Republicans outspending Democrats in most Iowa Senate battlegrounds

Iowa House and Senate candidates were required to file their last pre-election campaign finance reports on Friday. In stark contrast to four years ago, Republicans are outspending Democrats in most of the contested state Senate districts. (I’ll address spending in the key Iowa House races in a different post.)

Currently, there are 25 Senate Democrats, 23 Republicans, and one independent. If former GOP Senator David Johnson makes good on his promise to remain an independent in 2017, and Democrats win the December special election to replace the late Senator Joe Seng, Republicans would need to pick up three seats to gain control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2004.

I enclose below in-kind contribution figures for the Senate districts expected to be in play next Tuesday. Candidates running elsewhere did not report large in-kind contributions from their respective parties.

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The truth about that so-called "trolley for lobbyists"

Iowa Republicans have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars this fall on television commercials and direct mail highlighting supposedly wasteful spending by Democratic state lawmakers. For the fourth election cycle in a row, many of these attacks repeat zombie lies from the 2010 campaign about money spent on “heated sidewalks” and a “trolley for lobbyists.”

As Bleeding Heartland explained here, Iowa House and Senate Democrats never approved money for heated sidewalks. They simply rejected a GOP amendment to a 2010 appropriations bill, which would have prohibited using state funds for “geothermal systems for melting snow and ice from streets or sidewalks.” The amendment was pointless, because planners of the award-winning streetscape project in question had already ruled out heated sidewalks in favor of porous pavement.

What about the Republican hit pieces claiming Democrats spent money on a “trolley for lobbyists”?

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Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

A bill that would raise Iowa’s gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad’s desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.

A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.

Only two state legislators missed today’s votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn’t serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today’s votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: “I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote.” Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.

Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor’s recent comments on road funding. Branstad’s spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.  

After the jump I’ve enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman’s opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.

Final note: several of the “no” votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).

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IA-01 Democratic candidate news roundup

Another Democrat is moving closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa’s first district. The Daily Iowan reported several days ago that Ravi Patel “is assembling campaign operatives and meeting with influential donors in Eastern Iowa in preparation for the run.” He is best known as principal and president of Hawkeye Hotels, a fast-growing company his parents established. Pat Rynard wrote on the Iowa Starting Line blog that Patel “has built connections from holding many fundraisers for Democratic candidates” and is “an entrepreneur involved in many startup businesses.”

If he runs for Congress, Patel told the Daily Iowan that his campaign “would be data-driven and heavy on social media.” His biggest potential weakness would probably be his youth (current age: 29). Iowans have nominated some young candidates who faced competitive primaries against more experienced rivals, most recently Ben Lange, the GOP’s 2012 nominee in IA-01. But despite a lot of excitement on social media, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic didn’t make much headway with IA-01 Democratic voters, finishing fourth in the 2014 primary. Anecdotally, many Democrats liked Kajtazovic but questioned whether she had enough experience for the job she was seeking. Patel would also be competing against others who have more longstanding ties to the district. Although he owns a home in Cedar Rapids now, he has spent most of his life in either Burlington or Iowa City, which are located in the second Congressional district.

The front-runner in the Democratic primary remains Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who last week added her first labor union endorsement to the long list of sate legislators backing her second bid for Congress. After the jump I’ve posted the press release announcing the Teamsters Local 238 endorsement of Vernon. That local did not endorse in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01, but two other Teamsters locals backed the eventual winner Pat Murphy. Note: the press release mentions that Teamsters Local 238 has approximately 6,000 members. A representative for the union told me that between 2,000 and 2,500 of those members live in the IA-01 counties.

Other Democrats considering a bid in IA-01 include former Governor Chet Culver, former State Senator Swati Dandekar (who placed third in the 2014 primary), and former Saturday Night Live actor Gary Kroeger. His most recent blog post, which I’ve excerpted below, takes a quick look at the history of America’s major political parties with a view to reducing the “vitriol in our disagreements.” Kroeger posted today on Facebook that if elected to Congress, he would push for creating a national jobs program inspired by a non-profit foundation he profiled at his blog a couple of years ago.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Republican blogger Craig Robinson pointed out recently that GOP incumbent Rod Blum will benefit tremendously from having U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on the ballot in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that at least three and perhaps as many as six battleground Iowa Senate races will be located within IA-01 next year. State Senator Jeff Danielson will seek a fourth term in Senate district 30, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls; he faced well-funded challengers in his last two re-election campaigns. State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm won by just 126 votes in Senate district 26 in 2012. I expect the GOP to target that district, half of which is in IA-01 and half in IA-04. Republicans are less likely to mount a serious challenge against either State Senator Liz Mathis in Senate district 34 or State Senator Brian Schoenjahn in Senate district 32, but a surprise retirement would instantly make either of those races competitive. Meanwhile, Democrats are likely to target Senate district 28, where GOP State Senator Mike Breitbach won by only 17 votes in 2012. First-term Senator Dan Zumbach could also face a serious challenger in Senate district 48. After the jump I’ve posted a map showing all the Iowa Senate district lines. UPDATE: Perhaps I should also have mentioned Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders (SD-36) and Republican Tim Kapucian (SD-38), who will be up for re-election in 2016 as well in counties that are part of IA-01. I haven’t heard of potentially strong challengers in either Iowa Senate district, but that could change before next spring.

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