Analysis of the Obama-Romney vote in the Iowa House districts

The Daily Kos Elections team has been compiling 2012 presidential election results by state legislative district as well as by Congressional district, state by state. Last week the Iowa numbers were added to the database. I took a first stab at previewing the battle for control of the Iowa Senate next year, using data including the raw vote totals and percentages for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in each district.

The Daily Kos database includes Obama and Romney vote totals and percentages for each Iowa House district here. After the jump I’ve incorporated that information and other factors to predict which Iowa House districts will be competitive in 2014. Writing this post has been challenging, because every election cycle brings surprises, and many more seats in the lower chamber will be in play. Unlike the Iowa Senate, where only half of the 50 members are on the ballot in each general election, all 100 Iowa House members are on ballot in every even-numbered year. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the lower chamber.

The caveats I mentioned in Bleeding Heartland’s overview of the Iowa Senate races hold equally true for Iowa House predictions. Namely,

1. Turnout in the last two Iowa midterm elections was approximately one-third lower than in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012. A record 1.58 million Iowans cast ballots in last year’s general election, but the number of voters participating in the 2014 election will be closer to 1 million. In the 2012 general election, the number of votes cast for candidates in Iowa House races generally fell between 11,000 and 19,000 per district, with many districts in in 14,000 to 15,000 vote range (full results in this pdf file). But in the 2010 midterm election, some highly competitive Iowa House races drew fewer than 10,000 votes cast for the major-party candidates combined. Relatively few Iowa House districts contained more than 14,000 voters casting ballots in 2010, and those were primarily districts with excess population because of suburban sprawl during the last decade.

2. Turnout doesn’t drop equally among all groups of Iowa voters in midterm elections. In 2006 and 2010, turnout among independents was particularly low compared to how many no-party voters cast ballots in Iowa presidential elections. As for partisans, Iowa Democratic turnout dropped off far more in 2010 compared to 2008 than Republican turnout did.

There’s no guarantee the pattern will repeat next year–for one thing, Bruce Braley’s U.S. Senate campaign will have more resources for GOTV than Roxanne Conlin did in 2010 when she challenged Senator Chuck Grassley. But the Obama re-election campaign did remarkably well squeezing extra votes out of urban and suburban areas in Iowa in 2012. I wouldn’t count on Iowa Democrats repeating that performance, especially since Organizing for America supposedly isn’t sharing the Obama campaign’s database with state Democratic parties.

3. As a general rule, Iowans like to re-elect their incumbents. Historically, lots of Iowa House members have been re-elected even when voters in their districts preferred the other party’s candidate for president. So it would be a mistake to assume that every Democrat in a Romney district or every Republican in an Obama district is vulnerable in 2014. Iowa House districts are small, containing roughly 30,000 residents. A hard-working incumbent can knock on just about every likely voter’s door during an election cycle, making direct personal contact with a large percentage of their constituents.

4. Some House seats that don’t look competitive now may flip, especially if 2014 becomes a landslide. Three Iowa House Democrats lost in 2010 despite having faced no general election opponent in 2008. By the same token, Republican State Representative Nick Wagner went unchallenged in 2010, then lost Iowa House district 68 to Democrat Daniel Lundby last year.

Turning to the Daily Kos Elections spreadsheet for Iowa House districts and the 2012 general election results, we can spot a lot of uncompetitive districts where the incumbent won by a comfortable margin and is from the same party whose presidential candidate easily triumphed in the House district.

While a challenger with outstanding local appeal could pull off an upset for the other party in one of these districts, few of the following incumbents will need to worry about the 2014 general election. A handful of the GOP state representatives may face primary challengers, but only one primary challenger knocked off an Iowa House incumbent in 2012.

Republican-held Iowa House districts where Romney easily defeated Obama (26)

House district 1: Jeff Smith

House district 2: Megan Hess

House district 3: Dan Huseman

House district 4: Dwayne Alons (highest Romney share of the vote, 83.55 percent)

House district 5: Chuck Soderberg

House district 6: Ron Jorgensen

House district 8: Henry Rayhons

House district 10: Tom Shaw

House district 11: Gary Worthan

House district 17: Matt Windschitl

House district 18: open (Jason Schultz is running for Iowa Senate 9; Steve Holt is the first declared GOP candidate for the House seat)

House district 19: Ralph Watts

House district 20: Clel Baudler

House district 21: Jack Drake

House district 22: Greg Forristall

House district 23: Mark Costello

House district 24: Cecil Dolecheck

House district 25: Julian Garrett

House district 37: John Landon

House district 39: Jake Highfill

House district 44: Rob Taylor

House district 50: Pat Grassley

House district 54: Linda Upmeyer

House district 78: Jarad Klein

House district 79: Guy Vander Linden

House district 94: Linda Miller

Democratic-held Iowa House districts where Obama easily defeated Romney (33)

In a Republican bloodbath scenario comparable to 2010, Democratic turnout could collapse enough to threaten a few of these Iowa House incumbents, so no one should take anything for granted. Still, for now I consider the following districts to be safe for Democrats.

