Have Republicans written off Iowa Senate district 5?

Last week the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation endorsed 67 candidates it views as “Friends of Agriculture.” Only three Democrats, all incumbents, made this list: State Representative Geri Huser, State Senator Dennis Black, and State Senator Rich Olive. Huser is in the corporate-friendly “six-pack” of Iowa House Democrats, and her race in House district 42 isn’t expected to be competitive. Black isn’t a top Republican target either, and it’s not hard to see why the Farm Bureau would want to be on his good side. The four-term incumbent representing Senate district 41 chairs the Iowa Senate Natural Resources Committee and serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Farm Bureau’s support for Olive surprised me. On paper, this is one of the Republicans’ leading pickup opportunities in the Iowa Senate. Olive is a first-term incumbent in a conservative-leaning district. He won the open Senate district 5 by all of 62 votes in the Democratic wave election of 2006. Republican Stewart Iverson represented this turf in the Iowa Senate for many years, and as of August 2010, Senate district 5 has about three thousand more registered Republicans than Democrats, though no-party voters have a plurality. The district covers all of Wright and Hamilton Counties, part of Webster County and most of Story County outside Ames (map here).

I expected the Iowa GOP to put up a fight for this district, but if that were the case, I doubt interest groups that are mostly proxies for Republicans would give Olive their seal of approval. Last month the Association of Business and Industry’s PAC endorsed Olive as well. Perhaps conservative advocates don’t see Rob Bacon as a credible candidate in Senate district 5. Bacon has been AWOL on the fundraising front, bringing in zero dollars during the latest reporting period and only $1,250 in the previous one. As of July 19, Bacon had $3,476.94 cash on hand, while Olive had $40,107.28.

I lean toward John Deeth’s view; Republicans are giving Olive a “de facto bye” in the hope of gaining elsewhere. Democrats currently have a 32-18 Iowa Senate majority, and Republicans need to win back three or four districts this year to have a strong chance of taking the chamber in 2012.

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