It's hard to beat an Iowa legislative incumbent in a primary

Yesterday’s primary elections demonstrated again that Iowans like to re-elect their incumbents, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The exception proving the rule: three-term State Representative Dan Kelley lost his Democratic primary in House district 29 (covering Newton and most of Jasper County) to Wes Breckinridge by 65 percent to 35 percent. As Pat Rynard explained here, that race was notable because prominent local officials and Iowa’s two largest labor organizations, AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor, opposed the incumbent.

I’ll be sorry to see Kelley go. Of all the state legislators, he was the most vocal opponent of the Bakken pipeline, despite knowing that unions–a powerful interest group in Iowa Democratic politics–had bought into the oil company’s greatly exaggerated job estimates for that project (see also here). Kelley wasn’t always popular in the House Democratic caucus. I didn’t agree with all of his votes, but I admired his independent thinking.

No one challenged a sitting Iowa senator in a primary this year. The other eight state representatives who faced competitive primaries all won easily yesterday. Among the Democrats, Jo Oldson took about 67 percent of the vote against a hard-working opponent in House district 41, Brian Meyer won 69.5 percent in House district 33, and Mary Gaskill 59 percent in House district 81. Among the Republicans, Greg Forristall won just under 80 percent of the vote in House district 22, Stan Gustafson 67 percent in House district 25, Kevin Koester more than 86 percent in House district 38, Jake Highfill 58.5 percent in House district 39, and Jarad Klein 67 percent in House district 78.

No Iowa lawmaker failed to win his or her party’s nomination in 2014. Highfill had the closest call, taking a 43 percent plurality against two Republican opponents. Highfill was the only successful primary challenger to an Iowa legislative incumbent in 2012. The college student’s victory over then House Majority Whip Erik Helland was shocking, but an OWI arrest and other examples of poor judgment worked against Helland. Though inexperienced, Highfill had the backing of former State Representative Walt Tomenga and the “Liberty PAC” of Ron Paul supporters in that 2012 race.

Any comments about Iowa legislative elections are welcome in this thread.

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Iowa House district 39 preview: Jake Highfill vs. Maridith Morris

Iowa House district 39, covering much of northwest Polk County, is represented by the youngest current member of the state legislature. Republican Jake Highfill pulled off a shocking upset in his 2012 primary against then House Majority Whip Erik Helland. He was the only successful one of a dozen primary challengers to sitting Iowa House Republicans that year. Highfill benefited from some blunders by Helland and some help from fellow supporters of Ron Paul’s presidential bid as well as former State Representative Walt Tomenga, whom Helland had beaten in the 2008 GOP primary. Highfill beat Democrat Kelsey Clark in the 2012 general election and Tom Leffler in 2014, but underperformed the top of his party’s ticket both years.

A new Democratic challenger to Highfill emerged last week. Maridith Morris is a nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. She is also a personal friend (not through Democratic Party politics), and I can vouch for her commitment to helping others, in volunteer capacities as well as through her vocation.

I enclose below a district map and background on Highfill and Morris. House district 39 leans Republican, with 5,863 active registered Democrats, 9,291 Republicans, and 8,206 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. (Those numbers do not include voters who changed party affiliation on February 1 to participate in the Iowa caucuses.) Mitt Romney outpolled President Barack Obama among voters in this district by 55.76 percent to 43.02 percent in 2012, and Joni Ernst had nearly a 20-point margin over Bruce Braley here in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.

While the district is a long-shot for a Democrat, Highfill is weaker than the average GOP statehouse incumbent. He chairs the relatively insignificant International Relations Committee, which has met only once this session and does not appear to have any legislation pending. Quite a few House Republicans from the 2012 cohort and even a few colleagues serving their first terms have better committee assignments than Highfill.

Last year, when then House Speaker Kraig Paulsen needed to yank one opponent of raising the gasoline tax off the Ways and Means committee, he picked Highfill. This year, Highfill was assigned to the Appropriations, Education, State Government, Local Government, and Government Oversight committees as well as International Relations. He has not floor-managed any significant bills, to my knowledge.

In a sense, Highfill is fortunate to remain in the legislature. He drew two primary challengers in 2014, which allowed him to win the GOP nomination despite gaining less than 50 percent of the vote. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Republican with more stature run here this year, though at this writing I am not aware of any rival GOP candidate in House district 39.

Highfill’s campaign raised $16,990 last year, about half from individuals and the rest from political action committees that give to numerous legislative incumbents. His campaign spent $12,670.17, mostly on a $10,000 contribution to the state party. He entered the election year with $13,283.48 cash on hand and $6,100 in outstanding loans–not a lot to fend off a primary challenge, if one materializes. Assuming Highfill wins the GOP nomination again, House leaders could chip in more funds if they felt he were in trouble during the general election campaign.

Any comments related to the House district 39 race or either candidate are welcome in this thread. I found it strange that a 2012 Ron Paul supporter Highfill endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie before this year’s Iowa caucuses. But some big movers and shakers in Iowa Republican politics were supporting Christie, including Gary Kirke, one of Highfill’s larger individual donors.

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Medicaid abortion funding ban a bridge too far for Branstad administration

Opposing all government funding for abortion is settled dogma among Iowa Republican activists and elected officials. For two years in a row, Senate Democrats have blocked attempts to write new restrictions on Medicaid abortion coverage into the budget for the state Department of Human Services. Now DHS Director Chuck Palmer has signaled that taking control of the upper chamber may not give Republicans the power to restrict the choices of low-income women.

Palmer’s action puts Governor Terry Branstad in an awkward position, and a legislature completely under GOP control could create a political nightmare for Branstad, a proud “pro-lifer” throughout his career.

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Iowa primary election results thread

Polls closed across Iowa at 9 pm, and I will update this post periodically as results come in from around the states. Any comments related to today’s elections are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- As expected, Wisconsin Democrats fell short in their effort to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker.

UPDATE: Results are after the jump.  

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Enter Bleeding Heartland's 2012 Iowa primary election prediction contest

Iowa primary elections are coming up next Tuesday, so it’s time for another Bleeding Heartland election prediction contest. A dozen questions are after the jump. There are so many competitive Iowa House and Senate primaries that it was difficult for me to choose. I tried to achieve some geographical balance and cover different types of primaries (open-seat races vs. challenges to incumbents, safe seats for one party vs. swing districts).

To enter the contest, post your predictions as comments in this thread before 7 am 6 pm on June 5. Predictions submitted by e-mail will not be considered. It’s ok to change your mind, as long as you post your revised predictions as an additional comment in this thread before the deadline.

No money’s at stake here, just bragging rights. This isn’t like “The Price is Right”; the winning answers will be closest to the final results, whether or not they were a little high or low. Even if you have no idea, please try to take a guess on every question.

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Scrooge came early this year: Branstad vetoes state money for food banks

Friday before holiday weekend news dump, part 2: Governor Terry Branstad line-item vetoed a $500,000 appropriation for the Food Bank of Iowa Iowa Food Bank Association (see clarification below). It was a surprisingly heartless play by the politician who said in September 2011, “If we want to be the healthiest state in the nation, we have to confront the issue of hunger in our communities.”

Over the weekend I looked into what an extra half million dollars might have meant to the growing number of Iowans who can’t always buy enough food.  

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