In any given general election, roughly a dozen or two of the 100 Iowa House districts are in play. A first look through the list of candidates who qualified for the primary ballot suggests that this year, fewer Iowa House districts will be competitive than in 2010 or 2012. Republicans have failed to field a candidate in 32 of the 47 Democratic-held House districts. Democrats have failed to field a candidate in 26 of the 53 Republican-held House districts.
Although a few of these districts may see major-party candidates nominated through special conventions after the primary, it's rare for late-starting candidates to have a realistic chance to beat an incumbent. (That said, two Iowa House Democrats lost in 2010 to candidates who joined the race over the summer rather than during the primary campaign.)
After the jump I've enclosed a full list of the Iowa House districts left unchallenged by one of the major parties. I highlighted the most surprising recruitment failures and what looks like a pattern of uncontested House seats in Senate districts that will be targeted by both parties, which may reflect a deliberate strategy. House incumbents with no fear of losing may slack off on GOTV in one half of a Senate district where every vote may count.
A future post will focus on the ten or fifteen Iowa House races likely to be most competitive this fall.
The Iowa Secretary of State's office posted the full list of candidates who will appear on the primary ballot (pdf).
Most of the uncontested Iowa House seats tilt strongly to one party, as do a fair number of the seats with at least one candidate from both parties. You can view the latest voter registration totals for all the Iowa House districts here (pdf). For obvious reasons, recruiting candidates for hopeless races is not a high priority for party leaders.
Democratic-held Iowa House seats where no Republican candidate filed (32, incumbents in parentheses)
House district 9 (Helen Miller)
House district 14 (David Dawson) *see below
House district 31 (Rick Olson)
House district 32 (Ruth Ann Gaines)
House district 33 (Brian Meyer)
House district 34 (Bruce Hunter)
House district 35 (Ako Abdul-Samad)
House district 36 (Marti Anderson)
House district 40 (John Forbes) *see below
House district 41 (Jo Oldson)
House district 45 (Beth Wessel-Kroeschell)
House district 46 (Lisa Heddens)
House district 52 (Todd Prichard) *see below
House district 53 (Sharon Steckman)
House district 56 (Patti Ruff) *see below
House district 62 (Deborah Berry)
House district 65 (open; two Democrats running to succeed Tyler Olson)
House district 66 (Art Staed) *see below
House district 69 (Kirsten Running-Marquardt)
House district 70 (Todd Taylor)
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 98 (Mary Wolfe)
House district 99 (open; two Democrats running to succeed Pat Murphy)
House district 100 (Chuck Isenhart)
Republicans have no hope of winning most of these districts, but a few empty spaces surprised me when I scrolled down the primary candidate list.
John Forbes is a first-term incumbent in House district 40, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats and Mitt Romney outpolled Barack Obama in 2012. Forbes is a smart guy and experienced candidate who served on the Urbandale City Council before running for the Iowa House, but still: how do you fail to recruit a GOP candidate in Urbandale? If any incumbent ends up with a challenger nominated through a special convention, I predict it will be Forbes.
Todd Prichard won a special election to represent House district 52 in early 2013. Although Democrats have a voter registration advantage here, it's hardly an insurmountable edge. The plurality of registered voters are independents. Usually incumbents are most vulnerable in their first re-election attempt, so I would have expected Republicans to find a candidate in Prichard's district.
Patti Ruff defeated a Republican incumbent by 307 votes in 2012, no doubt helped by President Barack Obama narrowly outpolling Mitt Romney in House district 56. On the other hand, her district contains about 2,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. Since turnout tends to be lower in midterm years, and a GOP candidate beat an Iowa House Democrat in the state's northeastern-most district in 2010, I expected at least one Republican to file against Ruff.
David Dawson is a first-term incumbent as well. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised he has no GOP challenger, given that he won by more than 2,000 votes in 2012, and House district 14 contains approximately 3,000 more Democrats than Republicans. Nevertheless, I thought someone would run against Dawson. He lost his 2010 race to Republican Jeremy Taylor in the previous incarnation of this district, covering the west side of Sioux City.