House district 9: Helen Miller

House district 29: Dan Kelley

House district 31: Rick Olson

House district 32: Ruth Ann Gaines

House district 33: Kevin McCarthy

House district 34: Bruce Hunter

House district 35: Ako Abdul-Samad (highest Obama share of the vote, 77.01 percent)

House district 36: Marti Anderson

House district 41: Jo Oldson

House district 45: Beth Wessel-Kroeschell

House district 46: Lisa Heddens

House district 53: Sharon Steckman

House district 61: Anesa Kajtazovic (possibly open if she runs for Congress in IA-01)

House district 62: Deborah Berry

House district 64: Bruce Bearinger

House district 65: open (Tyler Olson is running for governor)

House district 66: Art Staed

House district 69: Kirsten Running-Marquardt

House district 70: Todd Taylor

House district 71: Mark Smith

House district 74: Dave Jacoby

House district 77: Sally Stutsman

House district 81: Mary Gaskill

House district 83: Jerry Kearns

House district 85: Vicki Lensing

House district 86: Mary Mascher

House district 87: Dennis Cohoon

House district 89: Jim Lykam

House district 90: Cindy Winckler

House district 93: Phyllis Thede

House district 98: Mary Wolfe

House district 99: open (Pat Murphy is running for Congress in IA-01, and three Dubuque Democrats have announced plans to run in the primary)

House district 100: Chuck Isenhart

A few notes:

If Democratic State Senator Dennis Black surprises me by retiring next year, I expect Dan Kelley to run for Senate district 15, which would open up House district 29. An open seat race could become competitive.

Bruce Bearinger is a first-term incumbent, and Art Staed served just one term in the Iowa House before losing in 2008 to the same Republican he defeated last year. House districts 64 and 66 contain more registered Democrats than Republicans, but no-party voters have a plurality in both districts. So arguably, I am being too generous to call Bearinger and Staed safe incumbents. On the other hand, those districts voted for Obama by large margins and are located in northeast Iowa. Democrats will invest heavily in GOTV in that part of the state to boost U.S. Senate nominee Braley and the Democratic nominee to succeed Braley in IA-01.  

Surprisingly, Democrats appear to occupy more safe Iowa House seats than Republicans do. But looks can be deceiving, because so far I’ve only counted seats where the incumbent party’s presidential candidate easily carried the Iowa House district. By my count, 21 more GOP state representatives are likely to be re-elected in 2014, even though their House districts went for Obama, or only narrowly for Romney.

Republican-held districts where Republicans are favored (21)

House district 15: Mark Brandenburg

House district 16: Mary Ann Hanusa

House district 27: Joel Fry

House district 28: Greg Heartsill

House district 38: Kevin Koester

House district 42: Peter Cownie

House district 43: Chris Hagenow

House district 47: Chip Baltimore

House district 48: Rob Bacon

House district 49: Dave Deyoe

House district 51: Josh Byrnes

House district 60: Walt Rogers (possibly will be open if Rogers runs for Congress in IA-01)

House district 63: Sandy Salmon

House district 67: Kraig Paulsen (will be open if Paulsen runs for Congress in IA-01, as expected)

House district 75: Dawn Pettengill

House district 76: Dave Maxwell

House district 80: Larry Sheets

House district 84: Dave Heaton

House district 88: Tom Sands

House district 96: Lee Hein

House district 97: Steve Olson

Josh Byrnes is unlike all the others on this list. I almost put an asterisk next to his name. He crushed his Democratic opponent last year even as Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote in his district. Byrnes clearly has crossover appeal, and I expect him to be re-elected if he is the Republican nominee. However, for my money he is the GOP state representative most likely to lose a primary next year. I am not aware of any primary challenger yet, but Byrnes is on record supporting same-sex marriage rights, an increase in the state gasoline tax, and even the Democratic position on expanding Medicaid. How can conservatives resist going after this guy? If some wingnut takes out Byrnes in the primary, House district 51 will be in play.

