How Phil Miller won the Iowa House district 82 special election

Democrat Phil Miller won today’s special election in Iowa House district 82 by 4,021 votes to 3,324 for Republican Travis Harris (53.8 percent to 44.5 percent). It was a larger margin of victory than Miller’s good friend Curt Hanson managed in his 2009 special election, the first state legislative race after the Iowa Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in Varnum v Brien. The results will be a morale boost for Democrats, since Donald Trump won nearly 57.8 percent of the vote in the House district 82 precincts last year, compared to just 36.4 percent for Hillary Clinton.

The 7,476 votes cast in House district 82, according to the unofficial tally, is roughly three times higher than the turnout for the special elections earlier this year in heavily Republican House district 22 and heavily Democratic House district 89. The major parties spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television commercials and direct mail to mobilize supporters of Miller and Harris (more on that spending below). On the other hand, turnout for this race was a bit lower than voter participation in Hanson’s special election win eight years ago.

Miller’s home base of Jefferson County, containing the population centers of Fairfield and Vedic City, carried him to victory.

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Yes, Kim Weaver's undisclosed work as a psychic is newsworthy

An “anonymous package mailed with a Sheldon, IA, postmark” led to an exclusive report by the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on Monday: Kim Weaver, a Democratic challenger to Representative Steve King in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district, “operated an array of psychic services websites” and “charged customers as much as $3.99 per minute for readings online and over the phone.”

In an interview, Weaver, 52, did not deny dabbling in psychic services, but described her activities as “life coaching” and said they never amounted to more than a “hobby.”

“I didn’t really actually do anything,” Weaver said. “It was all for entertainment purposes. Did I make a living from it? No, definitely not.”

On many social media threads yesterday, I saw Iowa Democrats complain about the Register hyping a “hit piece” planted by Republicans.

But even clickbait hit pieces have news value sometimes.

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How Kim Reynolds built her $1.1 million war chest

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will take many advantages into the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, by virtue of being the incumbent after Governor Terry Branstad leaves for China.

Though Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is considering a bid for the Republican nomination next year, he may have second thoughts after looking at the Reynolds committee’s latest campaign finance reports. The lieutenant governor ramped up her fundraising during 2016 and has more than $1.1 million in the bank.

Contrary to the picture painted by spin doctors for Reynolds, most of the money came from major donors.

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The 16 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2016

For the first time last year, I put some thought into what posts had consumed the greatest amount of my energy. I realized that some of those deep dives were among my most satisfying writing projects. That new awareness informed my editorial choices in good and bad ways. Unfortunately, some election-related stories I would have covered in previous cycles didn’t get written in 2016, because I was immersed in other topics. On the plus side, those rabbit holes led to work I’m proud to have published.

Assembling this post was more challenging than last year’s version. Several pieces that would have been among my most labor-intensive in another year didn’t make the cut. A couple of posts that might have made the top ten were not ready to go before the holidays. Maybe they will end up in a future collection of seventeen posts I worked hardest on in 2017.

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Blurring the lines between news reports and press releases

The Des Moines Register ran a lead editorial two weeks ago about “Blurring the lines between news and public relations” in Iowa’s third-largest city:

But rather than create a website to issue press releases or connect directly to the public, the city of Davenport went a step further, creating a site called Davenport Today and packaging the information as if it was independently produced journalism rather than information crafted and disseminated by the same public entity that was being “covered.”

[…] From the outset, Davenport Today was criticized for being nothing more than a taxpayer-funded propaganda machine — which it was. That meant all of the information it shared with the public, no matter how solid, was tainted in the eyes of some readers. Even the articles that appeared to present an unvarnished look at city operations were viewed as self-serving since they emanated from City Hall itself.

At least the now-defunct Davenport Today site openly published material authored by official sources.

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette ran a barely-rewritten Iowa State University press release under reporters’ bylines.

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