Mike Gronstal sees eight competitive Iowa Senate races

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is “fairly confident” going into this year’s state legislative elections, he told Mike Glover in a recent interview. He cited a “pretty good message” to take to voters as well as a “a slight advantage on the map” that will allow Democrats to play “a little less defense and a little more offense,” compared to 2012.

I agree with Gronstal that Democrats are better positioned now to hold their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber than they were at the same point two years ago. Follow me after the jump for a quick look at the eight districts the Senate majority leader expects to be targeted this fall.

Glover wrote today on his Iowa Horserace blog,

Republican seats in Sioux City, Ottumwa, Bettendorf and Washington are in play, Gronstal said, while Democratic seats in Fort Dodge, Ames, Mason City and Maquoketa are being targeted, he said.

“I’m looking to pick up seats in the next cycle, and I think we have a reasonably good shot to do so,” said Gronstal. “All of those races are living breathing organisms. I have every reason to believer [sic] I can return all of the Democrats on that list.”

Gronstal’s list overlaps with the five Iowa Senate races I’m watching most closely this year. Bleeding Heartland discussed the Sioux City race (Senate district 7), the Ottumwa race (Senate district 41), and the open Senate district 39 covering Washington County in this post. So far, Democrats do not have a declared candidate in Senate district 7, where State Senator Rick Bertrand is a first-term GOP incumbent. Two Democrats are already running in Senate district 41, and a third is considering that race against the most shocking winner of 2010, Mark Chelgren. Two Democrats have announced their candidacies in Senate district 39, which is open because Sandy Greiner is retiring. Click here for more details.

The Bettendorf seat Gronstal mentioned is Senate district 47, where Maria Bribriesco is challenging GOP State Senator Roby Smith. Barack Obama gained more votes than Mitt Romney in Senate district 47. I consider Smith favored because Democratic turnout will likely be lower in the midterm election, and because the district contains more registered Republicans than Democrats. On the other hand, Smith is only a first-termer, not an entrenched incumbent. In addition, Bruce Braley’s U.S. Senate campaign should have a strong GOTV effort in the Quad Cities area, which Braley represented for three terms.

Gronstal mentioned four Democratic-held Senate seats as likely targets. Three-term incumbents Amanda Ragan and Daryl Beall represent the Mason City area (Senate district 27) and the Fort Dodge area (Senate district 5), respectively. Those races are on my watch list because redistricting put more Republicans in each district. Based on the GOP challengers who have declared so far, Tim Kraayenbrink in Senate district 5 and Timothy Junker in Senate district 27, I consider both Beall and Ragan favored to win re-election. Both Democrats should campaign like they’re ten points behind, though.

Gronstal mentioned the Ames district (Senate district 23), where Republicans are talking up their candidate Jeremy Davis’ chances of beating three-term incumbent Herman Quirmbach. I explained here why I do not view Senate district 23 as particularly competitive and will flesh out that argument in a future post.

The Maquoketa seat is Senate district 29, where first-term Democrat Tod Bowman held over after Tom Hancock retired in 2012. I was surprised to see Gronstal say Republicans are targeting this seat, because I am not aware of any declared or rumored challenger to Bowman yet. I hope some Bleeding Heartland reader will correct me if a Republican is already campaigning here. President Obama’s re-election margin was narrow in Senate district 29, and some of the territory is new to Bowman. However, Democrats outnumber Republicans in this district by nearly 5,000, making it a heavy lift for a challenger.

Any comments about the Iowa Senate races are welcome in this thread.

JANUARY 21 UPDATE: Republicans may be targeting Dennis Black in Senate district 15 as well.

  • also

    another target will be Dennis Black’s seat, probably even if he doesn’t retire.

    Dyersville Mayor Jim Heavens was going to be the Republican candidate against Bowman until he lost his own re-election due to the ongoing issues with the Field of Dreams. Not sure who they’ll find now.

    Quirmbach always underperforms. Davis has good name recognition from his time on City Council, and was a fraternity advisor at Iowa State before leaving to work for King. Quite honestly he could beat Quirmbach among students, though that is a few hundred votes at best in a nonpresidential year.

    Roby Smith will be difficult to beat as the QuadCities is Iowa’s most expensive media market and Iowans for Tax Relief will put unlimited money into that race. But better to force them to spend $250k there than against Beall or Ragan.

    • I can't see how working for Steve King

      helps a Republican running in Ames, even if the ISU student body is more conservative than many college campuses. Quirmbach had a pretty active challenger in 2010 and was re-elected by about 1,300 votes in a district that had a Democratic voter registration advantage of about 4,000 at that time (probably inflated from the 2008 caucuses). His current district has more like a 3,500 voter registration advantage. I would think that Democratic turnout in 2014 shouldn’t be as bad as it was in 2010–Braley will need to be targeting areas like Ames.

      Obviously, every incumbent should campaign hard, including Quirmbach. Not taking your opponent seriously is a path to becoming the next Keith Kreiman.

      I have not heard about a challenger against Dennis Black yet. I was a little worried about that race in 2010 because of the Maytag plant closure. I agree with you, that could become a targeted race, but I don’t see him losing. All bets are off if he retires, though.

      Agree, I would like to see Iowans for Tax Relief spending some money on defense.

    • I'm sorry but:

      “Dyersville Mayor Jim Heavens was going to be the Republican candidate against Bowman until he lost his own re-election due to the ongoing issues with the Field of Dreams.”

      Is this Heavens? No.

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