Arguably it's no surprise the GOP has no candidate against Art Staed in House district 66. He defeated Republican State Representative Renee Schulte in 2012 by a comfortable margin of about 1,700 votes, and his district contains about 1,300 more Democrats than Republicans. But Schulte beat Staed in a district covering a similar area of Cedar Rapids in 2008 and won re-election in 2010. Why couldn't the GOP find a candidate here?
The House districts Democrats left unchallenged tended to be much more lopsided.
Republican-held Iowa House seats where no Democratic candidate filed (26, incumbents in parentheses)
House district 1 (open; three Republicans running to succeed Jeff Smith)
House district 2 (Megan Hess)
House district 4 (Dwayne Alons)
House district 5 (Chuck Soderberg)
House district 6 (Ron Jorgensen)
House district 10 (open; Mike Sexton is the sole GOP candidate)
House district 11 (Gary Worthan)
House district 19 (Ralph Watts)
House district 22 (Greg Forristall)
House district 23 (Mark Costello)
House district 24 (Cecil Dolecheck)
House district 25 (Stan Gustafson)
House district 37 (John Landon)
House district 38 (Kevin Koester)
House district 39 (Jake Highfill)
House district 44 (Rob Taylor)
House district 48 (Rob Bacon)
House district 54 (Linda Upmeyer)
House district 67 (Kraig Paulsen)
House district 78 (Jarad Klein)
House district 79 (Guy Vander Linden)
House district 80 (Larry Sheets) *see below
House district 84 (Dave Heaton)
House district 88 (Tom Sands)
House district 94 (Linda Miller)
House district 96 (Lee Hein)
I put an asterisk next to House district 80 because first-termer Larry Sheets defeated Democrat Joe Judge by only 110 votes, and neither party has a significant voter registration advantage here. Democrats should be fielding candidates in districts like this one. They have at least one candidate on the ballot in all the other near-misses from 2012.
Uncontested Iowa House seats in competitive Iowa Senate districts
Each Iowa Senate district contains two Iowa House districts, and in some cases a Senate district that is relatively balanced politically contains one House district strongly favoring Democrats and another strongly favoring Republicans.
Several of the Iowa Senate districts that will determine control of the upper chamber include House districts where one major party has no candidate. Most of these state representatives would not be endangered even if they did have a challenger, but I suspect party leaders don't want to give certain House incumbents any reason to work on GOTV this fall.
In Senate district 5, Republicans will try to unseat three-term Democrat Daryl Beall. Iowa House Democrat Helen Miller is unchallenged in Fort Dodge-based House district 9. Republican candidate Mike Sexton is unchallenged in the rural House district 10.
In Senate district 7, first-term Republican Rick Bertrand has a target on his back. The GOP is fielding no candidate against David Dawson in House district 14, the most Democratic-leaning part of Sioux City.
Republicans are gunning for three-term incumbent Herman Quirmbach in Senate district 23, but no GOP candidates filed against House Democrats Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (district 45) or Lisa Heddens (district 46).
In Senate district 27, Republicans will try to unseat three-term Democrat Amanda Ragan. House Democrat Sharon Steckman and House Republican Linda Upmeyer are unchallenged in districts 53 and 54, respectively.
Senate district 39 is an open seat with competitive primaries on both sides. But House Democrat Sally Stutsman and House Republican Jarad Klein are unchallenged in districts 77 and 78, respectively.
Republicans are not running a candidate against State Representative Mary Gaskill in House district 81. That's the much more Democratic half of Senate district 41, where Mark Chelgren is perhaps the top Democratic target.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has indicated that GOP Senator Roby Smith's seat in Senate district 47 is in play. Meanwhile, Democrats did not field a candidate against State Representative Linda Miller in heavily Republican House district 94.
Democrat Rita Hart is seeking re-election in Senate district 49 after just two years in the legislature. Republicans did not field a candidate against Mary Wolfe in House district 98, the much more Democratic half of this Senate district.
Maybe this pattern is partly a matter of coincidence rather than strategy; Steckman, Upmeyer, Klein, and Wolfe did not have challengers in 2012 either. Whatever the reason, an Iowa House incumbent with no opponent will likely knock on fewer doors this summer and chase fewer absentee ballots this fall. That factor could make the difference in a close Senate race. In the last three general elections, a total of four Iowa Senate races have been decided by fewer than 100 votes each, and a couple of other winners had fewer than 200 votes to spare.
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