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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NRA's Iowa affiliate targeting four Senate Democrats

The Iowa Firearms Coalition, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, has formed a political action committee that is targeting four Democratic-held Iowa Senate districts in its effort to strip power from “anti-gun Senate majority leaders.” The strategy is logical, because in recent years several high-profile gun bills died in the upper chamber after clearing the Republican-controlled Iowa House.

However, I was surprised to see a couple of Senate races missing from the Iowa Firearms Coalition PAC’s list.

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2016 RAGBRAI route announced: A short ride across southern Iowa

After two straight years of taking bicyclists across northern parts of the state, the Des Moines Register announced this evening that the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) will cross southern Iowa from July 24 to 30. The route starting in Glenwood and ending in Muscatine will take riders “419.9 miles (third-shortest in the event’s 44-year history), with a total climb of 18,488 feet (making it the 24th flattest).”

Full details on the 2016 route are on the official RAGBRAI website. After the jump I’ve listed the overnight stops, along with daily mileage totals and feet of climb and some political trivia about places riders will visit this summer.

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State Senator Mark Chelgren "seriously" considering IA-02 campaign

State Senator Mark Chelgren is looking “seriously” at running against five-term Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district, he told Bleeding Heartland yesterday. He said he has no timeline for making a decision. If he runs for Congress, his key issues would include:

• The economy. Chelgren said our country’s manufacturing base “has been deteriorating over the past 50 years.” He added that he doesn’t support how the U.S. has negotiated trade agreements. Asked whether he would support giving the White House trade promotion authority, which Congress passed last month, Chelgren replied, “Hell no.” While the economy and the world have “changed dramatically,” American policy-makers “have done almost nothing to upgrade our infrastructure.” Chelgren clarified that he was not talking primarily about 20th-century infrastructure like roads and railroads but about 21st-century needs such as high-speed internet access “to every community.” Meanwhile, the federal government is keeping interest rates “artificially low” and “diluting the strength of the economy” by printing money.

• Education. Chelgren believes “our education system is massively broken.” It “was designed to create assembly-line workers” or people working in office cubicles, rather than to prepare students for the modern economy.

• Long-range planning. “We have politicians at the state and federal level that think in two-year increments,” whereas we need “better vision” looking five to ten years ahead, according to Chelgren.

By this point in the 2012 election cycle, three Republicans had announced plans to run against Loebsack. Not only has no GOP candidate launched a campaign in IA-02 yet, I haven’t heard rumors about any prospective candidates other than Chelgren. Loebsack’s last general-election opponent, Marionette Miller-Meeks, is unlikely to run again after losing to Loebsack three times, twice in Republican wave years (2010 and 2014). Former State Representative Mark Lofgren, who lost last year’s GOP primary to Miller-Meeks, is running for Iowa Senate district 46 in 2016. Chelgren doesn’t need to choose between serving in the state legislative and running for Congress, because he was just re-elected to a second four-year term and won’t be on the ballot in Iowa Senate district 41 again until 2018.

IA-02 leans Democratic with a partisan voter index of D+4. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, the 24 counties in the district contain 160,562 active registered Democrats, 136,215 Republicans, and 182,047 no-party voters. The last time Loebsack was on the ballot in a presidential year, he defeated John Archer by a comfortable margin of 55.6 percent to 42.5 percent.

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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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