In most midterm elections, the Iowa secretary of state race is a low-profile affair. Most Iowans know little about the job or the incumbent, since the secretary of state does not frequently make news.
This year may be different, as Secretary of State Paul Pate’s signature accomplishment–a law creating new barriers for eligible voters–generated tremendous controversy during and after the 2017 legislative session. Let America Vote, an organization former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander created to fight voter suppression laws across the country, has had a staffer on the ground in Des Moines for months. Kander wrote in a guest column for the Quad-City Times in October, “Secretary Pate and Republicans in the Iowa legislature injected intense partisanship into the administration of elections. […] Their actions were wrong, which is why Let America Vote is opening an office in Iowa to make them answer for their bad choices.”
Two Democrats are competing for the chance to face Pate in November: Jim Mowrer and Deidre DeJear. Pate won by just 20,073 votes out of more than a million cast in the 2014 Republican landslide. Signs now point to strong Democratic mobilization in Iowa and nationally. So while Iowans tend to re-elect their incumbents, the electorate for this midterm could be less favorably structured for Pate than the 2014 voter universe, where Republicans had substantially higher turnout than Democrats.
Assuming both major-party nominees have the resources to get their messages out, the secretary of state race should be a close one. New disclosures on candidates’ 2017 fundraising and expenditures provide the first snapshot of each contender’s ability to run a statewide campaign.