Council Bluffs has been frustrating territory for Democrats in Iowa House races lately. Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal has represented the city for three decades, winning most recently last November. But Republicans won both of the House districts that make up Gronstal’s Senate district in 2010 and 2012. Mark Brandenburg won by more than 400 votes even as Obama beat Romney by more than 1,700 votes in House district 15. The president carried House district 16 by about 700 votes, but Mary Ann Hanusa cruised. Hanusa’s name is well-known because her family has owned a beloved local hardware store for decades. When you look at voter registration numbers, House districts 15 and 16 seem winnable with the right candidate, but I am pessimistic.

Several other Republicans on this list won by comfortable margins despite the fact that Obama beat Romney by a little or a lot in their districts: Peter Cownie, Kevin Koester, Chip Baltimore, Walt Rogers, Dave Maxwell, Tom Sands, Steve Olson. Democrats didn’t even field a candidate against Lee Hein.

Other Republicans in this group won easily even though Romney had only a narrow margin over Obama in their districts: Joel Fry, Greg Heartsill, Rob Bacon, Dave Deyoe, Kraig Paulsen, Dawn Pettengill, Dave Heaton.

The last three Republicans in this group won their House races by narrow margins in 2012.

Chris Hagenow barely survived the challenge by Susan Judkins, winning by just 23 votes. I do not expect Judkins to run in 2014, but if she does, the race would instantly be competitive. Hagenow bounced back from a very close race in 2008 to win re-election easily in 2010, which is why I consider him favored next year (against a different opponent).

Larry Sheets defeated Joe Judge (a son of former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge) by just 110 votes in the open House district 80 last year. Romney did pretty well here, taking 53.56 percent of the vote. I don’t expect Judge to challenge Sheets in a midterm election, and I consider Sheets favored to win against anyone else.

Sandy Salmon defeated Bill Heckroth in an open-seat race by only 115 votes last November. Rumor has it that Heckroth is moving to the Des Moines area, so he won’t be in a position to run against Salmon in 2014. House district 63 contains 1,400 more Republicans than Democrats, making it an uphill climb for a challenger, even though Obama outpolled Romney here.

Democratic-held districts where Democrats are favored (7)

House district 12: Dan Muhlbauer

House district 13: Chris Hall

House district 14: David Dawson

House district 52: Todd Prichard

House district 57: Nancy Dunkel

House district 59: Bob Kressig

House district 82: Curt Hanson

Some Bleeding Heartland readers will quibble with these assessments, but here is my thinking.

Romney won nearly 53 percent of the vote in Muhlbauer’s district, more than in any other House seat held by a Democrat. Republicans have a slim voter registration advantage in House district 12 as well. But Muhlbauer has insulated himself with a lot of conservadem votes, from “personhood” to nuclear power to carrying water for Big Ag on many occasions. Muhlbauer was re-elected by a healthy margin in 2012 after winning an open seat comfortably in 2010. Granted, Muhlbauer’s 2010 opponent was perhaps the worst Iowa legislative candidate ever, but I don’t see Republicans recruiting a strong challenger here.

On paper, Chris Hall and David Dawson should have no trouble. Obama won more than 54 percent of the vote in Hall’s district and more than 59 percent in Dawson’s. Hall and Dawson won last year’s elections by surprisingly large margins, and House districts 13 and 14 contain far more registered Democrats than Republicans. On the flip side, Sioux City is a land of notoriously low Democratic turnout, especially in midterm years. Dawson lost a similarly-shaped west-side district in 2010, his first run for office. Hall won by about 550 votes that year but faced a weak opponent. Either Hall or Dawson may decide to challenge Republican Rick Bertrand in Iowa Senate district 7, leaving one of the House districts open. Both parties will target Bertrand’s Senate seat, but will Democrats be able to repeat the Obama campaign’s strong GOTV in Sioux City?

Todd Prichard did not compete in the 2012 election, so many voters in House district 52 will be seeing his name on the ballot for the first time next November. Previous Democratic incumbent Brian Quirk resigned shortly after being re-elected. Prichard won a low-turnout 2013 special election. More importantly, Obama won more than 56 percent of the vote in House district 52, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 1,300. Prichard is a hard worker and should be re-elected.

I was shocked to see that Romney edged out Obama in Nancy Dunkel’s district by 49.98 percent to 49.00 percent. This area has strong Democratic voter registration. Maybe Democrats slacked off on GOTV here because Republicans failed to field a candidate against Dunkel. I expect the GOP to find someone to run in House district 57 in 2014, but Dunkel is an Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame member with huge stature in the community. She’s a good bet to win a second term.

