Open seat improves Democrats' chance in Iowa House district 57 (updated)

Iowa House Assistant Majority Leader Steve Lukan announced yesterday that he will not seek a sixth term in the state legislature. His retirement improves Democrats' prospects of picking up the new Iowa House district 57.

UPDATE: Democrat Nancy Dunkel is running in this House district. Background from her January 6 press release is below.

The new district 57 covers most of Dubuque County outside the Dubuque city limits:

Iowa House district 57, The new Iowa House district 57, under the redistricting plan adopted in 2011.

As of April 2011, this district contained 7,648 registered Democrats, 5,322 registered Republicans, and 7,796 no-party voters. An entrenched incumbent such as Lukan would have a decent shot at overcoming the voter registration disadvantage in his new district. The last time he had a Democratic opponent, Lukan won the old House district 32 (with a more balanced voter registration) by a 2-1 margin in 2008 (pdf).

Democrats did not recruit a challenger against Lukan in 2010, but the new configuration made the Republican a likely target this year. To my knowledge, no Democrat has publicly expressed interest in the new House district 57. Lukan's retirement will make the seat even more attractive for possible Democratic candidates. A contested primary wouldn't surprise me.

Dubuque County Republicans may need to decide whether to make a serious play to hold this seat, or whether to put their money and energy behind Paul Kern, rumored to be considering a second bid against former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy in the new House district 99. Kern kept Murphy below 52 percent in November 2010, but Democratic turnout should improve in a presidential year, and Murphy's district leans even more strongly Democratic than Lukan's district.

It makes more sense for Dubuque Republicans to focus on finding the strongest possible candidate in House district 57. Their chances of holding the seat might improve if Dubuque businessman Rod Blum becomes the GOP nominee against Bruce Braley in the new first Congressional district. I believe that Mariannette Miller-Meeks' strong challenge to Dave Loebsack in the second Congressional district helped Mark Chelgren pull off a narrow win over Democratic State Senator Keith Kreiman in 2010. Miller-Meeks practiced medicine in Ottumwa, the largest city in the old Senate district 47, and she campaigned hard in all the counties in that district. A Democratic voter registration advantage wasn't enough to save Kreiman.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: That didn't take long. Democrat Nancy Dunkel announced her candidacy on January 6. In a signal of establishment support, Mike and Suzanne Blouin will co-chair Dunkel's campaign. Blouin headed the Iowa Department of Economic Development while Tom Vilsack was governor and dominated Dubuque county in the 2006 Democratic primary for governor (which he narrowly lost to Chet Culver).

Excerpt from Dunkel's press release:

"As a banker and leader of the state's economic development board, I've spent my career helping farmers and small businesses succeed and grow," said Dunkel, who serves on the state's Targeted Small Business Board and is Executive Director of the Dyersville Area Community Foundation.  "I've worked hard to improve the quality of life for hard-working families and bring good-paying jobs to Dubuque County."

Dunkel was elected to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame last fall and was the first woman to Chair the Iowa Bankers Association. She has served as President of the Iowa Chapter of Financial Women International, Inc. and been a member of the Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation Board. Nancy was also honored to serve as the Iowa Treasurer for former gubernatorial candidate Mike Bouin's campaign bid.

"In these tough economic times, middle class families and small businesses deserve our support.  The state has a critical role to play building a highly-skilled workforce through world class schools, affordable higher education, and re-training opportunities for Iowans out of work," added Dunkel.

Dunkel retired from Fidelity Bank and Trust in Dubuque last year and previously worked at State Bank of Worthington, Farley State Bank, and helped open a branch bank in Peosta.  She is currently a volunteer for SCORE, which is a free service to start up businesses and entrepreneurs.   She is Past Chair of the Dyersville Area Chamber of Commerce and also the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce.  Dunkel currently serves as a board member of Stonehill Franciscan Services.

"I look forward to listening to the concerns of people in Dubuque County and I will always put politics aside to do what's best for our communities.  I'm excited about the opportunity to serve as the next State Representative from Dubuque County," said Dunkel.

Dunkel was born in Manchester and has been married for 36 years to her husband, Kenneth Dunkel.  Their daughter, Jill, lives in Minneapolis and their son passed away a year and a half ago.  They attend St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville.

  • Don't know anything about her...

    but on paper looks like a terrific candidate. Was with some leadership Dems the other day who are optimistic about their chances this fall because of some quality candidates.  Maybe won't take back the majority, but could get halfway there.  Met a young woman, Megan Suhr, D running for a southern Iowa House seat. Very earnest person.  I was impressed. Hopefully these and other women will be successful.

    • need to get more than halfway

      The House Democrats should be able to win 44 or 45 seats with this map, but really they need at least 46 or 47 to start making life difficult for Kraig Paulsen. With strong candidates and good messaging it's even possible they could get to 48 seats. Then a couple of House Rs absent (or troublemakers like Shaw/Massie) might make it hard for Paulsen to find the 51st vote.

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