Senate district 41 will be a race to watch in 2010

With Democrats defending 19 of the 25 Iowa Senate districts on the ballot next fall, we don’t have many opportunities to make gains in the upper chamber. However, I’ve long felt that Democrats should make a serious play for Senate district 41 in Scott County. Dave Hartsuch is far too conservative for a district that was long represented by Maggie Tinsman, whom Hartsuch defeated in the 2006 GOP primary. Historically, the Bettendorf area has been strongly Republican, but Democrats have made gains in recent years. Senate district 41 now has as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

As I’d hoped, a Democratic candidate has stepped up to the plate, and Hartsuch will also have to fend off a primary challenge in the spring. More on this race after the jump.

Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times reported on Tuesday,

Roby Smith, a Davenport Republican who lost a 2006 Statehouse bid to Democratic state Rep. Jim Lykam, confirmed he is “laying the groundwork” for a primary bid.

In a brief interview, Smith, who is 32, said primaries are not uncommon in the 41st Senate District.

Not only did Hartsuch win the seat after a primary challenge, but former state Sen. Maggie Tinsman, too, was first elected after defeating incumbent state Sen. Edgar Holden, a Bettendorf Republican, back in 1988. […]

Hartsuch said he thinks the main issue in the primary will be the direction of the Republican Party.

“The party is in need of reform. I think that’s what people expect. I think I’ve been a reformer,” he said.

It’s not clear from Tibbetts’ article whether Smith plans to run as a moderate like Tinsman (who was pro-choice), or whether he will argue that Hartsuch is ineffective for some other reason. In 2004, Dave Mulder defeated Senator Ken Veenstra in the Republican primary for Senate district 2. Mulder was socially conservative but emphasized education and economic development in his campaign. Veenstra was best-known for championing anti-gay legislation.

If Hartsuch survives the primary challenge, he will face Dave Thede. His wife, Phyllis Thede, ran against Hartsuch in 2006 and fell 436 votes short. In 2008, she defeated Republican State Representative Jamie Van Fossen in House district 81 by nearly 1,800 votes.

Dave Thede changed his affiliation from Republican to Democrat because, in his words, “the [Republican] party left me.”

“They just really don’t represent what I wanted any more, or what the voters of Scott County want,” he said.

Thede also criticized Hartsuch, saying some of his views are “archaic,” including a claim that students are falling behind in school because of sexual activity. Thede said kids are falling behind, but not because they’re having sex.

Hartsuch defended his comments Monday, saying sexual activity is a contributing factor in poor student performance.

“That he thinks otherwise indicates he’s out of touch,” he said.

This will be a fun race to watch. Normally, an incumbent is a tougher opponent than someone with less name recognition. In this case, I have no idea whether Thede would have a better chance against Hartsuch or Roby Smith. I’d like to hear from people more familiar with Scott County politics on whether Hartsuch’s image suffered from his 2008 campaign against Representative Bruce Braley in the first Congressional district. Hartsuch lost by a wide margin and didn’t even come close in Scott County.

Dave Thede announced his plans to challenge Hartsuch in a press release. Excerpt:

“In these tough economic times, Scott County families, small businesses and employees deserve solutions, not more political games,” Thede said. “I’m running because we need a fresh voice in the Iowa Senate who will listen to his constituents – not party leaders – to bring better jobs, schools, health care and opportunities to Scott County.”

Thede recently changed his official registration from Republican to Democrat because he is concerned that Republican Party leaders in Iowa and Washington, D.C., have turned their backs on the real problems facing middle-class Iowans.

“It’s time we had an independent voice in the Iowa Senate that is not beholden to any special interest or political party leaders,” Thede said. “My #1 concern in the Iowa Senate will be the people of Scott County, not party leaders and lobbyists in Des Moines.”

An educator for more than 30 years, Thede is a Technology Education Instructor at the Kimberly Center for Alternative Education in Davenport. He also previously worked as a school administrator, a patternmaker and a machinist.

Thede is also known as “The Voice of the Blue Devils” because he serves as the announcer for Davenport Central High School football team.

He has been married to his wife, Phyllis, for 35 years. They have three grown children.

Thede received an associate’s degree from Southwestern Community College Creston, Iowa, and bachelor’s degree from Westmar College in LeMars, Iowa. He also received a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix.

Thede said he is looking forward to talking with as many voters as possible during this campaign.

“I would love to hear from everyone with a concern or an idea about moving Scott County,” said he. “People are welcome to call me at my home, 563-441-0630, or on my cell, 563-210-0368. You can also email me at davethede@yahoo.com.”

Great bonus to have a candidate who’s also a high-school football announcer. He will have lots of friends in the community. Phyllis Thede assembled a strong volunteer team for her previous campaigns, and I’m sure many of them will get involved with her husband’s race next year.

Incidentally, I have not heard anything about which Republican will challenge Thede in House district 81 next fall. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of any likely candidates. The new Scott County GOP chairman is working hard to raise money and build a grassroots network. House Democrats shouldn’t take anything for granted here, despite Thede’s strong showing in 2008.

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