Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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Rematch coming in Iowa House district 90

Jefferson County supervisor Stephen Burgmeier filed yesterday to be the Republican candidate in Iowa House district 90, setting up a rematch with Democrat Curt Hanson. The district covers all of Van Buren County, most of Jefferson County (including Fairfield) and a small portion of Wapello County (map here).

Last summer Hanson narrowly defeated Burgmeier in a special election, even though Iowa-based conservative interest groups went all-in for Burgmeier and the National Organization for Marriage spent nearly $90,000 on advertising to support him.

Notably, Hanson built up a strong advantage in early voting and beat Burgmeier in Jefferson County by about 600 votes. In addition, two social conservatives ran as third-party candidates, and the 282 combined votes they received was greater than Hanson’s 127-vote margin over Burgmeier. The spoiler candidates were unhappy that Burgmeier didn’t talk much about abortion and gay marriage during the campaign.

Iowa Republicans tried to put a good face on the special election result, but the outcome was disappointing for them on several levels.

House district 90 is likely to be one of the most competitive races in the state. If you living within striking distance of the area, please consider volunteering for Hanson’s campaign this summer and fall. That said, I like Hanson’s chances of holding the seat this November. Burgmeier couldn’t win a low-turnout special election during a severe recession when the GOP base was all fired up about the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage. Despite having been elected three times as a supervisor, Burgmeier lost his own county by a sizable margin.

This week Hanson, a retired driving instructor, co-chaired a conference committee to resolve differences between the Iowa House and Senate bills to restrict texting while driving.

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Francis Thicke hires staff for secretary of agriculture campaign

Francis Thicke has hired staff for his Democratic campaign for Iowa secretary of agriculture, Will Merydith reported for the Fairfield Voice blog on Friday.

Rob Hubler, a 40-year veteran of managing political campaigns, started with the campaign about two weeks ago. Rob Hubler was the 2008 candidate for U.S. Congress in Iowa’s fifth district. This week the campaign team is growing with the addition of Keith Dinsmore, a veteran campaign media specialist. Keith has connections with press across Iowa and will be organizing Francis Thicke’s state-wide media work.

“In the next few weeks I will be traveling to a number of Democratic Party county conventions to speak to audiences about my campaign platform. I also have upcoming appearances at Grinnell College and Iowa State University. I do have one out-of-state event planned for next month, to speak at a national organic farming policy conference in Washington, D.C.”

“We have a local event planned for Fairfield on Saturday, March 27: Blues musician Bill Lupkin will be performing at Morning Star Studio as a fundraiser for our campaign.”

Thicke also recently opened a campaign office on the main square in Fairfield (Jefferson County, southeast Iowa).

I hope Thicke’s campaign will attract a large volunteer contingent. Iowa has plenty of Democratic activists who aren’t wild about Governor Chet Culver and don’t live in a battleground state legislative district. Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will be heavily favored in this race and will raise more money than Thicke. However, Thicke has outstanding qualifications, and his vision for agriculture deserves our wholehearted support. We don’t often hear Iowa candidates speak out against excessive concentration of agricultural markets or advocate stronger regulations for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I recommend reading the four-part interview Blog for Iowa did with Thicke last year (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4). Francis and Susan Thicke operate a successful organic dairy farm and won the 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture.

We’ll need all Democratic hands on deck in the Fairfield area this year, since Iowa House district 90 and Iowa Senate district 45 are likely to be competitive races. State Representative Curt Hanson narrowly won last summer’s special election in House district 90, while State Senator Becky Schmitz is in her first term representing Senate district 45.

UPDATE: Forgot to add this ActBlue link for those who want to donate to Thicke’s campaign.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Iowans not eager to overturn marriage equality

Marriage equality is here to stay in Iowa, if the latest statewide poll for the Des Moines Register is any guide:

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a [constitutional amendment to] ban [same-sex marriage], and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure. […]

The overwhelming majority of Iowans – 92 percent – say gay marriage has brought no real change to their lives. […]

The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April’s unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don’t care much or are not sure.

Despite the 43 percent opposition to the ruling, 61 percent of Iowans say other issues will influence their decision on whether to vote to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices in the 2010 elections.

Selzer and Co. surveyed 803 Iowans between September 14 and 16, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

I recommend clicking through to view the chart showing the breakdown by party affiliation on this issue. Among independents, only 44 percent either oppose or strongly oppose the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision that cleared the way for marriage equality, while 32 percent “don’t care much” and 22 percent either favor or strongly favor it.

Many Iowa Republicans are convinced that they can gain traction in next year’s legislative elections by bashing statehouse Democrats who oppose a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. However, the Republican candidate fell just short in the recent special election in Iowa House district 90, even though the National Organization for Marriage poured nearly $90,000 into ads supporting the Republican because of the marriage issue. (The NOM plans to be involved in next year’s Iowa elections as well.)

A poll commissioned by The Iowa Republican blog in July indicated that two-thirds of Iowans wanted a public vote on same-sex marriage, but that poll framed the question as follows: “The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled gay marriages can legally be conducted in the state. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, do you think Iowa voters should have the chance to vote on a traditional marriage amendment to the constitution or is the issue best decided by the Supreme Court?” Todd Dorman was right to point out that it would have been more enlightening to ask respondents how they would vote on a marriage amendment.

The Register’s poll could strengthen the hand of Republicans like Doug Gross, who have been saying all year that the GOP should downplay divisive social issues and focus on the economy in next year’s elections. On the other hand, 51 percent of Republicans surveyed by Selzer and Co strongly oppose the Supreme Court decision, while 11 percent just oppose the decision, 27 percent don’t care much and only 10 percent either favor or strongly favor it. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats promises to issue an executive order on day one halting same-sex marriages if elected, and he will find plenty of support among the Republican rank and file.

I’ve been telling my friends, “Don’t worry, be happy,” since the Iowa Supreme Court announced its Varnum v Brien decision in April. I figured that with each passing year, more Iowans would understand that no one is harmed and thousands are helped by granting gays and lesbians civil marriage rights. I also felt that Republicans would not be able to win many races on this issue in 2010, let alone in subsequent years. Still, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a poll this year showing majority support for overturning the Supreme Court ruling. Learning that a constitutional amendment on marriage lacks majority support even now makes me that much more optimistic. (UPDATE: Forgot to add that Iowa has a lengthy constitutional amendment process.)

Now it’s imperative to defeat Proposition 1 in Maine this November. Please help if you can.

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