Iowa's no bellwether anymore--and neither is Cedar County

Stephen Wolf of the Daily Kos Elections team compiled a spreadsheet of U.S. presidential election results by state, along with each state’s “partisan voting index,” from 1828 to 2016. The partisan voting index, developed by the Cook Political Report, shows “how strongly a United States congressional district or state leans toward the Democratic or Republican Party, compared to the nation as a whole.”

For six presidential elections in a row, Iowa’s top of the ticket results tracked remarkably closely to how the country voted. I say “remarkably” because demographically, Iowa’s overwhelmingly white electorate has not been representative of the U.S. population for many decades.

The streak was broken this year. So was the streak for Iowa’s best bellwether county.

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How Clinton's Iowa campaign is reaching Latino and African-American voters

Pundits agree that Iowa’s demographics give Donald Trump a better chance of winning here than in any other state President Barack Obama carried twice.

However, a growing number of Iowans don’t match stereotypes about our state’s mostly-white electorate.

Hillary Clinton’s Iowa coalitions director, Maryland House Delegate Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk, spoke to Bleeding Heartland this week about the campaign’s outreach to Latino and African-American communities. Peña-Melnyk has put 6,000 miles on her car since August, traveling from Council Bluffs to Columbus Junction and many places in between.

Even in this overwhelmingly white state, a strong turnout among Latino and African-American voters could swing a close election.

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Iowa Senate district 42: Nothing to see here--unless Trump has big coattails

Iowa is blessed with an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts, thanks to our non-partisan redistricting process. Most election years, at least half a dozen Iowa Senate seats and twice as many House seats are in play. Campaign finance reports showing where candidates and party leaders are spending the most money provide the best clue on which legislative races are worth watching.

That said, most years at least one little-noticed candidate pulls off a big upset in an Iowa House or Senate district neither party was targeting. Now-disgraced Kent Sorenson won his first race in 2008, taking a House seat that had been considered safe for Democrats. Two years later, Kim Pearson got no help from GOP leaders en route to winning a House seat where the Democratic incumbent had been unopposed the previous election. Republican Mark Chelgren won an Ottumwa-based Senate district for the first time by ten votes. That seat had been considered so safe that the Democratic incumbent was knocking doors for a colleague in another district during the final weekend. I learned later that internal GOP polling had Chelgren almost 20 points down a couple of seeks before the election.

I can’t shake the feeling that in this strange campaign with two unpopular presidential nominees, something weird will happen in a down-ballot race no one is watching. So before I get back to Bleeding Heartland’s last few battleground Senate and House race profiles, a few words on why I feel a race in Iowa’s southeast corner could produce a shocking result.

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Where Iowa's Latino, African-American, and Asian-American voters are

Iowa is at more risk of swinging to Donald Trump than any other state President Barack Obama carried twice. Demographics go a long way toward explaining why.

Compared to most battleground states, Iowa has a less diverse population. About 86.7 percent of residents are non-Hispanic whites, according to the latest census data. Roughly a quarter of Iowans at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education. Polls have indicated race and education levels are strongly correlated with support for Trump or Hillary Clinton, with non-college-educated whites among the strongest voting blocs for the Republican.

On the flip side, numerous polls have found very low levels of support for Trump among Latino, African-American, and Asian-American voters.

Traditionally, Americans in those groups have voted at lower rates than have non-Hispanic whites. But it would be a mistake to discount their impact, even in this overwhelmingly white state. Al Gore won Iowa by just 4,144 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast in 2000. Four years later, George W. Bush defeated John Kerry by just 10,059 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast.

A strong GOTV campaign aimed at minority voters who support Clinton (or at least despise Trump) could mobilize enough Iowans to change the statewide outcome.

Follow me after the jump to see where organizers and volunteers for the Iowa Democratic “coordinated campaign” will likely concentrate those efforts.

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Clinton up by 4, Grassley by 10 in new Iowa poll (updated)

The first public poll of Iowa since the Republican and Democratic national conventions shows Hillary Clinton slightly ahead of Donald Trump by 41 percent to 37 percent. Marist surveyed 899 registered voters for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal between August 3 and 7, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent. In last month’s Marist poll of Iowans, Clinton led by 42 percent to 39 percent.

When the 2016 presidential race is expanded to four candidates – including Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein – Clinton and Trump are tied at 35 percent each in Iowa, with Johnson at 12 percent and Stein at 6 percent. (Last month in the state, Clinton and Trump were tied in the four-way horserace at 37 percent.)

Historically, third-party presidential candidates have received far fewer votes in November than their summer poll numbers would suggest. But even assuming Marist is greatly overstating support for Johnson and Stein, those candidates could set records for their respective parties in Iowa. No Libertarian presidential candidate has ever surpassed 1 percent of the vote in our state. The Green Party’s best showing in a presidential election here was roughly 2.2 percent, which Ralph Nader received in 2000.

Both major-party presidential candidates are underwater among Iowa voters on favorability. Some 36 percent of Marist’s respondents have a favorable view of Clinton, 58 percent unfavorable. Those would be terrible numbers if Trump weren’t in even worse shape at 31 percent favorable, 64 percent unfavorable in the same poll. Without seeing more detailed results, it’s hard to tell which candidate has more room to grow support. Some recent surveys have found that remaining undecided voters “lean toward being [Bernie] Sanders holdouts,” which could mean more potential growth for Clinton than for Trump. That said, I’m 100 times more confident that Clinton will win 270 electoral votes than I am of her carrying Iowa. She is generally polling better in states that are more diverse than Iowa, where more than 86 percent of residents are non-Hispanic whites.

UPDATE: Nate Cohn pointed out that Iowa is the state “where Democrats are most dependent on less [educated] white voters.” Non-college-educated whites were a big part of Barack Obama’s winning coalition here. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 26.4 percent of Iowans who are at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education.

Marist found U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley leading Democratic challenger Patty Judge by 52 percent to 42 percent. That’s a smaller lead for Grassley than he has enjoyed in most of his re-election campaigns, but better than the single-digit leads other pollsters found for the senator earlier this summer. Iowa Republicans will be encouraged to see Grassley above the 50 percent mark. The senator confirmed to Radio Iowa today that he is still supporting Trump for president, citing scheduling conflicts to explain his absence from the GOP nominee’s rallies in Davenport and Cedar Rapids on July 28 and in Des Moines on August 5. In a statement I enclose below, Judge demanded that Grassley explain “exactly what Donald Trump meant” when he said today at a North Carolina rally, “If she [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know” (full comments here).

In related news, Senator Joni Ernst’s office has not yet responded to my request for comment on the extraordinary public letter released yesterday by 50 former high-ranking national security officials in Republican administrations, explaining why they will not vote for Trump. Ernst has repeatedly depicted Trump as the best candidate to keep America safe, but the former security officials warned Trump “would be a dangerous President,” lacking the requisite “character, values, experience,” or “temperament,” while displaying “little understanding of America’s vital national interests” and “alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics.”

SECOND UPDATE: Added below some other findings from the Marist poll; click here for full results.

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