slow on the highway leading to the balloon field, so my advice is to allow extra time.

All of Iowa's Democratic candidates for federal and statewide office typically speak at the steak fry, but the big crowds will be there to see Hillary Clinton in her first Iowa appearance since the January 2008 caucuses. While she's in central Iowa, I would not be surprised to see her do an event for Staci Appel, Democratic nominee in the third Congressional district. Then State Senator Appel appeared at numerous events for for Hillary during 2007.

My opinion hasn't changed regarding Clinton and the 2016 Iowa caucuses: if she runs for president again, she wins here. Vice President Joe Biden and everyone else are far behind in every Iowa poll I've seen. Other presidential hopefuls are waiting in the wings, in case Clinton decides against running, but are in no position to challenge her for the nomination.

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New data bolster supporters of raising Iowa's gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 07:33:30 AM CDT

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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IA-Gov: First Branstad-Hatch debate discussion thread (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 14, 2014 at 16:08:26 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad and State Senator Jack Hatch are debating this afternoon at the Iowa State Fair. Iowa Public Television is live-streaming the event and will replay the debate at 7 pm tonight. Share any comments about the governor's race in this thread. I will be updating with my thoughts after the jump.

Branstad has agreed to two other debates with Hatch, but his team are refusing to allow Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to debate Hatch's running mate, Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon. It's a strange stance for a guy who is determined to make Reynolds the next governor.

UPDATE: My live-blog is after the jump. I will add more links and discussion later. If you missed the debate, you can watch at 7 pm on Iowa Public Television. They may also keep the video up on the IPTV website. SECOND UPDATE: The full debate transcript is now available here.

THIRD UPDATE: Mike Glover saw this debate as a sign Iowa "will actually have a governor's race this year." Click through to read the whole piece; I've posted excerpts below, after the liveblog.

There's More... :: (8 Comments, 2250 words in story)
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