Bob Kressig survived a tough challenge in 2010 by about 500 votes and was re-elected by more than 2,000 votes last year. Obama did well in House district 59 (56.29 percent), but Cedar Falls tends to have competitive statehouse races, so I’m not ready to put Kressig in the “safe” category. Still, he should be able to beat whomever the GOP throws at him. The Braley campiagn will be trying to maximize turnout in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area.

Curt Hanson won a hard-fought special election in 2009, then defeated the same Republican by more than 1,000 votes in the very challenging environment of November 2010. This well-liked former driver’s ed instructor easily won another term last year, despite Obama’s narrow margin in his district. I am not aware of any Republican running against Hanson yet. Whoever challenges him will be an underdog. One more thing: Democrats will invest substantial resources in GOTV here because House district 82 is half of Senate district 41, a Republican-held seat high on the target list.

To sum up: if all of the “safe” and “favored” seats remain with the incumbent’s party, Republicans would hold 47 Iowa House districts and Democrats 40. Consequently, the remaining thirteen districts will likely determine control of the Iowa House in 2015 and 2016.

Republican-held seats that will likely be targeted (6)

House district 7: Tedd Gassman

House district 58: Brian Moore

House district 72: Dean Fisher

House district 73: Bobby Kaufmann

House district 91: open (Mark Lofgren is running for Congress in IA-02)

House district 95: Quentin Stanerson

House district 91 is the only open seat on this list and also happens to be the Republican-held Iowa House seat where Obama got the highest share of the vote: 57.61 percent. Two Republicans are set to duke it out in the primary: Mark LeRette and Emily Lofgren, a daughter of the retiring incumbent. The 2012 Democratic nominee, John Dabeet, is ready to try again. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Democrat compete in the primary. Neither party has a voter registration advantage in House district 91.

Maybe I should have put first-term incumbent Tedd Gassman on the “favored” list, because Republicans outnumber Democrats in his district, and Romney won 51.82 percent of the vote here. But the dude is weird (who talks about their teenage granddaughter like that?), and he won by fewer than 50 votes in 2012. I hope Democrats can recruit a strong candidate in House district 7. Maybe former State Representative John Wittneben will take another shot.

Two-term State Representative Brian Moore is a survivor. He first ran for the legislature as a Democrat, but lost an Iowa Senate primary in 2010. Republicans then recruited him to represent their party in a House district where they didn’t have a challenger, and he won narrowly in 2010. Although Democrats have a very large voter registration advantage in House district 58, and Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote here, Moore survived a comeback effort by the former Democratic incumbent. I hope some hard-working candidate will take on this challenge. Moore has occasionally crossed party lines; for instance, he sided with Democrats on votes related to Medicaid expansion.

First-term incumbent Dean Fisher won an open-seat race by 216 votes last year. If only Iowa Democrats had spent a little money here! Obama won just under 51 percent of the vote in House district 72.

First-term incumbent Bobby Kaufmann will not be easy to beat, having won an open-seat race by more than 2,000 votes in a district where Obama won more than 54 percent of the vote. Democratic performance suffered in House district 73 because of an acrimonious primary. The candidate who lost that primary, David Johnson, is already actively campaigning against Kaufmann. Voter registration numbers slightly favor Democrats.

Finally, first-term incumbent Quentin Stanerson defeated Kristin Keast by just 200 votes–another missed opportunity for Democrats in a district Obama carried. House district 95 should go on the target list. UPDATE: Keast announced on July 23 that she will run in this district again in 2014.

Democratic-held seats that will likely be targeted (7)

House district 26: Scott Ourth

House district 30: Joe Riding

House district 40: John Forbes

House district 55: Roger Thomas

House district 56: Patti Ruff

House district 68: Daniel Lundby

House district 92: Frank Wood

Roger Thomas is the odd one out here, having served in the Iowa House since 1996. Although Obama won his district with more than 55 percent of the vote, Thomas barely defeated Republican challenger Michael Klimesh by 196 votes. I expect the GOP to make a real effort in House district 55.

Everyone else in this group is a first-term incumbent. Obama carried the districts represented by Scott Ourth, Patti Ruff, Daniel Lundby, and Frank Wood. Romney narrowly won the districts represented by Joe Riding and John Forbes. Ruff, Lundby, and Wood defeated GOP incumbents, while Ourth, Riding, and Forbes won open-seat races. To my knowledge, only Lundby has a declared challenger already (Ken Rizer). I expect Republicans to invest resources in all of these districts.

Thomas, Ruff, Lundby, and Wood all represent districts that are now or have previously been part of IA-01, so the Braley campaign will need strong Democratic turnout there.

Any comments about the 2014 Iowa House races are welcome in this thread. I will revisit this analysis after more challengers announce in the House districts.  

