Iowa House district 76 preview: Rachel Bly vs Mark Dix

UPDATE: Dix quit the race in November 2011, shortly after Republican David Maxwell declared his candidacy in House district 76.

Iowa’s new map of political boundaries created several competitive state House and Senate districts lacking an incumbent. Democrat Rachel Bly and Republican Mark Dix recently announced their candidacies in Iowa House district 76, covering Poweshiek County and most of Iowa County.  

Here’s a close-up view of the new district:

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Poweshiek County has been at the center of competitive Iowa House and Senate races since 2004. Republican State Representative Guy Vander Linden defeated two-term Democrat Eric Palmer in 2010. Both of those candidates were from Mahaska County to the south. Redistricting put Mahaska in other House districts, and Vander Linden is running for re-election in the new district 79, which has a huge Republican voter registration advantage.

In contrast, district 76 is a near-even split, with 6,685 registered Democrats, 6,468 registered Republicans and 8,148 no-party voters as of April 2011. The largest town in the district is Grinnell. According to the 2010 census, the 9,218 Grinnell residents make up nearly half of the Poweshiek County population. The Grinnell College Democrats helped give Palmer his margins of victory in 2006 and 2008.

Iowa House Democrats recruited Grinnell City Council member Rachel Bly to run for this seat. From her campaign announcement press release of August 24:

In addition to serving in her first term on the Grinnell City Council, Bly, 39, is the Director of Conference Operations and Events for Grinnell College.  A graduate of the Poweshiek Leadership Program, Rachel has held positions on many community boards and organizations. She also supports her husband, Bob Hamilton who owns Hamilton Insurance, a family business which has been at the same downtown location for more than 80 years.

“I want to see government focus on the things that really matter ­such as economic growth and strengthening our educational system. We need to find the common ground and work across party lines to get a positive outcome for the people of Iowa,” Bly said.

A graduate of the Poweshiek Leadership Program, Rachel has held positions on many community boards and organizations including the Grinnell Community Day Care and Preschool Board, the GRMC Community Care Clinic and League of Women Voters. Rachel is active in 4-H Cloverkids, a member of the Poweshiek County Sportsman’s Association and is active in the local arts council.

Bly is a graduate of Mt. Vernon High School, holds a B.A. in Political Science from Grinnell College, and a master’s in public administration from Drake University.  She and Bob have an 8 year-old son, Davis.

On the Republican side, State Representative Betty De Boef could have moved into House district 76 after the new map put her in House district 78 with fellow Republican Jarad Klein. However, De Boef said this summer that she didn’t plan to run in district 76. She may retire from the state legislature, or she may move and run against Democrat Tom Rielly in the new Senate district 40.

Meanwhile, Mark Dix of Brooklyn in Poweshiek County formed an “exploratory committee” to run in House district 76 in late July. This week he formally announced his candidacy:

“The number one priority has to be jobs,” according to Dix, 62, who is retired after working for Iowa Workforce Development, veterans’ affairs and in sales. He’s calling for the Legislature to improve Iowa’s business climate “by lowering business property taxes, reducing unwanted and burdensome regulations, and job re-training.” […]

Dix, 62, is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with a masters’ in agency counseling and a bachelor’s in political science. He has been active in both local and national campaigns. He’s a member of the Methodist Church. Dix, who served in the Army from 1969-71, is a member of the Brooklyn American Legion Post.

Dix is a first-time candidate for office, but he has been “politically active since his days in college, having worked for local and federal candidates throughout his life.” His press release of September 13 was right on message for the Iowa GOP:

“Leading Republicans, contributors and voters of the district have urged me to run,” Dix said of the new House district that includes all of Poweshiek County and the western and southern parts of Iowa County.

“The number one priority has to be jobs,” Dix said in a press release. “The Iowa Legislature can do a number of things to improve Iowa’s business climate by lowering business property taxes, reducing unwanted and burdensome regulations, and job re-training. And I will seek other ideas from the voters in my district.”

Side note: get ready for lots of this nonsense during the 2012 legislative campaigns.

“My number one and two reasons for running are to create jobs and keep Iowa’s spending under control,” Dix stated. “In my opinion, the Governor and the legislature did a good job during the last session of bringing Iowa back to fiscal soundness. Now, we need to make Iowa a more favorable place for businesses to grow and thrive.”

Mr. Dix appears not to understand that Iowa closed out fiscal year 2011 with an estimated surplus of $483.2 million. A Democratic-controlled legislature passed the 2011 budget, and Democratic Governor Chet Culver signed it. So there was no need for Governor Terry Branstad or the Republican-controlled Iowa House to bring Iowa “back to fiscal soundness” this year; our state’s fiscal condition was strong to begin with.

Back to House district 76: this race looks like a tossup. The outcome may depend on who works harder and which party’s GOTV is more effective next fall. Being retired gives Dix an opportunity to campaign full-time. On the other hand, Bly will have a strong base of support in Grinnell, which is a lot bigger than Brooklyn (population 1,305 in 2010). Bly may also benefit from U.S. Representative Bruce Braley’s ground game in Poweshiek County. Braley grew up in Brooklyn, and the new map put Poweshiek and Iowa Counties in the first Congressional district. He hasn’t represented those counties before and will surely spend a lot of time campaigning in parts of IA-01 that are new to him.

Share any thoughts about the House district 76 race in this thread.  

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