Democrats can win and hold districts like Iowa's fifth

I've written before about why Democrats should support Rob Hubler, who's running against Steve King in Iowa's fifth Congressional district.

We can all agree that Hubler is a good Democrat with a compelling biography, while King is among the worst of the worst House Republicans.

But when I talk to Democrats about this race, I've noticed that too many people assume King cannot be beaten because Iowa's fifth district is too Republican (its Cook Partisan Voting Index is R+8).

In fact, ten Democrats currently represent Congressional districts with a partisan index of R+8 or higher, and another 14 Democrats represent Congressional districts that have a partisan index between R+5 and R+8. In 2006, Democrats came close to winning several districts that tilt far more strongly to Republicans than King's.

2laneIA and DemocracyLover in NYC have written good pieces on why Hubler is a solid contender in IA-05. Click those links to read about Hubler's active campaign, King's strangely dormant campaign, and an encouraging poll of the fifth district (which among other things showed the generic Congressional ballot virtually tied). King has faced only token opposition in past elections, but Hubler and his staff have been working in all of the 32 counties.

I want to step back and examine the partisan lean of IA-05 and how it relates to other red districts represented by Democrats.

As I mentioned above, IA-05 has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+8. That means that averaging the results from the last two presidential elections, the Republican candidate received about 8 percentage points more than the national average in Iowa's fifth district.

The partisan index number reflects only the presidential vote. However, plenty of Congressional districts lean Republican for president while electing Democrats to represent them in the House. Such ticket-splitting has occurred in western Iowa. During the 1970s and 1980s, Tom Harkin represented many of the southwest counties now in IA-05 for five terms, and Berkley Bedell represented most of the northwest counties in the district for six terms.

It's worth noting that Harkin and Bedell were first elected in the Democratic wave election of 1974, but they were able to hold their seats even in strong Republican years like 1978 and 1980 (and in Bedell's case 1984; Harkin ran successfully for Senate that year).

Also, remember that this year's Republican presidential nominee is not nearly as popular in the fifth district as George Bush was in 2000 and 2004. On the contrary; some polls have shown Barack Obama leading John McCain even in western Iowa. McCain has little field operation here, while Obama's campaign has at least a half-dozen offices in IA-05 to help maximize Democratic turnout.

Democratic voter registration has greatly increased in all parts of the state. While Republicans still have a voter registration edge in the fifth district, the growing ranks of Democrats can put Hubler in position for an upset if he beats King among independent voters by a significant margin.

Certainly the Republican candidate has to be favored in a district with an R+8 lean, but it is by no means unprecedented for a Democrat to overcome that partisan slant. Here's a list of the Democrats who represent Congressional districts that are at least R+5 (please correct any omissions in the comments):

Dan Boren in Oklahoma 2 (R+5)

Melissa Bean in Illinois 8 (R+5)

Bill Foster in Illinois 14 (R+5)

Charlie Melancon in Louisiana 3 (R+5)

John Spratt, South Carolina 5 (R+6)

Collin Peterson, Minnesota 7 (R+6)

Zach Space in Ohio 18 (R+6)

John Salazar Colorado 5 (R+6)

Bud Cramer in Alabama 5 (R+6)

Ben Chandler in Kentucky 6 (R+7)

Nancy Boyda in Kansas 2 (R+7)

Baron Hill in Indiana 9 (R+7)

Heath Shuler, North Carolina 11 (R+7)

Don Cazayoux in Louisiana 6 (R+7)

Chris Carney in Pennsylvania 10 (R+8)

Brad Ellsworth in Indiana 8 (R+9)

Travis Childers, Mississippi 1 (R+10)

Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, South Dakota at-large (R+10)

Ike Skelton, Missouri 4 (R+11)

Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota at-large (R+13)

Nick Lampson, Texas 22 (R+15)

Gene Taylor, Mississippi 4 (R+16)

Chet Edwards, Texas 17 (R+17)

Jim Matheson, Utah 2 (R+17)

You would think that all of these Democrats would be skating on thin ice, representing such Republican territory. However, if you look at lists of competitive House districts (for instance, at Swing State Project, Open Left or the Cook Political Report), you will notice that many of these seats are considered safe for the Democratic incumbent.

Boyda, Herseth-Sandlin and Pomeroy are among the Democrats representing deep-red districts with demographic profiles similar to IA-05 (mostly white and largely rural).

Another notable fact is that Democrats seem to pick up several deep-red seats in good years for the party across the country. So, Boyda, Space, Shuler, Carney and Ellsworth all won their seats for the first time in the 2006 election. Cazayoux, Foster and Childers all won their seats in special elections during 2008.

I also want to mention several districts where Democrats lost narrowly in 2006 despite a massive partisan advantage for the Republicans. Those include Wyoming's at-large seat (R+19), Idaho's first district (R+19), Ohio's second district (R+13), and Colorado's fourth district (R+9). This year Colorado's fourth and Alaska's at-large seat (R+14) are both considered tossups.

My point is that it would not be unprecedented for a Democratic challenger to defeat a Republican incumbent in a district like IA-05. King is still favored to win here, but there are good reasons the DCCC put this seat on its "Races to Watch" list.

If you live in the fifth district, I encourage you to sign up to volunteer for Hubler's campaign. This Saturday is a district-wide volunteer day. You can also help by telling your friends and neighbors about Rob and encouraging them to vote for "a servant, not a King."

Whether or not you live in the district, I hope you will donate to Rob's campaign. King's war chest is not particularly large for an incumbent. Strong fundraising for Hubler by the September 30 deadline will help persuade the DCCC to become more actively involved in this race.

With your help, Iowa's west can be won.

  • Great Post

    I agree that this district is winnable.  Hubler is hustling while King is appearing in fake hearings and campaigning in other parts of the state.  If the Obama campaign can help get a big turnout, and GOP and indie voters are fed up with the hatemongering and incompetence that King brings to the table, the 5th will have a new congressman.

Login or Join to comment and post.