Tags: 2012 Elections, 2014 Elections, Ako Abdul-Samad, Anesa Kajtazovic, Art Staed, Barack Obama, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Bill Heckroth, Bob Kressig, Bobby Kaufmann, Brian Moore, Bruce Bearinger, Bruce Braley, Bruce Hunter, Cecil Dolecheck, Chip Baltimore, Chris Hagenow, Chris Hall, Chuck Isenhart, Chuck Soderberg, Cindy Winckler, Clel Baudler, Curt Hanson, Dan Huseman, Dan Kelley, Dan Muhlbauer, Daniel Lundby, Dave Deyoe, Dave Heaton, Dave Jacoby, Dave Maxwell, David Dawson, David Johnson, Dawn Pettengill, Dean Fisher, Deborah Berry, Dennis Cohoon, Dwayne Alons, Emily Lofgren, Frank Wood, Gary Worthan, GOTV, Greg Forristall, Greg Heartsill, Guy Vander Linden, HD 14, HD 26, HD 29, HD 30, HD 51, HD 66, HD 7, HD 73, HD 99, HD-07, HD-07 2014, HD-12, HD-12 2014, HD-13, HD-13 2014, HD-14 2014, HD-26 2014, HD-29 2014, HD-30 2014, HD-40, HD-40 2014, HD-43, HD-43 2014, HD-51 2014, HD-52, HD-52 2014, HD-55, HD-55 2014, HD-56, HD-56 2014, HD-57, HD-57 2014, HD-58, HD-58 2014, HD-59, HD-59 2014, HD-60, HD-60 2014, HD-63, HD-63 2014, HD-64, HD-64 2014, HD-66 2014, HD-68, HD-68 2014, HD-72, HD-72 2014, HD-73 2014, HD-80, HD-80 2014, HD-82, HD-82 2014, HD-91, HD-91 2014, HD-92, HD-92 2014, HD-95, HD-95 2014, HD-99 2014, Helen Miller, Henry Rayhons, IA-01, IA-02, Iowa Democratic Party, Iowa GOP, Iowa House, Iowa House Overview, Iowa House Races, Jack Drake, Jake Highfill, Jarad Klein, Jason Schultz, Jeff Smith, Jerry Keanrs, Jim Lykam, Jo Oldson, Joe Riding, Joel Fry, John Dabeet, John Forbes, John Landon, Josh Byrnes, Julian Garrett, Ken Rizer, Kevin Koester, Kevin McCarthy, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Kraig Paulsen, Krisin Keast, Larry Sheets, Lee Hein, Linda Miller, Linda Upmeyer, Lisa Heddens, Mark Brandenburg, Mark Costello, Mark LeRette, Mark Lofgren, Mark Smith, Marti Anderson, Mary Ann Hanusa, Mary Gaskill, Mary Mascher, Mary Wolfe, Matt Windschitl, Megan Hess, Mitt Romney, Nancy Dunkel, Nick Wagner, Pat Grassley, Pat Murphy, Patti Ruff, Peter Cownie, Phyllis Thede, Quentin Stanerson, Ralph Watts, Rick Olson, Rob Bacon, Rob Taylor, Roger Thomas, Ron Jorgensen, Ruth Ann Gaines, Sally Stutsman, Sandy Salmon, Scott Ourth, Sharon Steckman, State Legislature, Steve Holt, Steve Olson, Tedd Gassman, Todd Prichard, Todd Taylor, Tom Sands, Tom Shaw, Tyler Olson, U.S. Senate, Vicki Lensing, Walt Rogers

About the Author(s)


  • Hagenow

    He’s toast, the demographics in the district are turning against him. Add to that that he’s an arrogant prick who needs to be pushed a little harder to show that to the public, and you’ve got the makings of a flipped seat.

    I’m also getting a gut feeling that Brandstad’s little scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, and if Jack Hatch can successfully paint him as the out of touch tyrant with a harpie attached to him by the hip that those of us who are in the reality based community see, the makings of a wave could start.  

    • the best chance to take Hagenow out

      was last year. Will be harder to get Democrats to show up in a midterm election where there’s no Obama campaign pounding the pavement.

      It really annoys me that Susan Judkins was left hanging while thousands of dollars were unnecessarily spent on tv and radio for Mark Smith and Art Staed. Even a small radio buy could have gotten her another couple dozen votes.

  • HD-73

    Johnson and Cedar County Democrats are already planning a joint picnic to kick off their coordinated campaign to defeat Kauffmann.  With Dems united behind Johnson, this should be a competitive race.